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Kenya celebrates Olympic success

29 August 08 14:50 GMT

Kenya's Olympic gold-winning athletes have been feted in a colourful ceremony attended by President Mwai Kibaki.

Hundreds of Kenyans lined the road from the airport to cheer the athletes, who were flown from the capital on an Air Force plane.

The public fete in the port city of Mombasa celebrated the best performance since the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

The historic performance was hailed as a way of uniting the country after the post-election violence in January.

Kenya won 14 medals in total - five gold, five silver and four bronze - to rank 15th in the overall medals table and the best in Africa. The team also set a number of Olympic records.

Kenya has a strong tradition in middle and long-distance athletics.

The athletes received cash bonuses and other prizes from the government and a number of private companies.

The gold medallists received $34,000 each, while the silver and bronze medallists were given $19,000 and $11,500 respectively.

The festive occasion was marked by performances of traditional dances and patriotic songs.

'One dream'

President Kibaki commended the team's glorious performance, which re-affirmed the country as a leading sports power.

"Our national colours and melodious anthem echoed not just at the Olympic stadium, but also in million of homes across the globe... You have brought fame and glory to our country," he said. Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, who were also in attendance, thanked the team for flying the country's flag high.

Mr Odinga noted that sports had the power to unite the country - a sentiment shared by other speakers at the event.

"The rest of the world had written Kenya off, particularly after the happenings early this year. Now that our team has come so jubilant, so successful from Beijing... a time like this is celebration time, because it also unifies our country," Mr Musyoka said.

"They made Kenyans forget tribe and party. They made Kenyans proud to be Kenyans, one nation united under one flag, singing one anthem, living one dream," said the permanent secretary in the Sports Ministry, Kinuthia Murugu.

The 800m champion and team captain, Wilfred Bungei, said he was delighted to hand the country's flag back to President Kibaki "with glory".

President Kibaki said it was time for the country to identify other events that it could participate in, apart from its traditional prowess in athletics.

"Kenya participated in just five out of the 28 disciplines in the Olympics. I would therefore like to challenge our sports managers [to] expand the number of events that Kenya participates in," he said.

The country's first ever Olympic swimming finalist, Jason Dunford, was singled out for praise.

Dunford came fifth in the 100m butterfly event - won by America's Michael Phelps.

The Kenyan even broke the Olympic record, although he held it for just seven minutes.

Samuel Wanjiru's first Olympic marathon victory - which was the last event of the Beijing games - was also praised for ensuring that the Kenyan flag was raised during the closing ceremony, which was watched by a record audience.

It was also the first time that Kenyan women athletes won gold at the Olympics, with Pamela Jelimo in the 800 metres and Nancy Jebet in the 1500 metres.

The 18-year-old Jelimo is one of two athletes still competing for the IAAF Golden League $1m jackpot.

Only four other African countries - including Ethiopia, Kenya's nemesis on the track - won gold medals in Beijing.

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