Kenya’s hockey team has Olympic dreams

Shanghai Daily - - SPORTS FEATURE - Frank Pingue Star Sports 2 CCTV 5

Kenya may be known more for pro­duc­ing the world’s great­est long-dis­tance run­ners than win­ter ath­letes, but the coun­try’s only ice hockey team are hop­ing their re­cent trip to Canada will help change that nar­ra­tive.

Re­cently the Kenya Ice Li­ons, who are pas­sion­ate but have no­body to play against back home, were fea­tured in a heart­warm­ing video in which Cana­dian cof­fee-and-donut chain Tim Hor­tons — ea­ger to change the sit­u­a­tion of Kenya’s only ice hockey team — brought them to Toronto to play their first game.

The video’s high­light came when Na­tional Hockey League stars Sid­ney Crosby and Nathan MacK­in­non re­duced the un­sus­pect­ing Ice Li­ons to tears as they walked into a locker room wear­ing the team’s green uni­forms to join them for their game.

“You know, for us this is all like a dream come true,” Ice Li­ons cap­tain and founder Be­nard Azegere said dur­ing a visit to Toronto. “I felt like I was in heaven.”

The Ice Li­ons, based in a coun­try too near the equa­tor to have a real win­ter, are a sort of mod­ern-day ver­sion of the Ja­maica bob­sleigh team that went to the 1988 Olympics, and whose bizarre story in­spired the mak­ing of the film “Cool Run­nings.”

Azegere said the Ice Li­ons learned to play the game on a rink in­side a Nairobi ho­tel with the help of on­line tutorials and a friendly group at the city’s High Com­mis­sion of Canada who do­nated sticks and ran­dom pieces of equip­ment to the team.

“We didn’t have goalie equip­ment and no­body can take that risk to be a goalie with­out the proper gear,” said Azegere.

“So what we used to do was we had a rub­ber pen­guin and we used to put it at the cen­ter of the goal, and to score you had to hit the pen­guin above the belly.”

Azegere said there are only 30 hockey play­ers in Kenya, a coun­try with a pop­u­la­tion of nearly 50 mil­lion, a far cry from Canada where, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Ice Hockey Fed­er­a­tion, there are 637,000 reg­is­tered play­ers.

‘I kept on fall­ing’

The 33-year-old Kenyan’s first ex­po­sure to the fast-paced and phys­i­cal sport was in 2010 when he saw a game on TV from that year’s Van­cou­ver Olympics, and he was im­me­di­ately struck by the smooth way the play­ers were able to move around the ice.

That prompted Azegere to test his abil­ity on the rink in­side the Pa­nari Sky Cen­ter Ho­tel, where the Ice Li­ons now prac­tice twice a week.

“It wasn’t as pleas­ant as I thought it would be,” Azegere said. “It was like walk­ing on a tile floor full of soapy wa­ter and I kept on fall­ing but I was de­ter­mined to do it. I kept on fall­ing. It was painful but I man­aged.”

The 1,400-square-me­ter ice sur­face is meant for leisure skat­ing and lacks the rounded cor­ners of tra­di­tional hockey rinks, but it is home for the Ice Li­ons, who shared videos of their prac­tices on so­cial me­dia in a bid to re­cruit play­ers.

When the Tim Hor­tons chain learned about the Ice Li­ons they de­cided to fly them to Toronto where they were given per­son­al­ized jer­seys, new hockey equip­ment and a chance to play against a recre­ational team made up of fire­fight­ers.

Azegere said the trip to Canada, where hockey is a na­tional ob­ses­sion, has given the team plenty of ex­po­sure in Kenya where re­quests are pour­ing in from peo­ple who want to join them.

While the Ice Li­ons still have no other teams to com­pete against at home, Azegere is hope­ful more ice sur­faces will be built in Kenya so that one day a proper league can be formed.

Only two Kenyan ath­letes have ever com­peted at the Win­ter Olympics but Azegere hopes to one day watch a hockey team from his coun­try com­pet­ing against the world’s best play­ers. “Our in­ten­tion right now... is not only to fea­ture in a fu­ture Win­ter Olympics but we have a dream of mak­ing ice hockey big in Kenya,” said Azegere. “We are known in the (sport­ing) world for other rea­sons, mainly track and field, and rugby, but we are try­ing to go an ex­tra mile and fly our Kenyan flag in a dif­fer­ent way.”

Hurl­ing, Hurl­ing Wild Geese Tro­phy 2018, Gal­way Tribesman vs. Kilkenny

Ta­ble ten­nis, ITTF World Tour 2018 Aus­trian Open

Auto rac­ing, F1 2018 Heineken Brazil­ian Grand Prix, Main Race

Amer­i­can foot­ball, FOX Col­lege Foot­ball 2018/19, Texas vs. Texas Tech

Base­ball, MLB Ja­pan All-STAR Se­ries 2018, MLB vs. Samu­rai Ja­pan

Judo, World Judo Tour 2018, Tashkent

Soc­cer, Ger­man Bun­desliga 2018/19,Leipzig vs. Lev­erkusen

Soc­cer, Ger­man Bun­desliga 2018/19, Frank­furt vs. Schalke

Bas­ket­ball, NBA, Los An­ge­les Lak­ers vs. Sacra­mento Kings

Soc­cer, CSL, Guangzhou Ever­grande Taobao vs. Tian­jin Teda

Ice Li­ons, Kenya’s only ice hockey team, wear green uni­forms and pose for a team photo fol­low­ing their de­but game against a recre­ational team made up of fire­fight­ers in Toronto, On­tario, Canada. — Reuters

A mem­ber of Kenya’s ice hockey team gears up for prac­tice. — Reuters

Mem­bers of Kenya’s only ice hockey team sit on the bench dur­ing a prac­tice ses­sion at the So­lar Ice Rink in Nairobi. It’s East Africa and Cen­tral Africa’s only ice rink, and wel­comes any and ev­ery­one who wants to lace up. — Reuters

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.