•Kip Keino Classic was the first major sporting event in Africa after turbulent months of Covid-19
•Deputy President Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga wore similar attires and were united in rallying athletes to victory
It has been a dull six months for the sporting community in Kenya after the Covid-19 pandemic halted all sporting activities in the country.
What better way to mark the resumption of sports in Kenya than to host the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold at Nyayo Stadium, Nairobi?
When the impact of Covid-19 on sports in Africa is documented, Kenya will stand out as the first country to host an event of such magnitude, post-corona.
Named after Kenyan track legend, Kipchoge Keino, the Kip Keino Classic is part of a yearly series of elite track and field athletics competitions held outside the Diamond League.
The one-day event was also held in six other cities, including Turku (Finland), Szekesfehervar (Hungary), Tokyo (Japan), Chorzow (Poland), Ostrava (Czech Republic), and Zagreb (Croatia).
Considering the pomp and colour that characterised the Nairobi edition, the country deserves a chapter in African sporting history books.
A huge buzz
Although only 6,000 fans were admitted into the stadium, the collective excitement made it feel as if it was packed to capacity.
It took some time for the crowd to come alive as they waited patiently for the event to officially commence at 1 pm with the javelin competition.
However, speakers placed at every corner of the stadium blasted local and international music to prepare the crowd for the party atmosphere that was to come.
Every one was dressed for the occasion; eye-catching in particular was ODM leader Raila Odinga who was adorned in Kenyan colours, including his jacket, t-shirt and cap - usually associated with his rival, Deputy President William Ruto.
“It is indeed a great honour to be selected to host this Gold Tour event in Nairobi. We welcome all athletes competing in this event and we want you to leave here with memories of a country that is at peace,” Raila said in his opening speech.
The two politicians would occasionally and simultaneously raise from their seats in excitement as various local athletes stormed to the finish line ahead of other competitors.
This was testament of the indiscriminate jubilation that had captivated everyone in attendance regardless of their tribe, religion, social class or political affiliation.
This adrenaline rush transmitted to Kenyans in the stands who would always shout themselves hoarse whenever the announcer called out the names of the different athletes competing in different categories.
Excuse to mingle
And in the customary Kenyan hospitality, there were no jeers for foreigners but mostly cheers even for those who usurped local athletes, such as Ethiopia's Halu Lemlem who upstaged crowd favourites Mercy Cherono and Winny Chebet.
Apart from showing up to support the local athletes, the event was an excuse to soak up the Nairobi sunshine after months spent in quarantine. As early as 8 am, Kenyans from all walks of life streamed into the stadium.
“I have been working mostly from home and so I don’t get the chance to get out. It feels great to be able to mingle with other people in such a huge crowd,” James Mbugua, a digital communication expert, said. For Nancy Wafula, the event was an opportunity to bond with her husband and her one-year old baby.
“Sometimes when you spend a lot of time in the house, there is a lot of tension around. We both love sports and so we felt that this is a better outing for us compared to a walk in the park or a date in a quiet place,” Nancy said.
This is not to mean that Covid-19 regulations were thrown out of the window rather they were strictly observed with no room for compromises.
At all entrances, there were hand washing booths, where everyone was required to wash their hands before receiving a dose of sanitisers from National Youth Service officers who were on standby.
Whoever temporarily forgot to wear a mask was sternly reminded by police officers and other event officials to put it on in the correct way.
The same strictness was applied in maintenance of social distance in the stadium.
Some of the 25,000 seats in the stadium were marked with posters warning people not to sit on them.
The security network around and inside the stadium was impenetrable for idlers and anyone with ill intention.
Complementing the work of the regular police and NYS officers were General Service Unit officers who were armed to the teeth and ever on the lookout.
Only eligible fans, who had booked for the event beforehand, were allowed inside the stadium but only after showing an SMS message inviting them for the event.
Even journalists covering the event had to possess an official accreditation from the Local Organising Committee and such accreditation did not permit access to all areas of the stadium.
Stringent security searches were undertaken to nip any impending danger in the bud. Regardless of the meanness with which they executed their duties, it was no hard feelings as the security officials occasionally got immersed in the sea of excitement as the event neared its crescendo.
It was a happy day for business persons whose businesses resurrected after months in the doldrum that is Covid-19. Pamela Achieng, a small-scale trader in refreshments, wore a wide smile while counting the wad of notes from the sales she had made by midday.
“I hope that Kenya gets to host such events regularly because we will benefit a lot. The money I have made today will help me to purchase more stock for the business,” Achieng said.
Miniature Kenyan flags sold like hot cake as fans sought to express their patriotism and love for their athletes.
Matthew, one of those hawking the flags, was grateful for the service his fellow countrymen had given him.
“I am impressed with how Kenyans love their country and their eagerness to support their countrymen. I had around 50 of these flags but now only ten are left,” he said.
Passion, persistence and precision are three qualities that were on show in the Kip Keino Classic.
"We know that the Kenyan fans are passionate about our sport and will create a great atmosphere for the athletes at both the Kip Keino Classic and next year," World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said.
The fans were passionate in their support for local and international athletes whereas the organisers were persistent and precise to see that everything that went according to plan - the ravages of Covid-19 notwithstanding.
On this strength, next year's World U-20 Athletics Championship at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, will be one to savour for all Kenyans.