Dark clouds pregnant with the promise of heavy downpour hang over Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and the rest of Nairobi most of yesterday morning. The chill got right down to the bones, and the gloom of the cold April weather was reflected on many faces.
But less than an hour to the landing of the ‘Lions of Singapore’, the Kenya Sevens heroes, a strong wind swept through the city, cleared the skies and took with it any signs of rain. Meanwhile, thousands of feet in the sky, a jet got closer, bringing the Kenyan world beaters home to proud relatives, friends and fellow citizens.
At 2.20pm, waiting eyes turned to the skies to spot the white ‘bird’ bringing our heroes home. Government bureaucrats, sports enthusiasts and ordinary Kenyans waited with bated breath and hearts surging with both excitement and pride.
As the jet made its way to the waiting bay, excitement levels climbed. The doors opened and first out was the captain, Andrew Amonde, proudly waving the prize they brought home from aglobal event many seas away.
The trophy dazzled in the sun’s rays now that the clouds had seemingly ‘migrated’ to give the Kenyan heroes a smooth landing.
It was a moment of pride, honour and achievement for a rugby team that achieved what the Americans never have. In their hands was a priceless trophy that had only ever been won in Africa by South Africa.
It was time to welcome home the gallant soldiers that had put rugby fans on the edge of their seats as they battled the world’s Rugby Sevens powerhouse, Fiji, on Sunday ending in a stunning game that ended 30-7.
Gyrating dancers, moving rhythmically to the sound of sun-baked drums heightened the mood with each passing second as the country waited for the team to disembark with the small-eared IRB Sevens Series trophy.
Impeccably dressed kith and kin lined each side of the red carpet rolled out in honour of the ferocious Kenyans who put up a fight that saw off Russia, France and Argentina, which are both big geopolitical and sporting powers, on their way to crushing Fiji.
JKIA literally came to a standstill when the players finally disembarked from a Qatar Airways plane. Miniature Kenyan flags were flown high, cheers rent the air.
It had taken the Sevens team 104 attempts over 17 years since their debut in 1999 to win a leg of the Sevens Rugby Series.
“It was unbelievable. But it was good that it happened against Fiji in the final. Fiji is a very good side, and to have beat them convincingly is an achievement,” Ayimba told Feverpitch.
A long line of limousines waited to chauffeur the heroes to the Ole Sereni Hotel for a luncheon laid out by Kenya Airways. One thing stood out for the heroes who already have a date with the President: they had brought honour to Kenya. And done it in a sport that is not very well understood by locals, who are more familiar with the exploits of their athletes on famous global tracks.
After a series of speeches at the hotel, KQ, through its CEO Mbuvi Ngunze, rewarded the team with Sh102,000 ($1,000) for each player, and three air tickets to any KQ destination.
“It has been a long journey for us (KQ) as well as the team, but this historic win is an example of resilience, and as the Kenya Sevens official sponsors, we congratulate the team for that,” said Ngunze.
“We have had disappointments over the last few seasons, but this is now part of a great build up to the Olympics. And just like the Shujaa team, the airline will also get back to the top.”