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YEAR IN REVIEW: Behold, Kenyan stars who'll make your 2024 season memorable

 Rising Starlets' Valerie Nekesa celebrate her goal during the African Qualifiers FIFA U20 Women's World Cup 2024 match against Angola at the Nyayo National Stadium. Oct 8, 2023. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

As the world turns its gaze towards the upcoming 2024 sports season, Kenya emerges as a powerhouse of talent, brimming with athletes ready to dazzle on the global stage.

The country’s rich sporting history is about to be enriched further by a new generation of sports stars, each carrying the potential to reach new heights in their respective disciplines.

Rugby: Patrick Odongo and Kevin Wekesa

In rugby, the spotlight is on Patrick Odongo of Daystar University Falcons and Kevin Wekesa from Kabras Sugar.

Odongo, who recently overcame personal grief to lead Kenya Sevens to Olympic qualification, has been a real revelation.

His heroics at the Africa Sevens, where he was the top scorer, have not only earned him accolades but also admiration of his peers, like Wekesa, who commended Odongo’s bravery and skill​​.

The Daystar Falcons star was in a class of his own in September as he grounded seven tries during the Rugby Africa Sevens event that also doubled up as a qualifier for the 2024 Pari Olympics. Shujaa won the continental title and qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Odongo, who was Shujaa’s joint top scorer alongside John Okoth, emerged the hero in the final after touching down twice as Kenya beat South Africa 17-12.

Odongo, 19, was mourning his mother who had passed on, on September 9 just before the team travelled to Zimbabwe. The seven-try hero put on a brave face to don the Shujaa shirt for the first time ever and he did not disappoint.

For his achievement, Odongo was named LG/SJAK Sports Personality of the Month of September.

Wekesa himself has shown his mettle, bagging a hat-trick in a crucial Kenya 7s survival playoff match against Canada, displaying his prowess and resilience​​. The rising star also helped Kabras Sugar win the Kenya Cup title unbeaten in 2023.

 Kenya's Angella Okutoyi during the Billie Jean King cup Africa group III at Nairobi Club. Thursday June 15, 2023. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Tennis: Angella Okutoyi

In tennis, Angella Okutoyi is a name that resonates with promise and achievement. Her rise in 2023 has been nothing short of spectacular, making history in the ITF W25 event in Nairobi.

Okutoyi made history by winning both the singles and doubles titles in an ITF W25 event, a remarkable accomplishment for the Kenyan tennis player​.

Okutoyi won both the singles and doubles titles, becoming the first Kenyan player to not only claim the two titles, but also play and win in a singles final.

Okutoyi’s journey is one of breaking barriers and setting new benchmarks for Kenyan tennis, and expectations are high for her continued ascent in 2024.

 Gor Mahia FC's Benson Omala appeal to referee after his goal was over-ruled during FKF Premier League match against Gor Mahiaat Moi International Sports Center, Kasarani. Nov 11, 2023. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Football: Benson Omalla and Valerie Nekesa

In football, the emergence of young talents like Benson Omalla of Gor Mahia and Valerie Nekesa of Madira Soccer Assasins is stirring excitement. Omalla, the FKF Premier League golden boot chaser, has already made an impact on the international stage, scoring in Kenya’s resounding win over Seychelles during the World Cup qualifiers.Nekesa, on the other hand, has been pivotal in leading her school team, Madira Girls, to unprecedented heights, marking their entry into the FKF Women’s Premier League.

Athletics: Faith Kipyegon, Kelvin Kiptum, Eliud Kipchoge, Faith Cherotich and Emmanuel Wanyonyi

Athletics, a field where Kenya has traditionally excelled, continues to produce world-beaters. World Athletics players of the year and world record holders Kelvin Kiptum and Faith Kipyegon are set to carry the Kenyan flag high. Kipyegon, in particular, had a phenomenal 2023, winning two gold medals, breaking three world records, and being named the World Athletics Female Track Athlete of the Year.

Kipyegon set world records at an incredible three distances during a season in which she also achieved a golden double at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23.

 Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge celebrates after winning the Berlin Marathon in Berlin, Germany.[FILE]

First, the 29-year-old Kenyan improved the world 1500m record to 3:49.11 in Florence, taking almost a full second off the previous mark.

Just one week later, and despite having competed in the 5000m just twice before, she improved the world record for that event, too, clocking 14:05.20 in Paris to shave 1.42 seconds from the old record.

Her third world record came in Monaco, where she smashed the previous mile mark by five seconds, clocking 4:07.64. Then, in Budapest, she won her third senior world 1500m title and her first world 5000m crown.

Kipyegon’s anticipation for the 2024 season is palpable, with expectations of her continuing her record-breaking spree and quest for Olympic gold​​.

World U20 gold medallists Faith Cherotich and Emmanuel Wanyonyi made their mark on the senior stage in 2023.

 Faith Kipyegon of Kenya celebrates her victory after the Women's 5000m Final of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023 in Budapest.[Xinhua]

The Kenyan teenagers both won medals at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23, Cherotich claiming bronze in the 3000m steeplechase and Wanyonyi securing silver in the 800m.

Cherotich, who won world U20 bronze in 2021 and gold in 2022, also moved to second on the world U20 all-time list with 8:59.65 to finish third in the Diamond League Final in Eugene, while she finished fourth in the U20 race at the World Cross Country Championships.

As well as his world medal win, 2021 world U20 gold medallist Wanyonyi became Diamond League champion in 2023, claiming the trophy in a PB of 1:42.80. He also won Diamond League races in Rabat, Paris and Xiamen and formed part of Kenya’s victorious world cross country mixed relay team.

For the Paris 2024 Olympics, Kenya has high expectations in athletics, particularly in marathons, 1,500m, 800m, and the 3,000m steeplechase. These events have historically been strongholds for Kenyan athletes, and the country aims to secure at least six gold medals​​. In the realm of marathon running, the spotlight will be on Eliud Kipchoge, considered the best marathoner of all-time. Kipchoge is set to compete in the 2024 Paris Olympics, where his performance will be eagerly anticipated​​.

 Kenya Lioness Victoria Reynolds (left) in action against Cape Verde. [FIBA]

Basketball: Victoria Reynolds and Madina Okot

In basketball, Victoria Reynolds and Madina Okot have recently etched their names in the annals of Kenyan sports history by helping KPA win a silver medal at the Africa Women’s Basketball League in Egypt.

Their performances have not only brought them individual acclaim but have also shone a spotlight on the potential of Kenyan basketball on the African continent.

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