Malkia Strikers when they left Cameroon for Nairobi. [File, Standard]

It’s every sportsman’s dream to compete at the biggest multi-sport bonanza –the Olympic Games.

And Malkia Strikers centre blocker Joan Chelang’at now has her work cut out.

One of her best shows was when she led the national team to victory at the 2015 African Games in Congo Brazzaville.

That year, she also wore the Africa Nations Championship crown with Malkia Strikers.

Leading Kenya’s second tier side in Congo was no mean feat for Chelang’at. It no doubt silenced her critics.

“I had the best feelings. It stands out as my biggest achievement in my sports career,” said Chelang’at.

Malkia Strikers have been in a bubble camp at Kenyatta University for three weeks in preparation for the Summer Olympics that starts on July 24.

It is now less than 100 days to the games and no one is assured of a slot in the last 12, not even head coach Paul Bitok knows if he will lead the national team, but the coach is promising a good show when players like Chelang’at are in his team.

“If I am retained as the head coach, then I can promise you that we’ll win at least a game in Japan,” said Bitok.

Malkia Strikers and Kenya Prisons centre blocker Joan Cheleng’at. [Courtesy]

That uncertainty is understandable, especially after the International Volleyball Federation – FIVB seconded two Brazilian coaches to aid Kenya’s preparations with hopes that the national team will improve performance in her third Olympic appearances.

This is a normal practice anyway. It has been done before, even when Bitok handled the team at the 2011 FIVB World Championship in Japan.

Kenya is in the same group with hosts Japan, Brazil, South Korea, Serbia and the Dominican Republic.

It appears a tough national assignment for a team that has finished bottom in all their appearances at the Olympics.

But Chela, as she is fondly known in volleyball circles, has promised to immerse herself into the deep and crucial centre blocking position if named in the final squad to Japan.

“I am in a good form at the moment and Olympics is one championship that I have been looking forward to in my career. I will give my all for the nation,” says Chelagat, who studied at Lugulu Girls High School.

Like her team mates, the mother of two must sacrifice a lot. Being locked in a bubble training means she cannot meet her two sons –Wayne Rooney and Ryan Kiprop –for the next three months.

Prisons volleyball players Joan Chelangat (8) and team-mate Elizabeth Wanyama (right) attempt to block a spike by Naomie Too (left, 14) of KCB volleyball during a ladies volleyball match on November 29, 2015. KCB won 3-2. [PHOTO BY GIDEON MAUNDU/STANDARD]

To the Kenya Prisons wardresses, service to the nation is a greater call and sacrifices must be made.

“We’ve been here for the last three weeks and I don’t see us coming out of the camp anytime soon. But this is a worthy sacrifice even though I would admit that it is challenging for mothers to be away from their families for long,” said Chelang’at, who will also miss the burial of her uncle who died on Wednesday.

Malkia Strikers are set to depart for Brazil on May 1 for a month’s training. The team will then return to Kenya for a 10-day training session before departing for Turkey for another two-week outing.

From Turkey, they will head to the Japanese city of Kurume City for mandatory three-week training.

Chelang’at has won almost all the medals at the continental stage.

With six Africa Club Championship titles, seven national league titles with Kenya Prisons; time is now ripe for her to make a mark on the international stage.


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