A top Kenyan athlete and his coach were on Wednesday night ejected from an aircraft at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport as they set out for a major track race in the US.
Timothy Cheruiyot, currently the world’s top-ranked runner in the 1,500 metres, and his coach, Mr Bernard Ouma, were forced to disembark from a KLM plane bound for Amsterdam, where they were scheduled to get a connecting flight to the US.
Cheruiyot, 23, a silver medallist in the 2017 World Championships in London, was scheduled to compete in the mile race at Sunday’s Prefontaine Classic track and field meeting in Eugene, Oregon.
Sources told the Nation that Cheruiyot and Mr Ouma were told to disembark by a security team and asked to report to the American embassy in Nairobi “to find out why the action was taken”.
The Prefontaine Classic is the seventh leg of the annual 14-leg IAAF Diamond League series of track and field competitions.
Mr Cheruiyot was to defend the title in the Bowerman Mile race, which he won last year.
The competition’s organisers in Eugene told the Nation that they were not aware of the incident.
Last night, Mr Jeff Oliver, the Press Chief at the Prefontaine Classic, said he was not aware of Cheruiyot’s plight.
“The start lists at PreClassic.com (meeting website) reflect the most current and official start and scratches to our knowledge,” said Mr Oliver.
The event’s start list (list of competing athletes) for the show-stopping Bowerman Mile race indicated that Mr Cheruiyot was still expected to compete, along with fellow Kenyans Elijah Manang’oi (world and Commonwealth champion), Bethwell Birgen, and pacemaker Timothy Sein.
Incidentally, Mr Cheruiyot’s training partners from the Rongai Athletics Club – including world and Commonwealth 1,500 metres champion Elijah Manang’oi, as well as Africa 1,500 metres champion Winny Chebet – travelled on the KLM flight on Wednesday.
Efforts to get comments from Cheruiyot, also the Commonwealth Games silver medallist in the 1,500 metres race, and Mr Ouma, were fruitless.
Mr Ouma said he would respond to the Nation’s call later, but did not.
A source at Athletics Kenya said the athletics governing body could not understand why Cheruiyot and his coach were not allowed to travel yet their travel documents were in order.
“These are frequent travellers and Cheruiyot has his P1 visa in order with Ouma’s B1 and B2 visas also in order. I think Ouma failed to travel because he couldn’t have left his athlete behind,” the source said.
“Things to do with border control are about the visa and they should travel any time if sorted out,” the source added.
Mr Jim Onyango, from the American Embassy’s communications department in Nairobi, said he was not aware of the incident but promised to follow up as soon as an official communication is made.
“Write to me asking all the questions and I will follow up,” said Mr Onyango.
By Ayumba Oyondi, Daily Nation