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Hang in there, sports stars rally Kenyans during SOYA fete

SPORTS By Dennis Okeyo | February 22nd 2021
World Half Marathon record-holder Peres Jepchirchir during the 2020 SOYA Awards [Courtesy]

Harambee Stars striker Michael Olunga and the World Half Marathon record-holder Peres Jepchirchir offered messages of hope to Kenyan sportsmen and women after being crowned the most outstanding men and women Sports Personalities during the 2020 SOYA Awards in Naivasha on Saturday.

Olunga’s outstanding performance at Japanese J1 league earned him the league’s Most Valuable Player of the 2020 season, topping the goal-scoring chart with 28 goals with his then club, Kashiwa Reysol.

The Harambee Stars forward edged out boxer Nick Okoth, who won silver at the Africa Olympic qualifier in Senegal to sail through to the Tokyo Olympic Games, and Kibiwott Kandie, who also won silver at the World Half for the award.

While accepting the award, Olunga, who now plays for Al Duhail in Qatar gave a message of hope to Kenyan young sportsmen and women via a video played for the audience at the ceremony. “Don’t give up, keep pushing and you will be rewarded for your hard work,” he said while thanking the event organisers for putting up a ceremony despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jepchirchir, whose one hour, 05 minutes and 16 seconds performance at the World Half Marathon saw her shatter her own record last year in Poland, was named the women’s SOYA outstanding person, beating Christine Ongare, who won bronze at the Africa Olympic qualifier in Senegal to qualify for Tokyo Olympics, and Taekwondo’s Faith Ogallo, a gold medal winner at the Africa Olympic qualifier that also saw her make it to the Tokyo Olympic Games team.

The 27-year-old Jepchirchir said the recognition would energise her preparations towards Istanbul Half Marathon set for April, and Olympics Games later in the year.

“This award means a lot to me, considering last year we had minimal sporting activities due to the coronavirus pandemic. The award will motivate me more to work hard as I prepare for my next assignment in Istanbul and possible Tokyo Olympic,” she said after receiving her award.

Harambee Stars striker Michael Olunga [Courtesy]

She added: “I would urge my fellow athletes not to lose hope; very soon all the sporting events will open up and they will be able to compete at their various sporting events.”

Other winners at the gala included Special Olympics athletes Stella Chelang'at and Onesmus Munyao, who were named the most outstanding woman and man living with disabilities.

The 1972 Olympic Games steeplechase silver medalist, the late Ben Jipcho, and golf legend Rose Naliaka were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Lawyer Shadrack Wambui took the Community Hero Award for empowering upcoming boxers in Kayole and Mathare.

World under-18 walk racer Dominic Ndigiti was named the most innovative athlete after venturing into cooker making, which saw him make more than 200 pieces, each sold for Sh3,000.

The colourful event was attended by the outgoing Sports CAS Noor Hassan Noor, AK President Jackson Tuwei, Nakuru Deputy Governor Eric Korir among others.

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