He might have been weighed down by the sensational Olympic scandal that jettisoned him from the upper echelons of global sports management, but the indelible mark Charles Nderitu Mukora etched in the development of Kenyan sport will never be erased.
Mukora, 83, a former chairman of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (Nock), died on Thursday after a long illness, leaving behind four children – Patrick, Patricia, Beth and Susan. His wife, Salome Wanjiru Mukora, died on May 21 last year.
Just like coach Patrick Sang is to world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge, Mukora was the man largely behind the success of Olympic trailblazer Kipchoge Keino, quietly living in the shadows of the legend in the 1960s and 70s before springing into the sports management limelight himself in the late 70s.
Across the eight decades he lived, Mukora made an impact as coach, administrator and politician, rising to the highest level of global sports management hitherto unsurpassed by any Kenyan. Besides Kipchoge, Mukora also coached Naftali Temu and was in charge, as head coach, at the 1968 (Mexico) and 1972 (Munich) Olympic Games, concentrating his pre-Olympic, military-style training camps in Nyahururu and Nyeri.
As vice president of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), he was effectively third in command at the Commonwealth sports movement after the Queen of England and the CGF president. Mukora 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.
COMPETED IN LONG JUMP
He competed in the long jump and triple jump before later taking up the decathlon, urged into sport by his British teacher John Cowley, later becoming Kenya’s first local coach in both football and athletics.
“Mukora was my very good friend. We were together from 1954 to 1956, under coach Briton (Archie) Evans, and he was polite, always laughing and had no issues with anyone,” Kenya’s pioneer international runner, Nyantika Maiyoro, mourned Mukora on Friday.
“Those days, Paul Boit was our team manager with William Yeda acting as Evans’ secretary as Mukora competed in the jumps.”
Mukora’s rise to prominence in Kenyan sport significantly started in 1968 when he took over as national athletics coach from Briton John Velzian who had, in 1965, led the country to the first ever African Championships in Congo Brazzaville. “Archie Evans was the colonial sports officer then and I had many fights with him, and so I went out on my own organised the first championships for an independent Kenya,” Velzian told Nation Sport from London.
“Mukora is someone I helped along the way and I will remember him as a great colleague in track and field,” Velzian, 91, added.
Mukora understudied Velzian at the African Championships and also at Kenya’s first appearance at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964 where Kenya won its first ever Olympic medal, a bronze in the 800 metres through Wilson Kiprugut Chumo.
“He was with Velzian in Congo Brazzaville and also in Tokyo,” Keino recalled. “During that time, I broke two world records in the 3,000 and 5,000 metres and was also the first African to run a sub-four minute mile.
"His family informed me of his passing last night (Thursday) and it’s indeed a huge blow.”
After taking over from Velzian, Mukora led Kenya, as head coach, to the Mexico Olympic Games where Temu panned the first ever Olympic gold medal, winning the 10,000 metres race with Keino winning gold in the 1,500 metres.
After a year’s studies at Loughborough College in England, Mukora was appointed sports officer upon his return, but was snapped up by the Coca-Cola Company and employed as a marketing trainee although he still took charge of Kenya as head coach at the 1972 Munich Olympics. At these games, Kenya won gold in the 4x400 metres relay.
“He took good care of us on our trips abroad. We had nothing to worry about,” Charles Asati, a member of the gold medal-winning relay team said Friday. “My condolences to his family.”
At Coca-Cola, Mukora rose to the position of external affairs manager and during his tenure, he devoted a good amount to sports sponsorship. “He gave each federation Sh5,000 annually as sponsorship from Coke which was a huge amount those days. He led in bringing corporates into sports,” recalls former Nock assistant treasurer Stephen arap Soi who Mukora mentored.
“At the time boxing benefitted greatly from the Coca-Cola sponsorship and we won medals at the Olympics and Commonwealth Games,” adds Reuben Ndolo, a former chairman of the Kenya Professional Boxing Commission.
In 1976, Mukora was elected into the Council of the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF), the global body that was later renamed to present day International Association of Athletics Federations. This was after he took charge as chairman of the Kenya Amateur Athletics Association (1972-1974), and, later, as chairman of the Kenya National Sports Council.
In 1989, Mukora was elected Nock chairman, taking over from Samuel Mbogo and, a year later, he was appointed IOC member, the same year he retired from Coca-Cola. Mukora was a close ally of then Democratic Party leader, Mwai Kibaki, and was elected as Laikipia East Member of Parliament serving from 1992 to 1997.
“Along with Chris Obure and the late Joab Omino, Mukora encouraged sports personalities to dive into politics and push for sports development in Parliament,” Ndolo, a former Makadara MP, observes. But Mukora’s star in sports administration was dimmed in 1999 when he was accused of taking a $34,000 bribe to vote for Salt Lake City’s bid to host the 2002 Winter Olympics after IOC whistle blower Mark Hodler raised allegations of impropriety in the Olympic movement.
LEADERS MOURN MUKORA
Nock President Paul Tergat on Friday described his late predecessor as the man responsible for the firm entrenchment of Kenya into the Olympic movement.
“Charles was one of the founding pillars of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (Nock) and his tenure saw Kenya firmly established in the global Olympic movement,” said Tergat, an Olympic silver medallist and former world marathon record holder, in his condolences statement.
Athletics Kenya President Jack Tuwei paid tribute to Mukora as “a dedicated sports leader.”
“This is one individual who served Kenya in different capacities internationally and in a very diligent manner,” Tuwei said in his message.
“Apart from serving his constituents as MP, he at the same time played several roles as a sports administrator locally and internationally,” Tuwei added.
In his message, Tergat, who took over from Mukora’s successor Keino as Nock’s head in September last year, said despite great challenges, Mukora “remains one of the stalwarts of the Olympic movement locally and internationally.”
“Charles made huge contributions towards the development and solidifying of the Olympic movement and Olympism in Kenya, and his contribution, particularly in expanding corporate participation in our sports, is well known,” Tergat added.
The challenges that Tergat referred led to Mukora’s dramatic exit from the IOC that effectively brought Mukora’s long, illustrious career in sports administration to an abrupt end, after which he withdrew from public life as he also battled illness.
In his defence, Mukora had maintained the money from Salt Lake City was to finance sports development, but resigned from the IOC along with five other African members, namely Jean-Claude Ganga (Congo), Zein El Abdin Ahmed Abdel-Gadir (Sudan), Lamine Keita (Mali), David Sibandze (Swaziland, now Eswatini) and Bashir Mohammed Attarabulsi (Libya).
That episode aside, Mukora will be remembered for crafting the Kenyan track and field teams that shone at the Mexico and Munich Olympics, focusing his training in central Kenya.
In Swiss journalist Jurg Wirz’s book Run to Win: The Training Secrets of the Kenyan Runners, Mukora explains his strict training regime and preference for Nyahururu.
“I selected Nyahururu as a training camp because the altitude was more or less the same as Mexico,” he says.
“The training in Nyahururu was quite tough, three sessions a day with a lot of endurance and hill-work. We used a hill called “agony hill.” The team was selected after the trials. They were the best in the country.
“Nevertheless, we had some people who almost collapsed when they got right to the top of “agony hill.” People like Kip Keino and Naftali Temu were running up the hill many times.
“I put Keino in three events – the 1,500m, the 5,000m and the 10,000m because I knew how good he was.”
Dead at 83, Mukora will remain an integral part of Kenya’s rich sports history.
“My condolences to the family and the entire athletics fraternity. RIP,” said Tecla Sang, a pioneer athlete whose late husband Julius Sang was coached by Mukora to a gold medal at the Munich Olympics in the 4x400 metres relay.
“Very sad indeed. Condolences to the family and may he rest in peace,” added another pioneer woman athlete, former hurdler Rose Tata Muya. Others who sent early messages of condolences were Athletics Kenya’s branch chairmen Barnabas Korir (Nairobi), Dimmy Kisalu (Coast), Peter Angwenyi (Nyanza South) and Joseph Ochieng (Nyanza North).