How dramatic Team Kenya journey to Rio unfolded
The third batch of Team Kenya safely touched down in Rio after an eventful journey that was delayed by a ticketing hitch that saw world men Javelin champion, Julius Yego, trend in social media throughout Sunday.
Chamgei FM boss, Michael Bowen, accompanied the team to Brazil and chronicles the dramatic sequence of events that unfolded when the country’s largest contingent made their way from from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to the Brazil through Luanda, Angola aboard a Kenya Airways flight.
The day itself was calm save for the cold morning breeze as the group checked in at the busiest airport in East And Central Africa. The day was August 7, 2016 and time 5am (+3GMT) when we set foot at the Departure Terminal together with Team Kenya members.
The queue was not long making me believe so many people do not travel on Sunday’s. All was well, with the athletes’ happy and exchanging niceties with their loved one before the departure.
World champion Vivian Cheruiyot was the most noticeable of them all, carrying his son Allan Kiprono shoulder high before hugging him and her husband cum coach, Moses Kiplagat goodbye after they held intimate last minute discussions.
Few journalists were at the scene including the Citizen TV crew that hustled to grab every athlete for an interview.
The Yellow Fever Certificate is a requirement for anyone travelling to Rio and some athletes, including Olympics steeplechase champion, Ezekiel Kemboi did not have the document and officials made frantic efforts to secure it by administering the jabs at the airport.
It all went well until when the Priority Check-In Counter was opened for the athletes to go through as their time was almost up.
Women 10000m runner, US-based Betsy Saina upon arrival at the desk was turned away with the attendant claiming the counter was not meant for them and instructed to go back to the queue.
She then got mad at the language used by the airline worker declaring, “No courtesy we are so frustrated! Never again!”
At the other end Yego and Beijing 2015 men 1500m silver winner, Elijah Manangoi were fuming after missing the tickets.
The incident sparked anger with head coach Julius Kirwa taking on deputy Chef-de-Mission James Chacha in a heated exchange as athletes sought an explanation from the National Olympics Committee-Kenya.
In the meantime Athletics Kenya (AK) President Lt. Gen (Rtd) Jackson Tuwei had already checked in as Yego and Manangoi’s case escalated but he was forced to turn back when he realised most of the athletes were not at the final boarding lounge.
Things got worse when there was no quick answer as to why the tickets were missing, after a brief chat with the Head coach a decision was reached for the team to boycott the journey.
Kirwa hurriedly came into the counter where the athletes were being served and order all to abandon the trip and we looked on in dismay as the team obeyed their boss without any question.
I looked at the ceiling of the new airport and then straight back at Kirwa’s eyes and I could tell he meant business.
My clearance was already done and so I walked to the tarmac to catch up with the bus carrying the team to flight KQ 0770 where I met Cheruiyot, Mercy Cherono, Eunice Sum and number of athletes who had been cleared earlier.
They all asked me what was happening and my answer was tickets of some of the team not available, but my positive response was all would be well.
Cherono, the 2014 Commonwealth champion, pointed out that her ticket had been cancelled but finally, the full squad arrived at the aircraft to the delight of those already on board the plane piloted by a captain Otieno finally took off after a delay of 40 minutes following the stand off.
The four-hour flight to Luanda was exciting as humour punctuated the entire journey after the athletes got the spirits back.
Saina was the chief jester and at one point, she requested the airhostess to sit down, relax and give her the opportunity to serve her breakfast in role reversal.
Men 5000m runner, Isaiah Kiplangat kept complaining of the ‘bumps’ in the air as the plane hit turbulence when it flew over Bujumbura airspace inviting laughter.
We finally landed at Luanda airport in the Portuguese-speaking nation and the humour died down perhaps due to exhaustion and language barrier.
There was a two-hour lay-by before embarking for the eight-hour journey to Brazil that passed on without incident as the proud runners arrived to challenge to the medals.
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