It wasn’t the best performance for Team Kenya at the Olympic Games, nether was it the worst. Kenya finished the Games with 10 medals, all of them off the track. The country had four gold, four silver and two bronze which placed it as the 19th overall out of over 200 countries, and the best in Africa.
In Athletics, Kenya was the third best behind the USA and Italy, the latter edging out Kenya on the respect of having more gold medals (five).
In Tokyo, Kenya had a contingent of 45; 40 athletes, four boxers, 24 from men and women’s rugby sevens, two swimmers, one taekwondo, 12 volleyball and two beach volleyballers.
We break down Team Kenya’s performance in Rio.
Eliud Kipchoge, Men’s Marathon
This was perhaps the highlight of not only Kenya’s performance in Tokyo, but the entire world as well. Kipchoge became only the third man in history to complete a back to back Olympic gold medal conquests.
He not only won the Marathon title, but did so convincingly, creating daylight between himself and the second placed athlete. His margin of winning, a minute and 20 seconds was the biggest in over 30 years.
Peres Jepchirchir – women’s marathon
The 27-year old clinched the women’s marathon title, adding on to her already decorated hat. She has held world records over both the full and half marathon and came into the Olympics on the backdrop of back to back world half marathon titles.
In Tokyo, she wasn’t mostly looked at as a gold medal prospect, but she showed her superb switch to the full marathon wasn’t a fluke with an assured performance.
Emmanuel Korir – 800m
Just like Peres, Korir’s gold was not one that would have been counted eyes closed. The University of Texas in El Paso (UTEP) student produced a brilliant performance to win the two lap race and ensured Kenya retained the title, David Rudisha having clinched it five years ago in Rio de Janeiro.
He finished third and second respectively in the preliminaries and the semis and mostly considered him a prospect for the silver or bronze. He was set to double with the 400m as well but was red carded after a false start.
He most likely took out that disappointment with an assured performance in the double distance.
Faith Kipyegon – 1500m
Another double Olympic champion, Faith Kipyegon cemented her status as one of the finest mile runners in the world. She not only successfully defended her title, but did so in commanding fashion, running a new Olympic Record time of 3:53.11.
Mama Alyne had obliterated Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan who was heading to the Games with eyes on a triple gold assault. She succeeded clinching the 5,000m and 10,000m, but there was no way Kipyegon would let her do the triple with the 1500m as well.
Hellen Obiri – 5,000m
This was Obiri’s final appearance on track as she prepares to make an assault in road races next year, with a maximum target of doing half marathons. She had hoped to bow out of the track with an elusive Olympic title, but she could only settle for the same color of medal she won in Rio five years ago.
Sifan Hassan completely took charge of the race in the final 300m and Obiri could not respond to her final kick. Now, she leaves without an Olympic medal, but can she come back in Paris 2024 in the Marathon?
Timothy Cheruiyot – 1500m
Cheruiyot had been a late inclusion into the Kenyan team. A twitch in his hamstring during the trials meant he finished fourth and out of the qualification slots. But, a window of opportunity emerged when Kamar Etyang couldn’t be accredited as he had not undergone the required three out of competition doping tests.
And, his inclusion was justified as he was the only medalist from Kenya’s team in thew 1500m, when he finished second behind Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway.
Brigid Kosgei – Marathon
The world record holder wasn’t in the best shape heading into the Olympics as she had battled injury and sickness, coupled with the lack of tune up races to get herself ready.
But she battled to earn a medal, forming the closing edge of Kenya’s 1-2 swoop behind Peres Jepchirchir.
Ferguson Rotich – 800m
Rotich had easily won the heats and semis of the 800m in convincing fashion and was the clear favourite heading into the final. But a high pace meant his tactic of sticking to the back and bolting off in the final 200m wasn’t going to 100pc work.
He still remained at the back but by the time he was sprinting out to a medal position, a determined Korir had already sealed the title. But, for him, the silver was more than welcome having missed out on anything in Rio.
Hyvin Kiyeng, Benjamin Kigen – steeplechase
Kenya’s women have not conquered the steeplechase for long and it was no different in Tokyo. Kiyeng could only manage third in the women’s race while world record holder, Beatrice Chepkoech missed out on the medals.
Chepkoech was battling with a lower back injury and only remained in the race to motivate Kiyeng to battle for a medal.
In the men’s reciprocate, Kenya saw its dominance of the event, one they had not lost since 1968, come to an end with Moroccan Soufiane El Bakkali winning gold. Benjamin Kigen could only finish third while Abraham Kibiwott was out of the podium.
Kenya went into the steeple final for the first time without either a reigning world or Olympic champion. Holder Conseslus Kipruto missed out after limping off the first two laps at the trials.
The loss is now a wake up call to Team Kenya that the dominance is not only under threat, but heavily set to suffer competition.
While the individual athletes provided glory for Kenya, it wasn’t exactly the case for the team sports.
The men’s and women’s rugby teams failed to make it past the group phases. The men’s team finished ninth while the women’s team finished 10th.
But for the Lionesses, they had their hands tied behind their backs, coach Felix Oloo having only two days to train with the entire team with half of them held back in Tokyo quarantine while the other half were in the pre-Olympic camp in Kurume.
The tactician said that odds were already against them even before they kicked the ball.
For the men’s side Shujaa, they were enemies of their own success. They had a good chance to make it into the Main Cup quarters but a series of errors meant they could not go beyond the groups.
Against the USA in their opening group game, they were leading 14-12 with 90 seconds left and just needed to possess the ball and pick a win that would have seen them placed well for a place in the Cup Quarters.
But they could not execute as the Americans scored a last minute try to break their hearts. It was the same case against Ireland in their final group match where they just needed to win to progress, but couldn’t execute.
Elsewhere, the Kenyan Beach Volleyball duo of Brackcedes Agala and Gaudencia Makokha lost all their games in Tokyo. This was their first ever appearance at the Olympic Games and the experience was the most important for the two.
In the normal court volleyball, the Malkia Strikers shone a ray of hope despite losing all their matches. The team was not beaten flat out as has been the case in previous Championships, despite being placed in a tough group.
Against two-time Olympic champions and hosts Japan, Brazil, European Champions Serbia and the Dominican Republic, Malkia showed growth and grit, running their opponents close. Though they did not win, they offered hope that with more investment in training, they are closer than ever to win matches in the international stage.