Benjamin Ayimba: How skinny kid became rugby star

By Bethuel Oduo | 3 months ago
The late Benjamin Ayimba [File, Standard]

Former rugby Sevens coach Benjamin Ayimba will go down in history books as the man who won the 2016 Singapore Sevens after thrashing Fiji 30-7 to bring the coveted cup home. It is no mean feat.

But did you know that Ayimba’s rugby journey reads like that of the biblical Israelites when they left Egypt? Maybe not, as many Kenyans — save for his recent win in Singapore — remember him as a man who was fired as the Sevens coach in 2011.

The former old boy of Olympic Primary School in Nairobi, according to one of his teachers, tried his hand (and legs) in anything sports.

After completing his studies at Olympic, Ayimba joined Maseno School in Nyanza, where he met a teacher, one Mr Jeam Agutu, the then Deputy Principal at Maseno School.

According to Agutu, Ayimba was an all-round sportsman who flirted with many games.

“He participated and won in track and field events. He even took part in 100m and 200m sprints, as well as the 800m race. He was also in the long jump and triple jump team, not to mention the school soccer team,” says Agutu.

“His main focus was however rugby. Ayimba was awarded the accolade of ‘Overall Best Athlete’ during his final year at Maseno School,” adds Agutu who is also credited with mentoring footballers Enoch Agwanda and Collins Omondi during their days at Koderobara High School in Rongo.

When Ayimba completed his high school, he was already ripe for recruitment into the big clubs.

The late Benjamin Ayimba [Courtesy]

He would soon find himself playing for Impala RFC and a call up to the national team followed. The rest, as they say is history.

Ayimba had a polished demeanour and was easy to read.

He had the will and mettle to succeed against odds, traits he had built since his childhood days and later teenage years.

He received the all-important shot in the arm when Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) Chairman Richard Omwela reinstated him as coach to do what he loves and knows best. He did not disappoint as was evident in the Hong Kong and triumphant Singapore tours.

During his days as a player, he had a winning mentality, especially after reaching similar finals in the late 1990s.

Ayimba comes from a sporting family. His cousin Dr Zacheus Omondi — while still a medicine student - was a midfielder in the then Kenya Breweries team (now Tusker FC) that reached the finals of the Africa Club Champions Cup.

But Ayimba certainly took pride in the fact that rugby is a cool game.

Like golf, rugby rules and culture make one a gentleman. They say rugby is a game of thugs played by gentlemen, while soccer is a game of gentlemen played by thugs. This is why Ayimba was once seen hugging his mother as he shed tears of triumph for his country Kenya at JKIA after his team arrived from a tour that saw them beat champions Fiji.

On Friday night, the country learnt of the death of Ayimba, who had been battling cerebral malaria. It is indeed a sad day for the nation and although he has rested, what he did for rugby in Kenya shall never be forgotten.

May his soul rest in eternal peace.

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