Athletics Kenya, often billed as the goose that lays Kenya’s golden egg, turned 70 years yesterday.
The association, which has witnessed a steady growth since 1950, celebrated Kenya’s pioneer track and field athletes in its seven-decade anniversary inside Nyayo Stadium.
Not bad for a federation that rose from a small outfit into a multi-billion industry that injects Sh5billion into Kenya’s economy annually.
It was a spectacular sight as Kenya’s first Olympic medallist Wilson Kiprugut Chumo, Kenya’s father of 3,000m steeplechase Amos Biwott, Sabina Chebichii ‘Baby coat’, Tegla Sang, Ruth Waithera as well five-time world cross country winners John Ngugi and Paul Tergat were among athletes feted at the gala.
But one distinctive feature could not go unnoticed: the transition of the sport in terms of prize money in the last 50 years.
From Kiprugut Chumo winning bronze in 800m at the Rome Olympics in 1964 to reigning world 1,500m champion Timothy Cheruiyot; a lot of water has gone under the bridge.
What with the evolution of athletics leadership in the federation.
AK President Jack Tuwei acknowledged the federation’s impressive strides but called on stakeholders to improve on investment, technology, sponsorship, collective participation and sustaining an unmatched legacy.
“We need to embrace science. The sport is going the scientific way and we must move forward. Technology is part of the sport and athletics should be left behind. It is part of us. As AK, we are doing everything possible to stay on course with the rest of the world,” Tuwei said.
He paid tribute to veterans who paved a golden path for Kenya’s world-beating stars in track and road running.
“We will develop a system that will have data of all athletes’ from primary school to the highest level of the sport,” he said.
Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed, who presided over the event, said athletics continues to market the country.
“We will develop digital content to showcase our athletics activities to a global audience. Kenya has a rich athletics history and we must have an online sports museum,” she said.
Tuwei also said there was a need to have a kitty to take care of veteran athletes.
But there is an Act of Parliament that provides for recognition of heroes, selection and honouring of veterans, as well as the establishment of a National Heroes Council.
The Act, however, has never been in force and the National Heroes Council is yet to be appointed, while many sports heroes and heroines, mostly above 70 years, suffer while others continue to die in misery.
Cosmas Silei,73, a 1972 Olympian and 800m All Africa Games gold medallist has been ill for a while at his home in Mosoriot, Nandi County.
After a long battle with cancer, 1972 3,000m Steeplechase Olympics silver medallist Ben Jipcho died on July 24, aged 77.
Jipcho won gold medals in both 5,000m and 3,000m steeplechase in the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand, as well as the 1973 All-African Games in Lagos, Nigeria.
Former Olympic relay champion Robert Ouko died on August 18 last year aged 71 after battling an illness since 2014.
Ouko won two gold medals at the 1970 British Commonwealth Games, first in 800m and then as a member of the Kenyan 4×400m relay team.
In the same year, he made the Kenyan 4×880 relay team, which set the new world record of 7:11.6.
Another pioneer athlete is Nyandika Maiyoro, who died on February 24, 2019, aged 88.
Tuwei said Kenya will bid to host the 2025 World Athletics Championships.