Kenyans who made it in unlikely sports!

Posted: August 8, 2014 in Africa, Kenya

Kenya is a world celebrated athletics powerhouse. While some say football is made in Brazil, Kenyans whisper that athletics is made in Kenya. When a country beats Kenya in any other sporting event, Kenyans are quick to launch a tweef, promising to execute a sweet revenge when it gets to the Olympics.

kenya_lcBut another class of Kenyans have been a rather busy lot in the international scene — making a name for themselves and bringing home the recognition, flying our flag high. Here is a peek into some who have made history by joining popular fields and gained international attention.Ladies and gentlemen…I usher you into the Kenyans Sports Hall of Fame

Edward Rombo
romboEdward Rombo is no doubt the most talented rugby player Kenya has ever produced and the only Kenyan to play top tier rugby in Europe.

He landed a Professional contract to play with Leeds Rhinos where he played alongside some of the worlds best including legendary All Black full black John Gallagher. Besides playing for Leeds, he also played for Dewsbury RFC and Featherstone Rovers, both of whom he led in scoring. He was nicknamed “Rambo” by the British media. While playing in the UK, Rombo pursued a degree in Law. He later returned to Kenya and wound down his playing career with Mwamba RFC. Has has since held various positions in Kenya rugby including coach of the national team.

McDonald Mariga
imagesMariga made history as the first Kenyan footballer to play in the UEFA Champions League on 16 March 2010.

Defensive midfielder maestro, McDonald Mariga made history in the soccer world. First, he became the first Kenyan to play in the Champions League — the most competitive and prestigious soccer competition in the world. This was in 2010 with the Internazionale (Inter Milan) team coached by the Special One — Jose Mourinho. His illustrious soccer progress did not end there as the team defeated Bayern Munich to win the Champions League trophy, subsequently making him the first Kenyan to win the trophy. In addition, he won the treble by winning the Domestic Cup, Copa Italia and Italian Serie A League.

His is another tale of talented family. His brother Wanyama became the first ever Kenyan player to score in the UEFA Champions League when he scored the first goal in Celtic’s historic 2–1 win

Daniel Adongo

Adongo protecting his kicker from opposing defenders

Adongo protecting his kicker from opposing defenders

On Sunday December 8, Kenya’s rugby phenom, Daniel Adongo played in his first game ever in America’s National Football League. It was yet another step in an unlikely journey that has taken Adongo from Kenya Harlequins Junior team in Nairobi, to the Natal Sharks Juniors in South Africa then to Blue Bulls of South Africa’s Currie Cup to Counties Manukau in New Zealand’s ITM cup then to Tuks in South Africa’s Varsity cup, then to Southern Kings in the Super series.

At 6 foot six inches and 247 pounds (112 kg), Adongo is massive. And he has the speed of a sevens centre. Were he in the Kenya sevens team, with his size and speed, he would have been unstoppable.

Chris Otambo

Chris Otambo on the right

Chris Otambo on the right

During the 1970s and early 1980s, Kenya was ranked amongst the top 5 teams in men’s field hockey worldwide. And they had no peers on the continent of Africa. It was a golden generation of players. In those days Kenyan field hockey players were national heroes. Names like Peter Akatsa, Simi Goyal, Michael Omondi became household names. Its is difficult to pick out any standouts from this group. But Chris Otambo deserves some special mention if only for his goal scoring exploits.He was part of the Kenya teams that qualified for the 1984 and 1988 Olympic games.

Julius Yego
Despite hailing from a village in the Rift Valley, the traditional breeding ground for the seemingly endless stream of Kenyan distance runners who have enjoyed such success in distances from 800 meters to the marathon, Yego took up javelin instead of running events because he was, in his own words, ‘so slow’.

Yego is a self-taught javelin thrower having learnt his trade by watching videos on YouTube.

In 2006, Yego held the national junior title at 67 meters. He beat Paul Lagat’s 14-year national record of 78.20 by throwing 78.34 at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Julius-Yego He also won the javelin title at the 2011 All-Africa games, and was third in the 2010 African Championships.

He did not have a throwing coach until IAAF gave him a 6 months scholarship to train at its center in Kuortane, Finland,the traditional home of javelin. This paid off when he finally won the gold medal in the 2014 Commonwealth games recently at Glasgow, beating the 2012 Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad & Tobago despite picking up a groin injury during the warm-up.

Like many top Kenyan athletes, Yego has a job with the national police force, but is allowed ample time to train between four to five hours per day, working on specialist exercises in the gym, jumps over hurdles and a throwing routine.

Seraphino Antao
Seraphino Antao is the most accomplished sprinter Kenya has ever produced. He won the gold medal in the 100 yards and the 220 Yards at the 1962 Commonwealth games. In the process he became the first Kenyan ever to win a gold medal at a global event.

Antao was born in 1937 in the coastal city of Mombasa. He is atypical in many ways. To begin with Kenya is not known to produce world class short sprinters. Secondly people of goan decent rarely excel in the short sprints.His international debut came in 1958 when he participated in the commonwealth games, reaching the second round. His reached the zenith of his career when he won the gold medals at the 1962 commonwealth games in Perth Australia. He also won both events at the British AAA games that same year. He was also the East and Central Africa championships winner at both 100m and 200m in 1961 and 1963. When Kenya became an independent nation in 1963, Antao became the first flag bearer when the team went to the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.

Stamp of Honour

Stamp of Honour

He won the prestigious Helms Athletics Foundation award the following year, which was awarded to six greatest athletes of the six continents by the American Foundation.

Daniel Otunga
daniel-otunga Daniel Otunga has a Kenyan dad and an American mum. Although his citizenship is not in question, let’s assume having a Kenyan surname makes him as Kenyan as can be.

Otunga is a two-time WWE Tag Team Champion, a lawyer, actor, and professional wrestler. He signed up to the WWE in 2008 and made his debut in 2009 as Dawson Alexander.

He wrestled under his real name in WWE NXT in 2010. He is the last original member of the Nexus and the New Nexus.

Shekhar Mehta
In his prime, Shekhar Mehta was one of the best rally drivers in the world and was the most famous Kenyan sportsman of the early to mid 80s. A five time winner of the Safari Rally. During the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the Safari rally was the largest annual sporting event in Kenya. To begin with it was part of the world rally championships which means the best rally drivers from all over the world came to Kenya to compete in the Safari rally. Not only that but the Safari rally was televised all over the world, not just in Kenya. As a result, the entire country was consumed with watching the rally cars criss-cross the dirt roads all over the country. Virtually every Kenyan followed the cars on radio, on television and in the newspapers. Many kept score-cards and followed the rally closely as they watched and hoped that Kenyan drivers could compete against the big time drivers from Europe.

mehtaIt was against this backdrop of global competition that Shekhar Mehta arose. Mehta went on to win the Safari rally 5 times, each time leaving the mighty European drivers in his wake.
Chandrashekhar ‘Shekhar’ Mehta was born in Uganda on 20th June 1945. He spent his early years on his family’s tea and sugar plantations, then was shipped off to Europe for schooling. He returned to Uganda to work in the family business in 1965. He started rallying at age 21. His first rally was the Nile rally in which he drove a BMW 1800. His first big win came in 1971 when he won the East African rally while driving a Datsun 240Z. Indeed Mehta drove Datsun’s throughout his career. In 1972 , Mehta immigrated into Kenya from Uganda as part of the great Asian immigration when Iddi Amin ejected all Asians. Uganda’s loss was Kenya’s gain.

Philip Boit
philip-boit2While Kenya tends to kick ass during the Summer Olympics in track events, we are conspicuously absent from the Winter Games because, well, no snow.

In 1995 Nike had a ridiculously ambitious plan to turn an african athlete into a skier.The guinea pigs were Philip Boit and Henry Bitok,

At the 1998 Nagano winter Olympics, Boit got to the finishing line a whooping 20 minutes behind the winner. “They were shouting ‘Kenya GO!, Philip GO!’ “It was like I was winning a medal even though I was last..The standing ovation was priceless though.”

Boit also participated in the 1999 Nordic Skiing World Championships in Ramsau, Austria, then Nike finally gave up on its project.

Boit however had been caught by the skiing bug. In 2002 at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, he finished 64th, beating three competitors. He returned in 2006 at Turin where he beat 5 competitors (finished 92nd). He was clearly improving but he didn’t qualify for 2010 Winter Olympics.Moral of the story stick with your plans and good things will follow.Hats off to Phillip Boit.

Robert Napunyi Wangila

wangila-passHe was a Kenyan boxer who won a welterweight gold medal at the 1988 Summer Olympic Games. He is still the only Kenyan Olympic gold medal winner outside athletics and the only boxer from Sub-Saharan Africa outside of South Africa to have won Olympic gold.

Chris Froome
Granted that cycling is not a popular sport in Kenya, it sure feels great when we hear of a person of Kenyan descent winning an international cycling competition. Such is the case of Kenyan-born UK cyclist Chris Froome who won the 100th edition of the world’s premiere cycling competition — the Tour de France.

ChrisFroomeTourdeFrancestag_2969395Although he won it while flying Britain’s Union Jack, the 28-year-old cyclist professional was born to parents of British descent in Kenya, and began his cycling career under the tutelage of David Kinjah. Prior to this historic win, he bagged a medal for Kenya in the 2007 All Africa Games.

Paul Wekesa
paul-wekesaVirtually unknown in Kenya today, Paul Wekesa is the only Kenyan tennis player to reach Top 100 of ATP rankings. He did this in 1995, raking in $448, 114 in prize money in his career.

Born in 1967 to politician Noah Wekesa, Paul Wekesa would go on to win the doubles tournament at the NCAA Men’s Tennis Championships and a bronze medal at the All-Africa Games in 1987.

He later scooped three ATP Tour Doubles titles. He achieved one of his most impressive feats in 1989 when he reached the quarter finals in doubles at the Australia Open. He featured at Wimbeldon, French Open and the US Open.Tennis enthusiasts probably remember him when he featured in the Davis Cup Team, leading Kenya to success in the Euro-African zone in 1992.

Wekesa won his singles matches and then teamed up with Eno Polo to register a narrow win in the doubles over Romania. His victories triggered a tennis-mania in the country that would last for the next five years.

Wekesa continued to play in the Davis Cup until 1998 when he finally hung up his racket. He later became Kenya coach. In 2007 he won the hall of fame category at the Kenya sports personality of the year awards.

Jason Dunford
DUNNYYYJason Edward Dunford (born 28 November 1986 in Nairobi) is a Kenyan swimmer. He is predominantly a butterfly and freestyle sprinter. He has won gold medals at the Commonwealth Games, Universiade, All-Africa Games and African Championships, and reached finals at Olympics, World Championships and Short Course World Championships. He has also held African, Universiade and Olympic records. Many of his achievements are unprecedented in the history of Kenyan swimming.

Johnny oduya
Johnny-Oduya Lovers of ice hockey can relate to one David Johnny Oduya, a professional ice hockey Swedish player who has Kenyan roots. Born to a Kenyan journalist father and a Swedish mother, Johnny, currently plays with Chicago Blackhawks and won his first Stanley Cup this year. He drew his inspiration for playing ice hockey from his brother Fredrick Oduya (who died in a motor cycle accident in Austria in 2011).

Conjestina Achieng
Kenyans remember her quick rise to the top as the country’s most popular female boxer.

At her prime, she easily dismantled opponents, won titles and providing Kenyans an entertainment they had never seen before and many young girls dared to dream.

Born in Umiru village Siaya county, Achieng’s passion for boxing grew at an early age probably from the influence of her brother who was in the national team.Conjestina-Achieng1-300x225

She would go on to win four world titles under different weight categories, registering 17 wins and four draws and became a crowd darling who christened her “Hands of Stone”. She was once ranked number five in the world.

She became the first African woman to hold an international title when she beat Ugandan Fiona Tugume to take the vacant WIBF middleweight title. After seven amateur bouts, “Conje” made her pro debut in 2002 which earned her product endorsements.

Maurice Odumbe
Maurice Odumbe was the Legendary Former Cricket National Team Captain of Kenya. Odumbe made his debut for Kenya on 4 June 1990 against Bangladesh at Amstelveen at the ICC Trophy, scoring 41 and taking 1/26, and had become one of their leading players by Kenya’s One Day International (ODI) debut at the 1996 Cricket World Cup. Odumbe won the Man of the Match Award in one of cricket’s biggest shocks, taking 3 for 14 in Kenya’s win over West Indies.
Odumbe made his first-class debut in 1998 when Kenya played the touring England A side, making 16 and taking 0/29, and continued to play well for his local Nairobi side, the Aga Khan club. Odumbe was appointed national captain prior to the 1999 Cricket World Cup, winning a Man of the Match award against Sri Lanka for his 82 off 95 deliveries. Passed over for captaincy for Steve Tikolo for the 2003 Cricket World Cup, Odumbe played well as Kenya made the semi-finals, and in the following year he hit a career best first-class score of 207 against the Leeward Islands.

Jeremy Wahome
Upcoming Kenyan Auto Cross racer, Jeremy Wahome, secured his first ever podium finish at the Formula BMW Asian Cup strong contest at the Formula car racing circuit in Malaysia.

Wahome, 16, successfully achieved three rookie wins, two second place finishes and one third place finish at the Asia race held at the world famous Sepang International.

The Asia Cup series is a championship designed for young drivers seeking to transit from Kart racing to Cars as they gain ranks in the motorsport industry. The aim of these young racers is to ultimately gain entry into the world famous Formula One racing championships. Wahome is destined to be Kenya’s first Formula 1.

Athletics made in Kenya

Athletics made in Kenya


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