Little known Ihururu and ASK Kabiruini stadiums are some of the best sporting facilities in Nyeri, but their thunder has for long been stolen by neglect and the impasse around the stalled Ruring'u Stadium.
While Ihururu is in Tetu Constituency at the foothill of the Nyeri Hill, Kabiruini is in Nyeri town, about 15 minutes’ drive from the town off the Nyeri-Nyahururu highway next to the Dedan Kimathi University.
The establishment of Ihururu dates back in 1900s as it is believed to be the area where British soldier Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen set the first colonial military post in 1902 which enabled the settlers to occupy the highlands.
With a high altitude of about 1,200 metres above sea level, the stadium stands as the best alternative training ground in the county, particularly now when Ruring'u is under renovation.
High altitude tests
Due to its small size, the facility can only fit a football pitch and a standard athletic track which would be good for speed work and track and field competitions.
A number of athletes and clubs have discovered the rarely used facility and have been sneaking in for training sessions.
The only problem they have to deal with is tens of heads of dairy cows and dozens of sheep grazing on the green Kikuyu grass.
Former 5,000 metre national champion Gideon Gathimba, Olympic 800 metres bronze medallist Margaret Nyairera and London Olympics 800m bronze medallist Timothy Kitum are among top runners who tip-toe into the stadium for high altitude training before any major championship.
Some years ago, the Laikipia Air Base’s athletics team used to alternate hill work at the Nyeri Hill and speed work at the stadium but they shifted to other areas after the stadium became unusable due to neglect.
A visit at the stadium, the grass covered and unmarked athletics track and lack of a proper perimeter fence and a gate tell it all.
The last time the stadium renovated was in 2013 at a cost of Sh10 million for levelling, making the track and installing field events facilities through the Ministry of Sports.
In 2018, there as a glimmer of hope when the Sports Principal Secretary Kirimi Kaberia visited the stadium with the Nyeri county sports department officials, but it turned out to be a publicity stunt.
Back to Nyeri town, Kabiruini was established in 2017 by the national government to host the Madaraka Day national celebrations.
According to sources, the government spent over Sh60 million to renovate the place where it put up a VIP dais, public terraces, a standard football pitch and a IAAF standard running track. Unlike many local stadiums, Kabiruini has one of the best drainage systems.
Besides the national event, the government planned to improve the arena for the Central region agricultural fair and add an extra field, especially for football.
Nyeri ASK chairman James Kibira told Nation Sport that plans are underway to add more facilities for instance steeple chase pool, discus area and a tartan track in a bid to incorporate sports as an extra revenue base for the agricultural society.
“We have plans to make Kabiruini a sports centre because that was the intended purpose,” said Kibira.
The county, however, has been staging some events at the venue including Nyeri Sevens rugby competitions, the cross country championships and last year the water companies’ games were held there.
With a standard football pitch, ASK has been sitting on an opportunity to make more revenues by letting major clubs take the venue as their home training ground.
"While facility belongs to the ASK, I think they should open it up for sports for maximum utilization," said Daniel Gachara, the County Athletics Kenya secretary.
Nyeri county has over 10 public stadiums which if well managed can place the county as a centre for high altitude training, especially for athletics and ball games.
These include Kiriti and Karindi in Mukurweini, Karatina in Mathira, Othaya Stadium, Gichira and Ihururu in Tetu, Kabiruini and Ruring’u in Nyeri Town and Mweiga and Naromoru in Kieni.