Kenya’s best Olympics ever may have also been its most embarrassing

Another gold.
Another gold.
Image: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha
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Kenya has gone home from the Rio Olympics with six gold medals, six silver medals, and one bronze—marking the most wins of any African team at the 2016 Games as well as the best Olympic performance in Kenya’s history. Kenya came in 15th globally in medals, and was second only to the United States in track and field medals.

But many of the country’s elite athletes returned home quietly, with no celebration. David Rudisha, who won the men’s 800 meter race, Vivian Cheruiyot, who beat heavily favored winner Almaz Ayana in the 5,000 meter race, and silver medalists runner Paul Tanui and javelin thrower Julius Yego slipped back into the country without fanfare and declining government transportation to a luxury hotel in Nairobi.

“We don’t want people to hog publicity from our arrival when they have treated us badly,” one athlete told local daily, the Nation.

Kenya’s Olympic performance has been marred by scandal and frustration. Two coaches were sent home over doping. The team’s sponsor, Nike, raised concerns over uniforms that never reached the athletes. Sprinter Carvin Nkanata was barred from competing over an accreditation mishap and another, Yego, almost missed his flight to the Rio games because Kenyan authorities hadn’t organized his travel. Critics have said it’s no wonder that many of the country’s top athletes have defected to other teams.

Kenyans are calling for the country’s minister of sports and culture Hassan Wario to resign over mismanagement of the Games. Wario has in turn blamed Kenya’s National Olympics Committee, claiming those officials were “chauffeured around in limousines” while he walked to most of the events.

It’s not the first time that mishaps at athletic competitions have prompted a national debate. Missing athletic kit, accreditation, and poor morale were also problems at the London Olympics in 2012. Kenyan officials promised to do better.

This time, president Uhuru Kenyatta attempted to assuage his country’s angry citizens and athletes. ”The problems which frustrated many sportspeople on international assignment go a long way to erode incentives for our athletes to proudly turn up in Kenyan colors and win,” he said in a statement released yesterday (Aug 22.)

“They should be, and will be a thing of the past very shortly. We will ensure that lessons are learnt, questions are answered, action is taken and full accountability achieved,” the president said.