Heroine’s welcome for history-maker Jemimah Sumgong

Gold medalist Kenya's Jemima Jelagat Sumgong (R) poses with a volunteer after the podium ceremony ...
Gold medalist Kenya's Jemima Jelagat Sumgong (R) poses with a volunteer after the podium ceremony for the Women's Marathon during the athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Sambodromo in Rio de Janeiro on August 14, 2016. Adrian DENNIS / AFP

History-maker, Jemimah Jelagat Sumgong, was accorded a returning heroine’s welcome when she arrived from Brazil on Friday night after becoming the first Kenyan female runner to mint Olympics marathon gold.

Celebrations broke out at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) where the 31 year-old champion was received by cheers and hugs from family and officials present being the only medallist who was part of the returning second batch of Team Kenya to Rio 2016.

“I’m so excited to make history and be the first Kenyan woman to win the Olympic marathon medal, I thank God for making it possible for me and my family for their continued support, “she said. I wasn’t so certain that I would win at the beginning of the race, because of the hot temperatures but I thank God I made it.

“Unlike other races I’ve taken part in, the Rio marathon was a bit different because of its flat course, recurring stages and the hot climate. My compatriots and I trained well and we had a clear tactical plan to ensure the gold medal finally came to Kenya,” the jubilant London Marathon titleholder whose radiant smile lit up the dark night outside the Arrivals Terminal beamed.

Her reception at the country’s signature airport was in sharp contrast to the manner in which she left for Brazil where her husband, Noah Sumgong, was compelled to drive her from Eldoret after her ticket to the domestic flight to Nairobi went missing.

Just like in London in April, she survived protesters near the end of the race, burning heat and the spirited challenge of neighbour and former Kenyan, Bahrain’s Eunice Kirwa over the last kilometre to land at the middle step of the podium.

Their team tactics also fell apart when Beijing 2015 silver medallist, Helah Kiprop, was forced out of the race with stomach pains and Paris Marathon champion, Visiline Jepkesho, fell off the lead pack to finish down in 86th leaving Sumgong to plough the lone furrow in winning her nation their first gold of Rio 2016 on Sunday.

The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) athletes famously survived a nasty headfirst fall and later an intruder to soar to her first London crown and in Rio she added another 25 World Marathon Majors points to lead the standings with 50 since the Olympics forms part of the elite circuit competition the year it is held.

Her husband cum coach Noah Talam and her daughter Shallegyne Jemutai arrived at JKIA 30 minutes before the Expected Time of Arrival and waited in excitement to receive the new Olympics champion who succeed Ethiopia’s London 2012 winner, Tiki Gelana.

“I’m very happy I can’t explain it. I was ready for any medal but I didn’t anticipate she would make history since we had carried out intensive training and made adequate preparations,” Talam told the battery of local and international press present to chronicle the arrival.

“We were worried though because two weeks before the competitions she fell ill and she had to take a one-week break, but we thank God that she got better in good time.

-Special prayers-

(LtoR) Bahrain's Eunice Jepkirui Kirwa (silver) Kenya's Jemima Jelagat Sumgong (silver) and Ethiopia's Mare Dibaba (bronze) pose during the podium ceremony for the Women's Marathon during the athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Sambodromo in Rio de Janeiro on August 14, 2016.  Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
(LtoR) Bahrain’s Eunice Jepkirui Kirwa (silver) Kenya’s Jemima Jelagat Sumgong (silver) and Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba (bronze) pose during the podium ceremony for the Women’s Marathon during the athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Sambodromo in Rio de Janeiro on August 14, 2016.

“Everyone at home is excited and ecstatic and we want to hold special prayers to thank God for what she has achieved. We will do that as soon as her supervisors give her the directive to come home and join us,” he outlined the reception plans when she arrives at their Kapsabet home in Nandi County.

“The whole family has been very supportive and cooperative by giving her adequate time to train. The whole community at home has been behind her encouraging her all through.

“I believe everything happens at its own time, and the time had come for Jemima to shine and win that medal,” the spouse who was left behind as the woman he gave her last name to in matrimony left to pursue her Olympics dream on her maiden show.

“There are a lot of things we deny ourselves as a family because Jemimah spends a lot of time training and competing abroad, but the sacrifice has been worthwhile. We try as much as possible to follow her training program and remain focused so we can achieve the best results.”

“After this Olympics gold medal, we are setting our sights on other international marathons. We’ll start preparing for next year’s World Championships hoping she can win gold on that platform too,” Talam explained.

“I have to attribute her victory to the preparations in Nandi. The organizers from Nock and Athletics Kenya gave us a lot of support but somewhere along the way they got confused creating a lot of mix-ups that in some way cost Kenya some medals.

“So I’m hoping in the future they can sort any issues that may crop up in good time,” the coach offered in a broadside to the national Olympics body that has come under fire for a number of gaffes in their handling of Team Kenya, among them, leaving behind deserving people like himself in favour of accredited joy riders.

Attention turned to whether daughter Jemutai would follow in her famous mother’s footsteps and venture into the sport

“If my daughter ever shows interest in athletics in the near future, her mother and I would fully support her, because we are an athletic family and it’s something I love doing,” he offered.

Done with media engagements, he joined his wife and family to break into the Kalenjin victory song Iyoni Ngoo Tumi reserved for conquerors in a stirring merry dance as the athlete took a swig of the famous fermented traditional milk, Mursik– the champagne of her community- from a gourd.

She then departed with her KDF colleagues into the darkness of the Kenyan capital with the soldiers expected to mount her guard of honour before she is given leave to travel to her home for the civilian reception.

-Report by Loise Wanjiku

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