Malkia Strikers qualify for Tokyo Olympics
By Lynette Matheka
After 16 years of sweat, pain, tears and near misses, national women’s volleyball team Malkia Strikers’ have finally booked the elusive ticket to the Olympics Games.
The side strolled past Nigeria 3-0 (25-15, 25-21, 25-12) in the decider match to bag maximum points to finish the championship with 11 points, one ahead of rivals Cameroon, and clinch the sole African ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Games in Japan.
Kenyans started celebrating Malkia’s return to the Olympics after Sharon Chepchumba’s spike hit the opponent’s floor to seal a 3-2 win against Cameroon on Tuesday. However, the players had a job to do against Nigeria and remained calm as they executed the plan to return Kenya to the prestigious competition.
Coach Paul Bitok’s charges started on a high, winning the first set 25-15 but Nigeria turned the tables in the second, running them close before Kenya prevailed 25-21. There were no such nervy moments in the final set, Kenya comfortably winning it 25-12 to return to the Olympics for the first time since 2004.
Real work now starts for Bitok's charges given while they have proved unbeatable in Africa, they are yet to conquer the world.
Their last international assignment was in the Olympics host nation late last year where they lost 10 of their 11 matches at the World Cup, only winning against Cameroon in the 12-team competition.
And as fate would have it, six of the seven teams Malkia Strikers fell to at the World Cup have already booked their ticket to the Olympics. They include top-seeded China, Serbia, United States, Brazil, Russia and hosts Japan.
Additionally, Italy, who beat them 3-0 at the Intercontinental Olympic qualifiers last August, have also qualified, meaning they will have to prepare very well to have a chance in Tokyo.
“We have many sports disciplines scrambling for these slots to the Olympics and it is really a good feeling to have volleyball back. From here, the team’s preparations now become a responsibility of the National Olympics Committee and the government,” said Kenya Volleyball Federation president Waithaka Kioni.
He added: “However, we will sit with the technical bench immediately the team gets back and have a consultative meeting where they will advise us on what they need to do in order for the team to be a force in Japan. The road map from now through to July when the games begin will, however, depend on availability of funds.”