Ten memorable sporting moments of 2019

Monday, December 23rd, 2019 12:00 |
Eliud Kipchoge crosses the finish line to win the men’s race of the 2019 London Marathon. Photo/PD/FILE

From Eliud Kipchoge’s INEOS 1:59 Challenge, Shujaa’s relegation escape to SportPesa’s exit, 2019 has been a year full of highs and lows in Kenyan sports. Gibo Zachary takes a look at the most memorable ones.  

1. Eliud Kipchoge’s INEOS 1:59 Challenge

Was there a moment better than this? When Eliud Kipchoge started saluting the fans a few metres to the finish line in Vienna, Austria on October 12, many of us were holding our breath.

Will he make it, why doesn’t he wait until the end to celebrate? Were the questions during the INEOS 1:59 Challenge where Kipchoge was seeking to be the first man to run a marathon under two hours.

The world marathon record holder duly delivered, crossing the finish line in 1:59.40 to the astonishment of the entire world.

“I went to the moon, now I’m back to earth,” Kipchoge said a few minutes after the race, proving that indeed, no human is limited. 

2. Harambee Stars at Afcon

After a 15-year hiatus, Harambee Stars finally returned to the high table of African football when they featured in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Egypt in June and July.

Not much was expected from Kenya at the biennial event and that is how it turned out as they lost 2-0 to eventual champions Algeria and 3-0 to runners up Senegal, sandwiched between an entertaining 3-2 victory over Tanzania at the group stage.

It might not have been an impressive outing for Kenya but the good performances of Joseph Okumu, Johana Omollo and Michael Olunga, coupled with Patrick Matasi’s two penalty saves provided a silver lining. 

3. Kenya second 

in Doha

At every global athletics event, Kenya is always among the favourites to scoop medals and the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar was not different. Having collected 11 medals (five gold) in London two years earlier, Kenya were under pressure to either equal or surpass that tally.

They maintained that after winning five gold, two silver and four bronze medals to retain their second place finish on the log. Kenya’s medal count may have been better had the injured Elijah Manangoi and David Rudisha featured but Timothy Cheruiyot, Beatrice Chepkoech, Conseslus Kipruto, Ruth Chepng’etich and Hellen Obiri saved the day. 

4. Brigid Kosgei’s world record

Just a day after Eliud Kipchoge’s historic run in Vienna, another Kenyan broke a world record.

Brigid Kosgei ran an astonishing 2:14:04 at the Chicago Marathon, shaving off a massive 81 seconds from the previous world record set by Briton Paula Radcliffe 16 years ago.

Nobody had seen that coming but the athlete, who also won the London Marathon in April, later admitted her training had been tailored for the world record assault. 

5. Fallen legends

While there were a lot of up and downs on and off the pitch, there were also several moments of sadness when a number of Kenya’s sports legends died.

Kenya’s pioneer athlete Nyandika Maiyoro died in February before Daniel Rudisha, another athletics legend, followed in March.

In July, Kenya’s greatest footballer of all time, Joe Kadenge passed away after a long battle with diabetes and high blood pressure and the following month, the 1972 Munich Olympics gold medallist Robert Gwaro Ouko followed.

Rally legend Bharat Bhardwaj passed away early  this month and just last weekend, Steve Yongo, another football icon died.  

6. KPL’s financial woes

This is not a new thing in Kenyan Premier League but in 2019, it reached worrying levels. Never before has top flight teams been relegated mid-season in he last two decades due to financial challenges but this year, Sony Sugar have gone and there are fears that Chemelil could follow suit.

Besides that, several teams are losing players and coaches in the middle of the season due to non-payment of salaries.

To make matters worse, the most popular teams Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards have either lost a coach or player, going through a go-slow or are in danger of losing both. 

7. Shujaa escape relegation 

Heading into the 2018/19 World Rugby Sevens Series season, there were concerns about Kenya’s performance given a number of stars had boycotted national duty over a contract standoff.

Those concerns turned into a nightmare as the youngsters assembled for the season struggled from kick off, collecting one and three points from the opening two rounds.

That set the tone for what was a difficult season as Shujaa failed to get past the group stages in all but one final leg in Paris where they saved the country from relegation shame as they finished 13th with just 37 points. 

8. Geoffrey Kamworor’s record

Another memorable moment came in Copenhagen, Denmark on September 15 when Geoffrey Kamworor set a new World Half Marathon record.

The 58:01 mark chopped 22 seconds from the eight-year previous record of 58:23 held by Zersenay Tadese from Eritrea, a time he set on March 21, 2010 in Lisbon, Portugal as Kamworor came close to breaking the event’s 58-minute barrier.

Known as ‘the man of all surfaces’, having won titles on track, road and cross-country, Kamworor proved once again that the future of distance running is in safe hands when he won the New York Marathon in November. 

9. Eritrea thrash Kenya 

Heading into the 2019 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup, Kenya and Uganda were considered the teams to beat given their pedigree in the region.

But while Uganda lived up to expectations by reaching last weekend’s final, Kenya flattered to deceive.

A 1-0 win over Tanzania in the opening match followed by a laboured 2-1 victory over Sudan before a hard-fought 1-0 defeat of Zanzibar gave their fans hope but they would meet their waterloo at the semi-finals.

Going in as overwhelming favourites against Eritrea who had sneaked into the last four, the defending champions were embarrassed as they lost 4-1. 

10. SportPesa leaves Kenya

The betting giant was like Father Christmas to Kenya’s sports entities. They were the main sponsors of KPL, Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards, Kenya Rugby Union, Fatma Zarika besides offering financial support to Football Kenya Federation and a number of community tournaments.

But with the government imposing punitive tax measures on the gaming industry, SportPesa were forced to cut costs.

They started by withdrawing sports sponsorships before they exited the Kenyan market all together.

The impact has been devastating as everyone they supported has now been left to beg from government and well-wishers. 

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