Voice of Sport

SGR launch, IAAF World U18 Championships great backdrop to performance of Masai boy, nurtured by Somalis, who could be heir to David Rudisha

One of Kenya’s rising 800m athletics talent could not go to high school after failure to raise about Sh12, 000 a year for the cheapest school in the country. It is just a wonder how Laila Tilita, red-hot hope at the IAAF World Under 18 Championships, Nairobi 2017, keeps going

‘Team Kenya’ hopeful: Nicholas Leparan of Nairobi wins one of the boys’ 400m heats at Kenya pre-trials at Kip Keino trials last Thursday. He was second in the final of the 110m high hurles and was disqualified in the 400m final. Kenya’s final trials will be at the Nyayo National Stadium, Nairobi on June 12-13 Photo: MOHAMMED AMIN/sports-pot.com/LOC wu18nairobi2017

Martin Owillah, the young, powerful rugby union Kenya international forward of Mt Kenya University was on the inaugural Standard Gauge Railway [SGR] inaugural ride from Mombasa to Nairobi on Wednesday. Meeting up with members on the Local Organising Committee [LOC] for the IAAF World U18 Championships, Nairobi 2017, he said more sportsmen and women from other disciplines in the country were excited about seeing ‘Team Kenya’ take on the world at Moi International Sports Centre, July 12-16. “I lover Athletics and all Kenyan internationals from any field should also join in to back our team’. Photo: MOHAMMED AMIN/sports-pot-com/LOC wu18nairobi2017

Martin Owillah, the young, powerful rugby union Kenya international forward of Mt Kenya University was on the inaugural Standard Gauge Railway [SGR] inaugural train ride from Mombasa to Nairobi on Wednesday. Meeting up with members on the Local Organising Committee [LOC] for the IAAF World U18 Championships, Nairobi 2017, he said more sportsmen and women from other disciplines in the country were excited about seeing ‘Team Kenya’ take on the world at Moi International Sports Centre, July 12-16. “I love Athletics and all Kenyan internationals from any field should also join in to back our team’. Photo: MOHAMMED AMIN/sports-pot-com/LOC wu18nairobi2017

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MOMBASA, Wednesday, May 31 – THE business of those from the Local Organising Committee who rode on the President Uhuru Kenyatta’s inaugural trip on the Standard Gauge Railway [SGR] train from Miritini, Mombasa to Syokimau, Nairobi on Wednesday was to engage with travellers about what they knew about the forthcoming IAAF World U18 Championships in Nairobi on July 12-16, the biggest sporting event Kenya has ever hosted.

At Mombasa Terminus in Miritini, President Uhuru Kenyatta gives his SGR launching speech and is also seen on giant television screen shortly before boarding train and departing at 11.13m on Wednesday. Photo: MOHMMED MIN/sports-pot.com/LOC wu8nairobi2017

At Mombasa Terminus in Miritini, President Uhuru Kenyatta gives his SGR launching speech and is also seen on giant television screen shortly before boarding train and departing at 11.13m on Wednesday. Photo: MOHMMED MIN/sports-pot.com/LOC wu8nairobi2017

There is hardly a Kenyan who may not know something about and appreciate the performance of Kenyan athletes on the international stage. They know the formation of this greatness is the children and youth in schools and at junior sporting championships round the country.

They’ve heard of the International Association of Athletics Federations [IAAF] World Under 18 Championships to be held at Kasarani and wish the country will do well, or in fact come out as the best among about 141 countries and about 2,000 athletes that will attend at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani and stay at the Athletes Village in Kenyatta University.

Hoping for change in life: Laila Tilita (470) of North Eastern outruns Kipngetich Ng’eno of South Rift to victory in the boys’ 800m at the Kenya team pre-trials at Eldoret on May 26. Tilita is from Kajiado but was assisted into athletics while living in Garissa by the North Eastern branch of Athletics Kenya. Photo: MOHAMMED AMIN/sports-pot.com/LOC wu18nairobi2017

Hoping for change in life: Laila Tilita (470) of North Eastern outruns Kipngetich Ng’eno of South Rift to victory in the boys’ 800m at the Kenya team pre-trials at Eldoret on May 26. Tilita is from Kajiado but was assisted into athletics while living in Garissa by the North Eastern branch of Athletics Kenya. Photo: MOHAMMED AMIN/sports-pot.com/LOC wu18nairobi2017

To many on the inaugural SGR ride on Wednesday it was a huge co-incidence that the historic launch of the biggest development project that the country has ever undertaken should come literally at the same time with the WU18 Championships.

Because he was fasting and unlike others not busy engaged in the massive eating, drinking and merry making on the train on the train, the appropriately named [given the Islam religious period] Ramadhan Divayu Babisan from Tana River became the choice of many interviewers from ‘Capital Fm’, ‘Nation Media Group’, etc, and his opinions about the SGR were instantly widely circulated.

IAAF World U18 Championships mood on the SGR … Local Organising Committee [LOC] assistant director for Commercial and Marketing operations Ms Sally Sia (second from right) with from left Multi-Media University student Harrison Martin Talo, SGR staff Dorine Masha and Ben Oketch, an aircraft engineering student at East Africa School of Aviation, Nairobi. Photo: MOHAMMED AMIN/sports-pot.com/LOC wu18nairobi2017

IAAF World U18 Championships mood on the SGR … Local Organising Committee [LOC] assistant director for Commercial and Marketing operations Ms Sally Sia (second from right) with from left Multi-Media University student Harrison Martin Talo, SGR staff Dorine Masha and Ben Oketch, an aircraft engineering student at East Africa School of Aviation, Nairobi. Photo: MOHAMMED AMIN/sports-pot.com/LOC wu18nairobi2017

From the WU18 Championships LOC team, Babisan learnt that one of Kenya’s prospects for the boys’ 800m was Laila Tilita, a Masai youngster from Kajiado who took up running while staying with relatives in Garissa Town, Garissa County; and can be regarded close to people from Tana River or Somalis of Northern Kenya and Somalia itself.

On Thursday, reached from his Nyahururu athletics training camp, Tilita exuded confidence that he would make the Kenya team and try and go for gold at the world championships. In Eldoret on May 26 during the team’s pre-trials at Kipchoge Keino Stadium, Tilita ran adult-like 1:47.9 while many youngsters around the world are struggling to break the IAAF qualification cut off for Nairobi which is a really generous 1:54.25.

Local Organising Committee [LOC] assistant director for Commercial and Marketing operations Ms Sally Sia (left) gives an IAAF World U18 Championships, Nairobi 2017 shirt to Hannah Reson of Suswa, Narok County aboard the SGR train, Mombasa/Nairobi on Wednesday. Photo: MOHMMED AMIN/sports-pot.com/wu18nairobi2017

Local Organising Committee [LOC] assistant director for Commercial and Marketing operations Ms Sally Sia (left) gives an IAAF World U18 Championships, Nairobi 2017 shirt to Hannah Reson of Suswa, Narok County aboard the SGR train, Mombasa/Nairobi on Wednesday. Photo: MOHMMED AMIN/sports-pot.com/wu18nairobi2017

One of Tilita’s training mates at Garissa was 100 and 200m sprinter Zacharia Abdi, a Form II pupil at Tetu Secondary School, Garissa, who intends to make a push for the Kenya team during the final trials at Nyayo National Stadium on June 12 and 13. Babisan said he thinks pastoralist people in Tana River and the entire North Eastern region have athletics talent.

And he knew of the precedence set by people from that wider region including Somalia’s only world champion ever Ahmed Bile (1,500m, 1987), Djibouti’s Ahmed Salah [Olympic marathon bronze medal, 1988] and of course Britain’s greatest athlete of all-time, Mo Farah who was born and brought up in Somalia.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto (in red shirt) when the President talked inside one of the economy class coaches in the SGR train on Wednesday.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto (in red shirt) when the President talked inside one of the economy class coaches in the SGR train on Wednesday

“This boy Tilita has an association with the region and culturally looks like one of us,” said Babisan, “we wish him all the best; if he succeeds, other boys for the region will follow the trend.”

Babisan was on the train as one of half a dozen invitees from each of Kenya’s 47 counties. He said his local chief selected him to enjoy the ride because he is a community leader who sometimes teaches the public about civil rights and duties.

“The trip has been enjoyable and it has given me a new experience I never imagined,” the leader of one of the smallest communities — the Wailwana from Bura, Tana River, told the ‘Nation.’

At the controls of the SGR train were Kenyans almost as young as those aspiring to compete for the country in the IAAF World U18 Championships on July 12-16. It was amazing to see assistant locomotive drivers (nearest camera) Concilia Owire, only 23 and Alice Mugure, 27 in charge of the train carrying President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and scores of world diplomats and dignitaries and over 1,200 people on Wednesday

At the controls of the SGR train were Kenyans almost as young as those aspiring to compete for the country in the IAAF World U18 Championships on July 12-16. It was amazing to see assistant locomotive drivers (nearest camera) Concilia Owire, only 23 and Alice Mugure, 27,  in charge of the train carrying President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and scores of world diplomats and dignitaries and over 1,200 people on Wednesday

Later, on telephone, Abdullahi Salat, chairman of Athletic Kenya’s [AK] North Eastern Region and also the chairman of the regional branch of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims [SUPKEM], related a sad plight of young Tilita narrating his background:

“He completed Kajiado Primary School [Kajiado County] last year and because he could raise the minimum Sh12, 000 to proceed to high school, came to live with relatives here in Garissa. We, as Athletics Kenya branch were running a training camp with the assistance of AK and the WU18 LOC. Talita is a natural and we picked him up, arranged for him to go for specialised training under a proper coach in Nyahururu [Laikipia County],” said Salat.

SGR train staff in one of the economy class coaches before passengers filled it up at Mombasa Terminus, Miritini

SGR train staff in one of the economy class coaches before passengers filled it up at Mombasa Terminus, Miritini

Salat said they were also running against the clock to get another North Eastern prospect to make the Kenya team: “Sprinter Zacharia Abdi is completely row and at the pre-trials he ought to have run bare foot, but a friend convinced him to try on crude rubber shoes and he fell while in contention in the 100m final. He made the squad for the 200m selection at the final trials in Nairobi and we are trying to get him proper running spikes which Ibrahim Hussein, IAAF Regional Director has promised. Plus, if we can get him to Nyahururu for a few days training, he might improve immensely at Nyayo Stadium trials.”

Salat said that as a religious leader he would push the Government of the Garissa County to unlock resources and mentor youngsters to boost sports in the region because the potential remained untapped.

He said: “At the recent 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the man who carried the Somalia flag, Mohammed Daud [then 20] was our very own [born in Garissa]. He did not have opportunity to upgrade his sport in order to make the Kenyan team and he found an easier way to the Olympics was to join the Somalia national team.

Mohamed Daud Mohamed, born in Garissa, Kenya had no training opportunities nor chances of making Kenya international status; sought it in Somalia, becoming the flag bearer of the two-people [with female athlete Maryan Nuh Muse] team to represent Somalia [men’s 5,000m] in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Mohamed Daud Mohamed, born in Garissa, Kenya had no training opportunities nor chances of making Kenya international status; sought it in Somalia, becoming the flag bearer of the two-people [with female athlete Maryan Nuh Muse] team to represent Somalia [men’s 5,000m] in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Somalia which produced double Olympic champion Mo Farah and Mohammed Ahmed, who made his Olympic debut in Rio for Canada, coming 18th in the 10,000m – sent only two athletes to the 2016 Olympic Games, woman runner Maryan Nuh Muse and the Kenya-born Mohamed Daud Mohamed.

Salat said governments of North Eastern Kenya, “including us, Wajir and Mandera should start paying much attention in sport and the region will change; contributing sportsmen and women for the Kenya national teams.”

He said: “In religious circles they ask me what a sheikh is doing getting bothered about sports for the youth; I say it is my religious duty to be close to the youth and in sport, that’s just a perfect platform.”

Renowned athletes

Tilita regrets for not having been able to go to high school and perhaps might still do, though late. He said he was under a good coach, Jacob Lagat, in charge of other renowned athletes at Nyahururu.

“He [Lagat] is training me together with Kumari Taki, the reigning 800m WU18 Championships champion (2015, Cali, Colombia) and U20 World champion (2016 Bydgoszcz, Poland), said Tilita adding “I am learning a lot. I already run against seniors in the AK weekend meeting in March in Thika [Thika County] and I came off third.”

Left parents

His attraction for running the 800m came out of believe he could do it like many other Masai champions  of the race  he hear of  while growing up; Stephen Ole Marai, Billy Konchellah, Patrick Konchellah, David Rudisha, he said.

“My cousin, Alex Sampao [4x400m relay champion at 11th African Games in Congo Brazzaville, 2015] is good at the distance. He is based abroad now. I hope to do as well as all these men.”

Improve

Talita said how he ended in Garissa: “After school in Kajiado I did not know what to do, I left by parents, who are herders and went to live with relatives in Garissa.  I discovered athletics there.”

Of fellow runners in Garissa he said: “[Zacharia] Abdi is good. He is my friend and we encourage each other. If he can find the time and means to come and train under a specialized coach like here in Nyahururu he can improve a lot. I will try to help by advising him.”

Awareness

Union rugby Kenya international forward Martin Owillah was one of those invited to the maiden SGR ride. The idea that the LOC of the WU18 Championships were on board raising awareness about the event and the Kenya team, was great he said.

“Raise it up a lot more, get as many people as possible to come support our team and also witness the first world class sporting event we have ever had in Nairobi. And if you get and many children as possible to represent their counties as spectators, the effect on our sports nationwide will be great.”

Spotted me

Owillah said the youth round the country only needed “role models and someone to hold their hand to step on to a platform and from they take off.”

He said: “I was out there going to school in Homa Bay, played some rugby and after school joined Kisumu Rugby Football Club. It’s from there that someone spotted me, I was given a chance and here I am; joined Kenya team, have been to camp training in South Africa, competed in the Vodacom Cup League there, campaigned for the 2015 Rugby World Cup qualification and toured the world. I am looking forward to the 2019 World Rugby Cup qualifiers, taking on Uganda in our first match in June. Last week I played for my country against Germany, unfortunately going down by a point [30-31] in Nairobi in an international Test.”

Sweating it out for country … Martin Owillah trains with the Tusker Simba XV in Nairobi before a tour and two-months stay in Cape Town and play in South Africa’s Vodacom Cup prior to the June 2013 African qualifiers for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. He is in the team for the 2019 World Rugby Cup

Sweating it out for country … Martin Owillah trains with the Tusker Simba XV in Nairobi before a tour and two-months stay in Cape Town and play in South Africa’s Vodacom Cup prior to the June 2014 African qualifiers for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. He is in the team for the 2019 World Rugby Cup

Owillah, a student at Mt Kenya University, said he thought the Government was supporting Athletics well but added that the Kenya Rugby Union [KRU] was struggling financially. “Absolute struggle now and the team is not at its best motivation. The Union networking is not good at all with the corporate world that supported us in the past. This is very worrying.”

He said: “For the 2015 World Cup qualifying campaign things were really good and we raised our skills to match our top opponents Namibia who we beat comfortably. They have since become thoroughly professional while here we have reverted to pure amateur status; with all of us occupied with school [varsity] and job commitment full time, with hardly a chance to train satisfactorily.”

Effortlessly

He said he will enjoy the athletics at the WU18 Championships. “It’s always a pleasure watching our men and women perform. We almost take it for granted they will win Gold medals every time but as an athlete I know how much sacrifice they make in training and preparations in order to appear to win so effortlessly on competition day.”

And the SGR? “Excellent. Sports people will be able to travel between Mombasa and Nairobi quicker; then I hope it gets to Kisumu and Malaba quickly and connect with the rest of East Africa. This is really stress-free travel. I commend those who had the vision to start the project and those who are working towards completion.”

Communications

He added: “The SGR will greatly reduce budget and time for sports teams travelling to and from Mombasa and hope this will spread further.”

Harrison Martin Talo and media and communication student Johnson Kamwana both of Multi Media University, Nairobi and Ben Oketch, training in aircraft engineering at the East Africa School of Aviation said they were all sports ‘buffs’ and looked forward to watching the WU18 Championships at Kasarani.

Visitors

Oketch would have like to do more: “Do you have any more activation events to bring people to the championships? Would like to get involved.”

Hanna Resson of Suswa, Narok County was an attraction on board. She was in bright Masai cultural garb and when receiving the LOC WU18 Championships, Nairobi 2017 shirt said she wished the games will please all the visitors to Kenya.

And that the Kenya Team would be a representative face of the country. She was glad that among the prospects is a Masai boy, Nicholas Leparan of Nairobi who was a front runner in both the 110m and 400m hurdles.

Construction

If Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan and Ethiopia, do as planned [build SGR in their respective regions] East Africa is headed to be more accessible than ever. After two years of construction, Kenya’s largest infrastructure project since independence, the $3.8 billion Chinese-built SGR, went up and running on Wednesday; the 1,400 passenger carrying 15 coaches taking off at 11.13am from the Mombasa Terminus, Miritini.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, accompanied by First Lady Margaret Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto did the ceremonial flagging off, rode in the Presidential coach and en route visited fellow passengers in the first class and economy class compartments.

Reshape

The train was named “Madaraka Express”, after the day Kenya attained self rule and speaking at its launch, President Uhuru referenced the country’s colonial British railway — known as the “Lunatic Express” — built more than a century ago, saying: “Today 122 years later, despite again a lot of criticism, we now celebrate, not the Lunatic Express but the Madaraka Express, that will begin to reshape the story of Kenya for the next 100 years. I am proud to be associated with this day.”

Nairobi is not the intended end of the line. The railway is planned to eventually go thorough western Kenya and connect six other East African countries, opening up the region’s markets and trade, which for now is reliant on road transport.

Mind boggling

In the carnival mood on the train passengers appeared to eat non-stop and the amount of work involved in the feeding — supplied Kenya Utalii College the premier hospitality training institution — was mind boggling. But one of the staff, Dorine Masha said: “On normal days, the work will not be this killing. We’ll cope today because the occasion is a one-of. We are happy to be of the service.” The staff did not have a second’s rest until the train arrived at Syokimau, Nairobi as darkness fell.

Along the route the President disembarked to address crowd, sometimes for far much longer than earlier declared schedule. Stops included at: Mariakani, Miaseny, Voi, Mtito Andei, Kibwezi, Emali, Athi River and finally Syokimau. There was comedy as several who disembarked with the President were left off board, screaming after the train took off. The train was also monitored from the air by hovering Police and Kenya Wildlife Service helicopters and mean looking Kenya Army gunships. It was a treat to thousands of 3-7 year-old children en route. Whenever the aerial machines landed that’s why the excitement of the kids was directed completely oblivious of the rest of the Presidential function.

President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks to the public on one of the SGR train stops on Wednesday

President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks to the public on one of the SGR train stops on Wednesday

A lot of Nairobians haven’t the foggiest idea where the Nairobi Terminus of the SGR, Syokimau is. On the familiar Nairobi/Mombasa [road] Highway, around “Mlolongo”, the terminus is to the right hand side deep into unseen area behind Syokimau. When the entry road off the highway is completed and well lit by street lights, people will be able to identify entry to an area that resembles a complete new town.

The rail and the trains on the SGR were all ready for the launch date and operated perfectly. The Mombasa Terminus and inter-lying stations were also complete. But Syokimau, the largest edifice has quite a lot of finishing touches to be done; street lighting not in place hundreds trying to get transport out, in absence of any service including taxis, meant a “lunatic” walk in the night for almost a whole kilometre to the Msa/Nbi Highway. Those affected included the elderly and handicapped. Also the escalators at Syokimau, unlike in Miritini were not functional and people were forced to heave luggage up steep rising to two floors.

Cheapest

Economy fare will be Sh700 a ticket. In order to reach central business districts of both Mombasa and Nairobi the cheapest means would be a Sh50 shuttle ride to put the total cost to still Sh50 less than the cheapest bus ticket [800] to the destinations. Shuttle pick-ups should be used as a business incentive to transport groups [Saccos] that treat customers well; being granted pick-up priority permits at both Miritini and Syokimau and thus being guaranteed business at a specific arrival and departure times.

The biggest plus of the SGR is a stress-free ride. The prospect of riding from Miritini to Syokimau without the worry of meeting any oncoming traffic on the entire route compares to none;  not even with air travel which [turbulence]  is a nightmare to so many.

When the SGR train, riders were the envy of stranded road users in traffic jams in, many notorious sections on the entire Mombasa/Nairobi [road] haul. From Athi River through the final Syokimau run, the train takes just 13 minutes. As you whip past, you see the bumper-to-bumper snarl-up of vehicles on the way to “Mlolongo”; sometimes this section ‘bottles” up people for hours!

-Additional reporting by Correspondents and SGR sources