It was a day of international sporting honour for Kenya as the International Athletics Associations Federations (IAAF) Under-18 Championships got underway at Kasarani Stadium, Nairobi, yesterday.
A kaleidoscope of colour reflected in a mellow morning sun in the newly-refurbished Kasarani arena, as 120 flags of participating nations fluttered in the wind during a grand opening march-past staged by more than 800 athletes taking part in the biggest sporting meet ever on Kenyan soil.
Scepticism by some Western countries that failed to show up, citing insecurity, was doused by the enthusiasm of the young athletes who were raring to test their spikes on the newly laid tartan track.
Lord Sebastian Coe, the IAAF President, and former long-term holder of the 800 metres world record, kicked off the games by firing the first starter gun. His country, Britain, is one of few skeptics who stayed away.
Kenya pulled all stops to give the world what would emerge as its best sporting spectacle in a long time when the games took off to a perfect start, with high high tempo competition on the cards in the next five days.
The motherly figure of First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, the patron of the games, instilled confidence and hospitality as Kenya opened her arms to the world on Day One of the IAAF U18 Athletics Championships.
Operating under a strict and tight deadline, the First Lady, ensured a meticulous, flawless and a well-run organisational programme in the lead-up to the championships.
Until the sudden death last week of the organising committee’s joint-chairman (Rtd) Gen Joseph Nkaissery, former Interior Cabinet secretary, so much time, human resource and effort was put in to ensure Kenya staged an event to remember – and there was nothing that stopped the drive.
If other dazzling opening ceremonies have been about automaton-like synchronicity and majestic spectacle, the First Lady’s epic organisation of social and cultural cohesion was a vibrant work of unfettered imagination that celebrated a nation, but even more so, its people.
The highlight of any world games opener is a celebratory one, but Kenya and the Local Organisation Committee (LOC) injected playful irreverence, unexpected humour and even a statement of defiance, after some of the biggest sporting nations opted to stay out on reasons unsporting.
In the Kenyan athletic tradition, the First Lady, a tested marathoner, jogged onto the track to the jubilation of those at the magnificent venue where another milestone in the country sporting history will be marked.
President Uhuru Kenyatta cut short his campaign schedule to arrive at Kasarani in the afternoon to officially open the game alongside Lord Coe and the First Lady.
With that, she led the country in showcasing our Kenyan patriotism, pride and organisational capabilities that was boosted by a secure sporting environment, with an expansive security apparatus ensuring the smooth flow of traffic along the otherwise busy Nairobi roads and water-tight safety at the venue.
In a bid to boost the number of people attending the competition, President Uhuru announced free entry starting this morning, another move that was greeted wildly by those in attendance.