Olmypics: Kenya's fledgling curlers set sights on 2026 Winter Games

AFP , Wednesday 9 Feb 2022

A revered athletics powerhouse at the Summer Olympics, Kenya has only ever seen two of its nationals competing at the Winter Games.

Kenya s Olympic curling
Kenya s Olympic curling hopefuls have many hurdles to overcome -- not least the lack of ice (AFP)

But a motley crew of Kenyans in the newly formed national curling team are hoping against the odds to qualify for the 2026 extravaganza in Italy.

They have plenty of hurdles to overcome -- not least the lack of ice in the equatorial East African country.

Team members have been forced to improvise, sweeping the curling stones along a gymnasium floor after the country's only ice rink was closed down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's a long shot but being only the second African country to play curling may give us a chance of qualifying to the 2026 Winter Olympics," says Kenya Curling Federation president Laventer Oguta.

"But all this will depend on our preparations and support from the government."

Kenya officially registered with the World Curling Federation in February 2021, becoming only the second African member after Nigeria.

WCF president Kate Caithness described it at the time as a "big achievement for Kenya and Africa" and added "this is going to motivate more African members".

- 'A long shot' -

Oguta said that nevertheless the world body had voiced some concerns about the viability of the sport in Kenya.

And only a year since it joined the WCF, the Kenyan federation has been hampered by Covid, the absence of proper training facilities and a lack of funding.

It even had to set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for training abroad to gear up for the upcoming Pacific-Asia Curling Championships in November.

Two members were eventually able to travel to the United States in January for a month-long stint to get a feel for training on ice.

But the team have so far only played one international match -- a friendly against Denmark late last year which the Kenyans won 7-5.

Despite the challenges, the sport has attracted more than 1,000 enthusiasts, some of them moving on from other sports such as football and rugby.

They hope to follow in the footsteps of trailblazing cross country skier Philip Boit, who became the first Kenyan at the Winter Olympics in 1998, and female alpine skier Sabrina Simader, who competed in South Korea in 2018.

- 'Gifted sporting nation' -

"The challenge to bring a winter sport to Kenya inspires me. It opens a totally new horizon for us since we don't experience winter," says Oguta.

The 33-year-old narrowly missed out on a place in the Kenyan women's sevens team which competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics after suffering a knee injury.

But she has proved herself to be a versatile sportswoman.

She also helped to establish kabaddi -- a contact sport with its origins in India -- in Kenya and serves as vice-president of the International Kabaddi Federation.

Former Kenyan premier league goalkeeper Haggai Odhiambo Zuma says he too dabbled in kabaddi and rugby before choosing to focus on curling.

"I love trying new sports and games," he says.

"Kenya is naturally a gifted sporting nation. We have so much potential to bring medals at the Winter Olympics through curling if the government can invest in the ice training facilities and support the players to train abroad.

"If the government can also cater for the development of curling, the sport will bring joy to our nation, (but) nothing in life comes easy."

Retired saleswoman Anne Kariuki, who now works as an Uber driver, says she began curling for fun but now hopes to represent her country at the next Winter Olympics.

"I enjoy playing curling so much. It's a sport for everyone whatever your age," says the 50-year-old.

"I didn't have the chance to compete for Kenya internationally in athletics, so I can't wait to see Kenya compete against the top nations and enter the next Olympics."

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