Kenya is active in several sports, among them cricket, rallying, football, rugby union and boxing. The country is known chiefly for its dominance in middle-distance and long-distance athletics, having consistently produced Olympic and Commonwealth Games champions in various distance events, especially in 800 m, 1,500 m, 3,000 m steeplechase, 5,000 m, 10,000 m and the marathon. Kenyan athletes (particularly Kalenjin) continue to dominate the world of distance running, although competition from Morocco and Ethiopia has reduced this supremacy. Kenya’s best-known athletes included the four-time women’s Boston Marathon winner and two-time world champion Catherine Ndereba, 800m world record holder David Rudisha, former Marathon world record-holder Paul Tergat, and John Ngugi.
Kenya won several medals during the Beijing Olympics, six gold, four silver and four bronze, making it Africa’s most successful nation in the 2008 Olympics. New athletes gained attention, such as Pamela Jelimo, the women’s 800m gold medalist who went ahead to win the IAAF Golden League jackpot, and Samuel Wanjiru who won the men’s marathon. Retired Olympic and Commonwealth Games champion Kipchoge Keino helped usher in Kenya’s ongoing distance dynasty in the 1970s and was followed by Commonwealth Champion Henry Rono’s spectacular string of world record performances.
Lately, there has been controversy in Kenyan athletics circles, with the defection of a number of Kenyan athletes to represent other countries, chiefly Bahrain and Qatar. The Kenyan Ministry of Sports has tried to stop the defections, but they have continued anyway, with Bernard Lagat the latest, choosing to represent the United States. Most of these defections occur because of economic or financial factors. Decisions by the Kenyan government to tax athletes’ earnings may also be a reason for defection. Some elite Kenyan runners who cannot qualify for their country’s strong national team find it easier to qualify by running for other countries.
Kenya has been a dominant force in women’s volleyball within Africa, with both the clubs and the national team winning various continental championships in the past decade. The women’s team has competed at the Olympics and World Championships though without any notable success. Cricket is another popular sport, also ranking as the most successful team sport. Kenya has competed in the Cricket World Cup since 1996. They upset some of the world’s best teams and reached the semi-finals of the 2003 tournament. They won the inaugural World Cricket League Division 1 hosted in Nairobi and participated in the World T20. They also participated in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. Their current captain is Rakep Patel.
Kenya is represented by Lucas Onyango as a professional rugby league player who plays with Oldham R.L.F.C. Besides the former European Super League team, he has played for Widnes Vikings and rugby union with Sale Sharks. Rugby union is increasing in popularity, especially with the annual Safari Sevens tournament. The Kenya Sevens team ranked 9th in IRB Sevens World Series for the 2006 season. In 2016, the team beat Fiji at the Singapore Sevens finals, making Kenya the second African nation after South Africa to win a World Series championship. Kenya was also a regional powerhouse in football. However, its dominance has been eroded by wrangles within the now defunct Kenya Football Federation, leading to a suspension by FIFA which was lifted in March 2007.
In the motor rallying arena, Kenya is home to the world-famous Safari Rally, commonly acknowledged as one of the toughest rallies in the world. It was a part of the World Rally Championship for many years until its exclusion after the 2002 event owing to financial difficulties. Some of the best rally drivers in the world have taken part in and won the rally, such as Björn Waldegård, Hannu Mikkola, Tommi Mäkinen, Shekhar Mehta, Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae. Although the rally still runs annually as part of the Africa rally championship, the organisers are hoping to be allowed to rejoin the World Rally championship in the next couple of years.
Nairobi has hosted several major continental sports events, including the FIBA Africa Championship 1993 where Kenya’s national basketball team finished in the top four, its best performance to date.