He left for Europe an ordinary athlete, but when David Lekuta Rudisha arrived back in Kilgoris it was evident he was riding on a new cloud, and one banner summed it all: “A Warrior Returns!”
Thousands of the moran’s peers, friends and family mobbed Rudisha. The entire Maasai community had planned the best for their son.
Since he broke Wilson Kipketer’s 13-year-old 1:41.11 record in 800m by running 1:41.09 and then 1:41.01 seven days later, Rudisha has been on the lips of many – not only in his sleepy village of Oltanki but even beyond Transmara District’s borders.
“I am happy to return home. I have been away for long. This is a great feeling,” the champion enthused.
In Nairobi, the police constable was given a grand passage to Wilson Airport, his motorcade of four limousines, two escort cars in front and behind and two motorcycle outriders snaking through the Uhuru Highway and Lang’ata Road morning traffic.
He was received by Deputy Commissioner of Police Jonathan Kosgei and ushered into a Kenya Police helicopter with fellow athletes Janeth Jepkosgei, Wilfred Bungei, Alfred Kirwa Yego, Richard Mateelong, Milcah Chemos and his pace setter, Sammy Tangui.
Herding his father’s goats as a boy, Rudisha would always wonder how it felt to fly, getting excited whenever planes flew past his village.
Well, at 21 years he has flown, mostly first class, in some of the world’s sleekest planes. But that day he had his ‘wow’ moment in the air: “This is a new experience for me. This is great. I feel really nice that they (Kenya Police) could give me such a grand trip home.”
Planted a tree in Narok Stadium
The runner’s chopper was not the only one that the Transmara residents savoured. The one carrying the homecoming organising committee, led by Andrew Sunkuli, landed first, then Higher Education Minister William Ruto’s, retired president Daniel arap Moi’s and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka’s.
Yet they did not get as loud a cheer as his, which also had National Olympic Committee of Kenya chairman Kipchoge Keino and Athletics Kenya head Isaiah Kiplagat aboard.
Rudisha’s entourage, which included Sports Minister Paul Otuoma, made a stopover in Narok Town, landing at Maasai Girls High School. He then planted a tree in Narok Stadium.
The celebrated runner arrived in Kilgoris for the first time in a month at 10am and, as tradition demands, fellow morans first led him to a tent where he was served special meat.
“Whenever a moran goes to war, the way Rudisha did, he is given such a reception on his return, especially if he successfully seized back the stolen livestock,” said Dennis Talimo.
The highlight of the occasion, however, was the ceremony to give Rudisha special warrior status. On the dais in Maasai regalia, he was handed a shield and a spear by former World 800m champion Billy Konchellah and two-lap icon Stephen ole Marai.
“We have given him the authority and permission to go and hunt more medals. He is now a step above the other morans and has the task of leading them to war,” said Konchellah.
With his wife Lizzy Naanyu and his fellow morans, Rudisha then danced to a local tune ahead of the speeches.
Cake made in the image of a lion
Rudisha’s ailing father Daniel seldom leaves his homestead, but he arrived in a sleek Land Cruiser moments before Moi who, with the runner, cut a cake made in the image of a lion to symbolise bravery.
The elder Rudisha, though accorded similar treatment after he anchored Kenya to the 4x400m relay silver medal in Mexico City, was pleasantly surprised to see his peer John Velzian had brought along a picture of the ceremony held four decades ago.
“I am happy and humbled. Thank you all for coming,” he said.