Every 20th of October, Kenyans celebrate Mashujaa (Heroes) Day, formerly Kenyatta Day. Mashujaa day is a public holiday to honor heroes and heroines. In 2019, iconic marathoner Eliud Kipchoge became a hero to many Kenyans. So, President Uhuru Kenyatta awarded him with the Elder of the Order of the Golden Heart Medal. This is a Presidential award which has the second-highest rank after the Chief of the Order of the Golden Heart meant for Heads of State.
The President recognized Kipchoge for his achievement at the INEOS 1:59 challenge in Vienna, Austria. He said that he awarded Kipchoge on behalf of the past and present runners since the world champion became the first human being to complete a marathon in less than two hours.
“And in honour of all the heroes, past, present and future, I wish to invite and to recognize Eliud Kipchoge with the order of the Elder of the Golden Heart.”
What surprises everyone the most about Kipchoge is his humility. After such an accomplishment, everyone expected a grand homecoming party. Instead, the champion opted for a low-key journey back to Kenya. He says parties are just not his thing and that he celebrates enough at the finish line.
“I do not like big parties. Why should I be driven around the town after winning a race? It does not add up for me.”
Kenyans learned about Kipchoge’s return only after a tweet by Kenya Airways.
— Kenya Airways (@KenyaAirways) October 16, 2019
The President also mentioned Brigid Kosgei, the female record holder who finished the marathon in Chicago in 2:14:04. She smashed Paula Radcliffe’s 16-year-old 2:15:25 record with over a whopping minute. Other heroes that Kenyatta mentioned are the late environmentalist Wangari Maathai and Teacher Peter Tabichi who won the Global Teacher Award.
In his speech, President Kenyatta gave his definition of a hero.
“A shujaa is one who sacrifices greed, selfishness, personal comfort and advancement at the altar of the greater good.”
“Today we honour the Kenyans called to serve around the world, our Kenyans in the diaspora who continue to be our brand ambassadors in countries far from their home and who continue to support millions of Kenyans in their homeland.”
Kipchoge received the award in an event like never seen before in Kenya. For the first time since independence, Kenya celebrated a public holiday at the shores of the Indian Ocean in the coastal town of Mombasa. The venue was the revamped Mama Ngina Waterfront whose launching took place the same day. It was also the first time that Kenyans witnesses the Kenya Navy conduct military ocean parade.
Even though IAAF did not recognize Kipchoge’s sub-two-hour marathon challenge as a world record, he is still the world record holder from a previous marathon. This makes Kenya the home of both the male and female world record holders. Both Kipchoge and Kosgei among several other Kenyan athletes have been nominated for the World Athletics Awards 2019.