Since gaining independence, Kenya has continuously churned out countless track and field athletes who have gone on to win world and Olympics titles, curving a place of honour, but one Kipchoge Keino remains peerless.
In 1968, together with Naftali Temu and Amos Biwott, Kipchoge delivered one of Kenya’s first three gold medals at the Olympics in Mexico City, when he won the 1,500m race setting off the country’s prolonged dominance in middle and long distance races at the games.
An immensely talented athlete who was not just confined to one specialty, Kipchoge returned to the Olympic Games four years later to win gold in 3,000m steeplechase becoming the first Kenya to win two gold medals in successive Olympic Games, a feat that has only ever been equaled by David Rudisha in 800m.
With two silver medals in 5,000m (Mexico City – 1968) and 1,500m (Munich – 1972) he also ranks as the most decorated Kenyan Olympian. This added to three Commonwealth Games titles and two All African Games crowns have cemented Kipchoge’s place in the folklore of Kenyan athletics.
Eight years after becoming the first Hall of Fame inductee at the inaugural Soya Awards, in 2012, Kipchoge, who is the chairman of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (Nock), was of one of 24 athletes inducted as inaugural members of the International Association of Athletics Federation Hall of Fame.
During the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Kipchoge was bestowed with another honour when he became the first recipient of the Olympic Laurel award in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the Olympic movement and his work in educating orphaned children.
Long after his retirement, Kipchoge’s unmatched success and unwavering commitment to that sport continues to inspire many Kenyan athletes.
2005 (Joe Kadenge – Football)
What Kipchoge Keino is to Kenyan athletics, the same can be said of Joe Kadenge – he of the Kadenge na mpira fame – in as far as Kenyan football is concerned. This is despite the fact unlike Kipchoge, Kadenge never was an Olympian. It’s a remarkable that having hang up his boots in 1975, Kadenge’s name has remained synonymous with Kenyan football over the years. He is rightfully considered as Kenya’s greatest ever football player.
Befitting of the special place the legend hold in the annals of Kenyan football, his biography, Joe Kadenge: The Life of a Football Legend, was published in 2015. Authored by veteran Kenyan sports journalist, John Nene, the book chronicles all the milestones and dramatic moments of Kadenge’s legendary career
At the time of the launch in December 2015, Mr Nene said the book was in recognition of the Kadenge’s impact on Kenyan football during his playing career spanning almost two decades.
Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, wrote in the book’s foreward: “The story of Kenyan football cannot be complete without the name of Joe Kadenge, both by longevity of playing and the duration of remaining a star.”
Although Kadenge has lately been stricken by infirmity, it’s imperative that the selection panel of the second edition of the Soya Awards bestowed upon him the honour of being the second inductee to the Fame of Hall.
2006 Hardial Singh – Hockey
It may come as surprise to many that while Kenya is not considered a force among hockey playing nations of the world, once upon a time the men’s national team used to be regular campaigners at the Olympic Games.
One man whose name is closely associated with that period of success for Kenya is one Hardial Singh, who was the team’s coach at the 1964 Tokyo and 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. The team’s sixth place finish in Tokyo ranks as the country’s best performance at the games.
Singh’s influence in hockey transcended the Kenyan borders and until his death in 1998, he held various key positions in world hockey, including serving as the President of African Hockey Federation and the Vice Presidency of the International Hockey Federation (FIH).
2007 Paul Wekesa – Tennis
The son of former Kenyan Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, Paul Wekesa is arguably the most popular name that the country has ever produced in tennis. The highlight of his career was in 1995 when he played in three Grand Slam tournaments (French Open, Wimbledon Open and US Open) an achievement that saw his attain a career-high singles ranking of World No. 100 which was until then unprecedented by a Kenyan player. He also featured for the Kenya Davis Cup team on a number of occasions during his career.
2009 Doris Wefwafwa – Volleyball
Veteran sports journalist Roy Gachuhi once wrote: “If Kenyans liked volleyball the way they like football, or the way Indians like cricket or New Zealanders rugby, Kenya Pipeline women’s volleyball club would be a national icon.”
And at the time when Kenya Pipeline was a dominant force in continental club volleyball, Doris Wefwafwa’s name was synonymous with the team’s success. The most significant of his achievements was being part of national women’s team squad that competed in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, where Kenya finished 12.
Prior to that memorable Olympics appearance, Wefwafwa had been part of the national squad at the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in 1994 and 1998.
2013 (Philip Waruinge – Boxing) – A forbearer of what become the dreaded Hit Squad, Philip Waruinge is a member of an exclusive club of Kenyan Olympians who achieved a first for the country at the games. He made history in 1968 by becoming Kenya’s first non-track and field medalist at the Olympics with a bronze medal in the men’s featherweight, although to date it’s widely believed that he was denied gold by the judges. This school is thought is justified by the fact that he was awarded the Val Barker Trophy, an award reserved for the most outstanding boxer at the games.
Four years later in Munich, Waruinge went one better by clinching silver medal even as his team mates in the Hit Squad Samuel Mbugua (lightweight) and Dick Murunga (welterweight) each won bronze medals. Waruinge would later turn professional and although he enjoyed a diminished profile as a pro he had already shown the way for the latter day Kenyan boxers at the Olympics.
2016 (Jackson Omaido – Rugby)
In his book, Odd Shaped Balls: The Kenyan Story, journalist Brian Wasuna, credits two second generation rugby playing families for raising the country’s profile as a rugby playing nation; the Omaido (Jack and Walter) brothers and the Muniafu brothers. While still a teenager and a student at Lenana School, Jack made history in 1975 when he was called up to the East Africa Tuskers team that toured Zambia. In subsequent years, Jack went on to play for University of Nairobi’s Mean Machine, Kenya Harlequin and the national 15s team as well as for select side Watembezi Pacesetters. To this date, he is ranked as one of the best back line players the country has ever produced. It is for this reason that his induction to the Soya Awards Hall of Fame in 2016 was long in coming.
(Naftali Temu – Athletics) – Kipchoge Keino may be the doyen of Kenyan athletics greats, but Naftali Temu is fondly remembered as the man who started the country’s gold rush at the Olympic Games when he won the 10,000m race in Mexico City (1968) for Kenya’s first gold medal at the games. During their heyday, Temu and Kipchoge often faced off on the track with each of them getting his fair share of success at the highest level of competition although the former enjoyed less longevity and supremacy as compared to the legendary Kipchoge. Regardless, Temu, who passed on in March 2013, is without doubt one of the greatest athletes that Kenya has ever produced.
Joginder Singh – Perhaps the most eminent rally driver that Kenya produced in the 60s and 70s, Joginder Singh won the first of his three East African Safari Rally titles in 1965. He would later triumph on two more occasions in 1974 and 1976. Affectionately known as “The Flying Sikh”, Singh’s record of 19 finishes in 22 attempts at the East African Safari Rally remains an unprecedented achievement in what was for long regarded as the world’s toughest rally. His feat has taken a bigger profile more as Kenyan motorsport continues to experience dwindling fortunes. For his immense contribution to the sport in Kenya, Singh was appointed patron of the Safari Classic for 2007 six years before his death at the age of 81 in London. If Soya Awards is to induct the first motor sportsman into its Hall of Fame, then Singh stands in good stead to be that person.
Robert Wangila – Who can ever forget Robert Wangila? In 1988, the hard punching Kenyan boxer etched his name in the history books of the Olympics by becoming the first ever African boxer to clinch a gold medal at the games. For a boxer who showed so much promise, his life however ended tragically after sustaining fatal injuries in the ring just six years after his Olympics conquest. In death, the long drawn legal battle between his kinsmen over burial rights further heightened the mystique of man who still remains the only Kenyan Olympic gold medal winner outside athletics. Sadly, Wangila and his contemporaries in the Hit Squad of the late 80s proved to be the last boxers of repute that ever represented Kenya at international competition. Very few people would dispute his induction to the Soya Hall of Fame. He deserves it.