1 January 2019

Kenya: Celebrated Bett, Mukora Headline the List of Local Sports Personalities Who Died in 2018

August is sometimes associated with ill fortune in Kenya and this year's mentioned month was indeed painful for the Kenyan sports fraternity.

On August 8, the world was shocked by the sudden death of 2015 World 400m hurdles men's champion Nicholas Bett. The accomplished hurdler died in a road accident in Nandi aged 28. He was the first Kenyan to win a world championship title in hurdles.

His death, officially confirmed by the Ministry for Sports, was headline news in the country, a promising athletics career cruelly cut short.

He was a two-time bronze medallist at the African Athletics Championships. His career had seen him compete in 400m, 800m, 110m hurdles, javelin throw and 4x400m relay where he posted decent outcomes. Bett was the twin brother to Olympian Haron Koech.

Thirteen days later, on August 21, Kenyans woke up to the news that former Harambee Stars, Tusker, and Utalii midfielder Bernard "Makambo" Agunda had passed on at his home in Umoja Estate, Nairobi, aged 41.

Agunda skippered the Kenya team that won the 2002 Castle Lager Cup under coach Jacob "Ghost" Mulee. He also featured in the successful Tusker side that won the 2008 Council of East and Central Africa (Cecafa) Club Championship in Tanzania.

Even as football mourned Agunda, the sport was thrown into further anguish on August 24 when former Harambee Stars player and coach Sammy Nyongesa died at a hospital in Nakuru.

Nyongesa is better remembered for his work with Nakuru Youth Olympics Centre in the 1980s. He helped mould some of Kenya's best football talents of that time including Ambrose "Golden Boy" Ayoyi, Sammy Taabu and Dick Anyangu.

Lesser known, he was the father of former Harambee Stars, AFC Leopards and Ulinzi Stars star striker Michael Baraza. Nyongesa also played for Kenya Farmers Association (KFA), Abaluhya FC (Abeingo FC) and was the founder of now defunct Bata Bullets of Limuru.

Though not a Kenyan, the death of former Harambee Stars coach, Henri Michel on April 24 at the age of 70 cannot go unmentioned.

The tenure of the Frenchman, unveiled under a blast of optimism, lasted just three months and was more of a circus with stories of delayed payments dominating the newspaper pages than his exploits on the pitch with fast fading Harambee Stars.

In fact, the French government had to intercede on his behalf as he fought for his dues. Capped 58 times by Les Bleus, he guided France to the 1984 Olympic title. While Football Kenya Federation was mum on his demise, thus said the French football union (UNFP): "Henri Michel, a colossus of French football."

October was another tough month for sports. On October 11, former Mwamba rugby winger and veteran referee Osborne Bulemi died aged 59, after a battle with diabetes.

He joined Kenya Rugby Referees Society (KRRS) in 1992, served as the society's secretary and chairman, and also had a stint as referees' administrator at Kenya Rugby Union. KRRS honoured him with a Life Time Award in 2016.

Also on October 11, Thika United captain Dennis Lewa died following a grisly road accident at Fort Ternan. Lewa, a promising footballer and Harambee Stars trialist, was heading to Kakamega to sign a contract with Kenyan Premier League side Kakamega Homeboyz.

Sixteen days later, former boxer Richard "Tiger" Murunga, 65, died at a Nairobi hospital while undergoing treatment on October 27. He had been confined to a wheelchair for many years. He won the boxing welterweight bronze at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.

That Kenya does not honour its yesteryear star athletes can be best exemplified by the case of Naftali Bon who died on November 2 aged 73. Bon, a former policeman, was part of the Kenya 4x400m quartet that also featured Daniel Rudisha, Charles Asati and Munyoro Nyamau that won silver at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

At the time of his demise he was living in abject poverty long forgotten by the government. At his funeral there was neither an official presence of the government nor a tribute from the authorities.

Two months earlier, on September 3, the athletics fraternity had mourned the passing on of one of Kenya's best distance runner, Paul Koech. The 1998 World Half Marathon Champion passed on at Nairobi's Forces Memorial Hospital after a short illness.

He was 49 and a co-opted member in Athletics Kenya Executive Committee. In 1997, Koech ran the third fastest 10,000 in history then, a race won by the great Paul Tergat under a new world record.

He won the Kenya national cross country championships an impressive three times and was a World Cross Country Championship silver medallist in 1998.

And on Thursday, Charles Mukora, 83, a former chairman of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (Nock), died after a long illness, leaving behind four children - Patrick, Patricia, Beth and Susan. His wife, Salome Wanjiru Mukora, died on May 21 last year.

Mukora was the man behind the success of Olympic trailblazer Kipchoge Keino in the 1960s and 70s before taking up sports management in the late 70s.

Mukora made an impact as coach, administrator and politician. Mukora also coached Naftali Temu and was in charge, as head coach, at the 1968 (Mexico) and 1972 (Munich) Olympic Games.

He served as vice president of the Commonwealth Games Federation and enjoyed the rare distinction of having been an athlete, coach and administrator at the highest global level, representing Kenya in both football and athletics at regional competitions.

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