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October 6, 2010
David Rudisha: The Warrior Returns Home

David Rudisha dressed as a Masai warrior is feted in Kilgoris. Photo/Tom Maruko
by Evelyn Watta, AIPS Executive Committee member in Kilgoris, Kenya

A source of inspiration, a symbol of unity and the pride of a whole nation

"Rudisha should now run for the newly-created seat of Governor and we will all vote for him,” a man clad in beaded Maasai traditional attire declared clutching a club in his hand.

His statement best describes the new status the 800m World-record holder David Lekuta Rudisha has been elevated to in his hometown of Kilgoris after his record-breaking feat in Europe.

Men, women children lined the town paths like ants on their way to catch a glimpse of their heroic son. He is source of inspiration, a symbol of unity and the pride of a whole nation.

The sleepy village was thrown into a frenzy of celebrations. Victory chants, ululations, song and dance capped the historic reunion of the champion and his folks in Kenya’s remote rural village. The runner’s homecoming party was without doubt bigger than any political rally held in the Transmara region in recent times. His father’s home 150m away was too small to host an estimated 5,000 guests who turned up to welcome the new king of 800m. The shanty township of Kilgoris with an estimated population of 3,000 came alive as active and retired athletes, politicians, journalists, relatives, politicians descended on the township, about 300km from the capital Nairobi for the historic home coming party at the DEB school, where he honed his athletics skills. “I have just arrived from Eldoret. We are now elders in athletics so we had to be here to ensure everything goes according to plan,” said Daniel Komen holder of the 3000m World record, who led a huge team of retired and active athletes to the party from the heartland of Athletics in Kenya about 350km away. They had come to witness the Emayian ceremony, the special anointing and prayers of their colleague as a warrior as he scales new frontiers in athletics.

The deafening sound of the Kenya Police Helicopter carrying the son of Daniel Rudisha,the 1968 4x400m Olympic silver medalist, cut the air, as women broke into song and dance while the elderly and young scampered for safety as it landed at Oltanki Primary school- the very place he began his education.

The crowd went into a frenzy at the sight of their kin, perched on the steps of the chopper. Choruses in honour of the champion were sung in unison…“Saminamina eh,eh, waka waka eh eh saminamina mina sankalewa its time for Rudisha ..” fills the air as school children quickly remix the 2010 World cup anthem for their local hero.

Indeed its time for Rudisha, not one but five helicopters land shortly afterwards carrying several cabinet ministers, the Vice President, Kalonzo Musyoka, and even retired President Daniel Moi.

It was an extra special return for the “last Moran” as his peers graduated into manhood while he was busy breaking barriers in the men’s 800m,lopping to 1:41.01, the fastest time ever run over the distance.
A mock ceremony was in order as he shared some roast meat with his fellow moranis. His return home also marked the end of a rather successful stint as a Moran where he won the world and junior titles, two African titles and more importantly broke the world record twice in seven days and the official installation of his recently acquired status of a Maasai elder.

“I am so happy, overwhelmed and humbled by this grand reception and it has motivated me to move one gear ahead,” said Rudisha. He had lived up to the clans name “Rudisha” which loosely translates to “bringing back”. He had brought back the world record home after 13 years, from Kenyan born Danish Wilson Kipketer.

Decades ago colonialists took away some cattle from a manyatta (a Maasai hut) in Kilgoris as they extended their rule even to livestock within the pastoralist community. But as they drove away with the cows, the wails of a newborn from the homestead held the colonial masters back. The cries not only saved the family of its most valued asset, but also marked the beginning of the unique ancestry of “Rudisha’. The ‘white men’ returned the cows, quite an unusual occurrence in the pre-independence era, no better way to name their son Daniel Rudisha. The senior Rudisha, now 65 years old, sat quietly in one of the fleet of cars relishing in his son’s success, occasionally peeping out of the window to watch him wave at the crowd lining the roads from the rooftop of the four wheel drive, accompanied with his wife Liz, a Human Resource student at the Moi Univesity in Eldoret.
“I have missed him and am happy for him,” she said. “I always prayed for him and encourage him and showered with him love to ensure his success.”

He then signs the town’s visitor’s book, an honour usually reserved for visiting diplomats, politicians and senior government officials. The party goes wild when he walked into the venue aptly dressed with his spear at hand - indeed the warrior had returned home. Schools and businesses closed down, everyone eager to be part of the mass feasting, marked with the slaying of 8 bulls, enough to comfortably feed the town’s residents for two days in a row.
“We have never had a celebration like this, even if God comes down he would be shocked,” Elizabeth Kangai, a candy vendor from Kilgoris wonders aloud.

When speeches began, Rudisha had only one appeal…he asked the visiting government dignitaries to invest in at least one stadium in the area. “Can you imagine…this is the only training ground in this area? It is not even safe for runners to train on such bumpy ground,” said Rudisha. “I often face the challenge when I come home. I have no suitable training track to keep fit,” he added.

Rudisha returned home in early September, certain and at peace that he has the record safely tucked away, for some time.
“For now my record is safe. I feel no threat. I don’t think there is anybody who can lower that record for now,” said the African champion. Paced by his training partner Sammy Tangui, Rudisha lowered the world record first to 1:41.09 in Berlin and a week later slashed 0.08 seconds off a week later with his smooth stride.

“I decided to attempt the record in Berlin because I was scared maybe the weather in Rielti would not be conducive like it was at the world championships. So when I got to Rielti it was a nice surprise. With that fast track I just kept going.”

The crowning moment on his return was his installation as a young Masai leader, right at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Kenya’s main airport. Being a young Masai elder means wearing the Esidai headgear and carrying his rungu (a small wooden club), very symbolic regalia in the pastoralist community. Despite his record-breaking feats and literally bringing business to a stand still in Kilgoris, the 21-year-old is haunted by his failure to make the 2009 World Championship final in Berlin. “I feel I have only done one third of what am meant to do,” he confesses. I still don’t have a major title. I want to win the world title and the gold in 2012,”adds the lanky athlete with conviction. The mention of the word Cherry, his six-month old daughter’s name, brings him back to his senses as he flashes his trademark smile.

“These records are for Cherry, I did it for her!” His mother, Naomi, a former 400m runner was overjoyed to witness the grand reception. “I am so happy, Rudisha has made me proud. Receiving my son home like this is great.” Without a doubt the tenth born of 11 children has lived up to his name Lekuta, “a proud and happy boy”.

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