Blood, sweat and tears flowed freely as the world’s best youth athletes competed for glory in Nairobi. The spotlight was on Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani as Nairobi hosted the last edition of the IAAF World Under-18 Championships from 12 to 17 July.
The global track and field meeting was the biggest ever sporting event to be held in Kenya and Kenyans did not disappoint. The last two days of the championships witnessed the largest attendance ever seen anywhere in the history of the competition. On Sunday, thousands of people were turned away from the venue as the 60,000-seater stadium was filled to capacity.
Despite the unfortunate pulling out by USA, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland and Australia due to security concerns, the championships went on without any incident as more than a hundred countries were represented. Security was beefed up around the venue during the five day event which was highly successful.
South Africa emerged the overall winners with 5 gold, 3 silver and 3 bronze medals, relegating the hosts and favourites Kenya to fourth. China finished second and Cuba settled for third place on the medal table. Kenya managed 4 gold, 7 silver and 4 bronze medals and needed just one extra gold medal to top the overall standings. And they could have won more than one more but were denied by their northern neighbours Ethiopia, who beat them in the 3000m boys, 3000m girls, 1500m girls and 800m boys races to finish fifth overall.
The highlight of the championships was on the last day when Jackline Wambui led Lydia Jeruto in a thrilling 800m race to win gold and silver for Kenya as the whole sea of humanity rose to their feet to cheer and give the teenagers a standing ovation. Kenyan flags of all sizes swept the air as loud cheers and chants filled the ‘Home of Heroes’. The same electric atmosphere was experienced a short while later when Leonard Kipkemoi and Cleophas Meyan won gold and silver respectively in the 2000m boys steeplechase.
The huge turnout can be attributed to the fact that President Uhuru Kenyatta granted all Kenyan citizens free entry to the championships in his opening ceremony speech on Wednesday, a day when the turnout was relatively low. It is difficult to tell how the attendance would have been on the following days had the initial plan to sell tickets for the sessions remained in place. The President’s gesture allowed Kenyans from all walks of life to descend on Kasarani and attend the historic event to witness their young athletes conquering the world at home.
Kenya surpassed everyone’s expectations by successfully staging the magical world class event that was streamed live across the planet. Hopefully, this will herald the possibility of hosting other bigger competitions in future such as the IAAF World Championships or even the Olympics. But for that to happen, the government must fulfill its campaign promise of building five world class stadia across the country.