welcome home triumphant athletes
16 August 2001 – Nairobi - Kenyan athletes returned home to a hero’s welcome on Thursday as thousands of supporters turned out to salute their achievements at the World Athletics Championships in Canada.
Six of the team arrived in the capital Nairobi early in the morning and received a traditional warrior’s welcome of gourds of milk, before driving in to town on an open-top bus.
Along the route, Kenyans cheered and waved national flags to celebrate the team’s achievements. The Kenya team finished third in the medals table with three golds, three silvers and one bronze.
Newly-crowned 10,000 metres champion Charles Kamathi was the biggest draw after his historic victory over Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie.
“This is the greatest moment in my life,” Kamathi’s mother Angeline told Reuters. “I just can’t believe this is my humble son sending everybody into a frenzy.”
Kamathi was also proudly sporting a new grin after a Canadian dentist donated his services to the athlete when he saw his gap-toothed smile after crossing the finish line.
“We were told that Haile Gebrselassie had a deadly finishing kick, and for us to take care of him we had to handle that aspect, and I am glad that it worked,” Kamathi said.
Around 100 people from his home village of Mathari, at the foot of Mount Kenya in Nyeri, turned out to greet the policeman.
“It has been like a wedding at his home since the neighbours learnt of his achievement,” said Gitonga Mwangi from Mathari.
Marathon silver medallist Simon Biwott was also among the athletes returning home. Officials said the rest of the team had stayed in Europe to compete on the Grand Prix circuit.
Kenya sent just 23 athletes to Edmonton and officials warned that stricter qualification criteria meant that teams were likely to be even smaller in future.
“If people thought we took a small team to Edmonton, they must prepare for tougher times ahead because even the IOC has reduced the number of athletes for Olympics Games from 3,500 to 2,000,” said Kenya Amateur Athletic Association chief Isaiah Kiplagat.
“We have done better than we anticipated with the small team in Edmonton,” he said. “We will take a smaller team in future events.”