Kenya’s sevens rugby head coach Benjamin Ayimba on Saturday named strong men’s and women’s teams for the Rio Olympics and set lofty targets for the two squads at the August 4-21 Games.
Ayimba said while the men’s team will be targeting the gold medal, the realistic target for the women’s side will be a place in the quarter finals.
A top eight place for the women will see them gain entry into the coveted world series. As expected, KCB RFC’s Andrew Amonde will captain the 12-man team with Catherine Abila leading the women’s side.
Ayimba was asked to handle both teams at their Nandi Bears Club camp in Nandi County where they have been training for the last fortnight to assist the inexperienced women’s side that is getting into its first major tournament.
Menengai Cream Homeboyz and Mwamba have contributed three players each to the men’s team. Oscar Ayodi, Bush Mwale and Augustine Lugonzo have been picked from Homeboyz with Dennis Ombachi leading the Mwamba trio after fighting off a nagging injury that saw him miss a large part of the IRB World Sevens Series.
A richly-deserved place it is for Ombachi who scored the last-gasp winning try for Kenya in their crucial Olympic qualifier against Zimbabwe. His black shirts teammates who made the cut are IRB World Sevens Series’ all-time top try scorer Collins Injera and his brother Humphrey Kayange.
Fly half Biko Adema of Nondies has also fought his way back into the team with the others who made the 12-player cut being Oscar Ouma, Billy Odhiambo, Samuel Oliech and Willy Ambaka.
The team leaves next Sunday for Rio via Luanda, Angola, after joining the rest of Tusker-sponsored Team Kenya in receiving the Kenyan flag from President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi, on Wednesday.
“The men’s and women’s teams will be run hand in hand as we go to Rio so that we can get the best of each,” Ayimba said at the team naming attended by Team Kenya’s Head of Delegation to Rio, Stephen Soi and held on the well-manicured Nandi Bears Club grounds.
Ayimba said although a lot of work needs to be done with the relatively inexperienced women’s team, he is happy that the two weeks in camp so far have done the Lionesses a lot of good.
"The confidence levels are really high knowing we have provided the best training conditions and we have been able to concentrate a lot with no interruptions,” the former international said.
“For the men’s team, we have given ourselves the target of gold and for the women’s side a realistic target of getting to the quarter finals so that it gives us a chance of getting into the HSBC World Series for the women,” he noted.
MORE BACKROOM STAFF
The teams will be boosted by the fact that the debate over whether or not have extra backroom staff on the flight to Rio was ended with the Government taking the tab.
Soi on Saturday made it clear that International Olympic Committee rules provide for three officials for every 12-man team. “Any extra official is required to pay $3,600 (Sh360,000),” Soi explained.
“But at the last steering committee meeting, the Government agreed to pay for the extra rugby officials so this matter should be put to rest.”
Ayimba said it was unfortunate that there is a feeling that the women’s team was seen as merely travelling to make up the numbers. “I’m happy that the women’s team has stepped up although it will not be easy. But we have seen a lot of improvement in the last fortnight," Ayimba said.
Women’s team manager Sarah Otieno said though underrated, the side could cause upsets.
“We appreciate the support we have received from Ayimba and this is a development team but we want to make ourselves better,” she said. “We are not taking the criticisms as attacks. We will rise. We are going for the best in Rio.”
Men: Oscar Ayodi, Bush Mwale, Augustine Lugonzo (Homeboyz), Oscar Ouma (Nakuru), Billy Odhiambo (Strathmore), Humphrey Kayange, Dennis Ombachi, Collins Injera (Mwamba), Samuel Oliech (Impala), William Ambaka, Biko Adema (Quins) and Andrew Amonde (KCB, captain).
Officials: Ayimba (head coach), Paul Murunga (assistant coach), Lameck Bogonko (physio), Geoffrey Kimani (strength and conditioning), Newton Ong'alo (team manager).
Women: Catherine Abila, Doreen Reymour, Celestine Masinde, Janet Okello, Stacey Otieno, Janet Owino, Philadelphia Olando, Irene Otieno, Linet Moraa, Rachel Mbogo, Sheila Chajira and Caroline Onyango.
Officials: Michael Shamiah (coach), Sarah Orient (team manager), Michael (physio). Ends