The mood of the audience in the Bird’s Nest is pregnant with expectancy. You can almost tell that something phenomenal is about to happen as the big man takes a few steps backwards then charges forward like a mad rhino. His javelin is held aloft as he gathers momentum. His last step falls a few centimeters short of the throwing mark as he releases the javelin with a mighty force that he surges forward with it and dives to the ground while letting out a guttural roar; one that can only come out of a beast of prey that has struck a killer blow at its opponent or prey. His name is Yego (in his village, they call him Yeko).
All the while, I have been wondering why in the world can anybody call a modern stadium “Bird’s Nest!” then I remember that I recently read an article somewhere that bird nests are a rare but popular protein-rich delicacy in China and other surrounding Asian countries. In fact these special edible nests are some of the most expensive animal products in the world with one costing up to $250. The nests are not only medicinal but contain about 70% protein and hence cannot be consumed by anybody who is allergic to protein. Before you rush out to look for a bird’s nest, be warned that I am not talking about the eagle type of nests that are made of dry twigs and feathers. These ones are mainly made out of special secretions from a rare species of birds. Sorry I digressed.
Back to Yeko; the javelin seems to fly for ages like a bird that is flying home, and overshoots its nest, then remembers that it is already home. In fact it takes all the time I spent telling you about edible bird nests. So the javelin cuts its journey short and lands, but not before eating up what seems like half of the length of “The Bird’s Nest” in Beijing! When the distance is measured, it stands at slightly over 91m, a few meters shy of 100m. The unbelievable has just happened! History has been made! This is not only the best throw in the world this year but it is also the third best of all times. The whole stadium comes to a standstill as Yeko gets a standing ovation. Back home, those glued behind TV screens in bars, hotels and living rooms also stand up in respect of the newest legend. The commentator, is short of words but manages to say things like, “This is big……..history has been made right here in The Bird’s Nest, the man is definitely a legend back home” blah blah ….he rumbles on and on.
All this while I am on my feet, in my living room, looking at my old screen with new admiration. I badly want to hug the screen (I love hugs), and scream Obama’s slogan “Yes we can” so loudly until I spit my lungs out. But then I just remember in time that my four year old son is watching me. Tears of joy have just sprung into my eyes and the boy asks me, “Daddy why are you crying?” I tell him that an insect accidentally jumped into my eye. Dads don’t cry remember. No? Then he asks me, “Did that guy want to throw that stick out of the stadium? I tell him yes, but that rod is called a javelin and the man Yego has just won a gold medal by throwing it out of the stadium. They have actually just brought it back! I hope I can be forgiven for misleading a four year-old, but didn’t Yego want to throw that damn thing out of the stadium?
Yego is a man of interest to many across the globe since he is the embodiment of a self-made athlete. I have personally followed his marvelous story since he came into national limelight as the kid who trained on YouTube. His coaches, mentors and role models, people that he had never met, were on YouTube man! at least until he started participating internationally. Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? That is why when this man beats the whole world to clinch the first ever gold medal for Kenya in field events, he becomes an automatic legend. That is why, later, when the instrumental rendition of our national anthem rules the air in the bird’s nest, as he receives his gold medal, I realize that my eyes are getting wet yet again. This time round I make sure to face the opposite direction away from my boy lest he wonders whether another stupid insect has found its way into my eye again.
Yego’s stellar performance opens a floodgate of what we love to refer to as a “tyranny of medals” back here, as messages of “Kenya is a hot-bed of world-beating athletes and gold medals” almost break the internet. As the whole world watches in awe, the Kenyan athletes go ahead to win seven gold medals, six silver and three bronze medals to finish top of the world, beating athletic power-houses like USA and Jamaica for the first time! Apart from Yego, the others who go ahead to win gold medals include: the deputy team captain Vivian Cheruiyot, who recaptures her 10,000 meters title; The Olympic and World 800m champion David Lekuta Rudisha; the three times World 1,500m champion Asbel Kiprop; Nicholas Bett, who stunned the world to by winning the 400 meters hurdles; Ezekiel Kemboi, who won an unrivalled fourth consecutive World 3,000m men’s steeplechase, and Hyvin Jekemoi who won the Women’s 3,000 meters steeplechase. Before I forget, does this man Kemboi have any bones in his body? Not only does he make winning the 3,000m steeplechase look so easy, but his uniquely fluid victory dance is also a real spectacle to behold!
The world stands in awe of this East African athletics superpower, as our flag is hoisted and our national anthem rends the air a whole seven times in Beijing Bird’s Nest. Even though a good number of our brothers and sisters can hardly sing the full first stanza of our anthem correctly, it sounds so melodious, nostalgic and absolutely patriotic when it is sung on foreign soil. In such times, you take note of each word in the anthem and dissect it deeply, and man! Does the good old anthem have some damn nice lyrics? It is actually an earnest prayer that few take time to appreciate, just listen to the first stanza: “Oh God of all creation, bless this our land and nation, Justice be our shield and defender, may we dwell in unity, peace and liberty, plenty be found within our borders.” And indeed, we have plenty of everything from a tyranny of world-beaters, to a “hotbed” of foul-mouthed politicians. However, whenever we stand united behind our world-beating athletes, we are all Kenyan. Nobody belongs to Jubilee or Chord during such moments. I suspect that any foul mouthed and divisive politician can easily be lynched if he tried to divide the country during such a time. In fact, if called upon at that very moment, almost all Kenyan men could easily take up guns and go to kick Al-Shabaab’s ass without any prior training!
It is indeed a good time to be Kenyan. Such are the times when our brothers in the Diaspora majestically walk into their favorite hangout spot wearing a T-shirt labeled KENYA or one that has all the colors of the Kenyan flag and you see people whispering, “Look at Yego’s brother over there!” You wouldn’t want to ask such a guy whether he knows Kemboi, because he will not only tell you that they were classmates and he used to beat the poor guy in math all the time – he actually used to help him with all his homework and assignments daily; but he will also bore you with a long story on how he used to run faster than Kemboi while jumping over fences whenever Kemboi and him were caught stealing a neighbor’s guavas. Surely if what the Kenyan athletes have done in Beijing isn’t worth a toast, then I really don’t know what is. They make me proud to be Kenyan and I am sure the next time they make our good old national flag go up in a foreign country, there will be another insect in my eye and I might end up breaking the Public crying record, initially held by none other than our very own deputy president, though it was recently snatched from him by governor number one, Dr. Alfred Mutua. (Tongue in the cheek)