Atrocious tale of Golden Era athletes in dire straits
A misfortune of major proportions has descended on some of these gallant sons and daughters of Kenya who flew the country’s flag high on the global sporting arena.
They competed clean and won fair and square, hence the misfortune currently gnawing at them cannot be attributed to cheating, or a curse that, since biblical times, are known to follow evil doers.
Naftali Bon died in November 2018 and was buried at his Kamwetuny village in Kapsabet after suffering excruciating pain and penury, a victim of an ailment that destroyed his mental faculty to smithereens.
He could not remember the most basic milestones in his own life – like date of birth, or the year he retired from the Police Force.
We had to rely on second person accounts of his children or former colleagues in the Force like Kipchoge Keino.
A sad ending for a man whose career included winning 4x400m relay silver medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
Nyantika Maiyoro, 88, arguably Kenya’s first successful international athlete, died on Sunday at the Christa Marianne Hospital in Kisii after three weeks at the facility.
His son, Pastor Ken Nyantika, had made a public appeal through social media to help offset hospital bill.
Maiyoro was among the athletes who were part of Kenya’s debut at the Olympics in Melbourne in 1956.
Robert Ouko, who won Kenya’s first Olympics 4x400m relay gold medal in Munich Games in 1972, died in mid-2019 after a protracted battle with cancer.
His appeal elicited an outpouring of support from athletes he helped obtain scholarships to American colleges and Kenyans in general.
Wilson Kiprugut arap Chumo, has been in and out of hospital lately and many others out there.
Henry Rono sent an appeal to help him return home from the US, which Athletics Kenya and Kipchoge Keino responded to positively.
Even Rose Tata Muya, who has been struggling to lobby for state intervention for the suffering and ailing athletes, is not better physically.
But she stoically hits the road, struggling to maintain her former brisk gait, for the sake of fellow legends.
Away from track and field Olympians, Joe Kadenge of the ‘Kadenge na Mpira’ fame, struggled for years in and out of hospital with a stroke.
President Uhuru Kenyatta came to his aid in one of those desperate times and raised Sh2 million for his medication.
Only a few months ago, indefatigable female boxer, Conjestina Achieng’ was in the news for not dissimilar reasons, albeit her case had become public knowledge a few years earlier.
“Some of us may be responsible for our problems, but surely something needs to be done, across the board.
Not just to track and field athletes, but the entire spectrum,” says former Gor Mahia defender David Okello.
“What legacy are we leaving behind as pioneer Olympians? A legacy of penury, desperation, begging?
“But the truth of the matter is that many sportsmen and women who did this country proud are suffering, some have been neglected and need urgent state intervention, which selective assistance by tribal chieftains can neither help nor sustain,” he said.
Kenya Heroes Act 2014 states, inter alia, that income from the Kenya Heroes Fund shall be used for the benefit of national heroes in need of financial assistance and their dependants.
A major problem this undertaking is likely to face is over-dependence on track and field to determine who qualifies as a hero or heroine.
Where will sports like football with no major success outside the region be? —The author is a journalist