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Grand reception awaits victorious Paralympians
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The Kenyan government plans a grand reception for the paralympian team which nearly brought home a similar number of medals as Olympic team in the just concluded Beijing Games.

A statement from the Sports Minister Prof. Hallen Sambili said on Thursday that Prime Minister Raila Odinga will lead the welcome party for the victorious national Paralympics team which jets back from Beijing on Friday.

Odinga will receive the team at the airport after which they will be driven in a convoy through the city before stopping at the Chinese-built Moi International Sports Center Kasarani where they will spend the night.

The triumphant athletes will then meet President Mwai Kibaki at State House on Saturday where he will give out cash rewards to the medalists and finalists.

Despite poor preparations and low morale among Kenyans, the team won five gold, three silver and one bronze, for a total of nine medals and finished 27th in the overall standings and third in Africa.

The team thus created another historic chapter in the country's sporting scene. This is the best performance ever compared to Athens 2004 and Sydney 2000. Save for the pomp and pageantry and the enthusiastic following that go with the Olympics, the Paralympians, fought like wounded lions to keep the Kenyan flag up with remarkable performances in various categories.

The athletes conquered the world's best and lived up to the adage:"disability is not inability" by posting credible results, registering good timings and establishing new records akin to what able-bodied athletes achieved when they won five gold, five silver and four bronze medals.

Sambili reaffirmed the government's commitment to rewarding the paralympians in the same way they able bodied athletes were rewarded following their heroics in Beijing.

"The government believes in fair treatment of its citizens irrespective of their challenges, particularly when they are involved in national duty. The perception by some quarters that the Paralympics team would be treated otherwise is wrong and misleading," read the statement.

Able bodied gold medalists received 2.3 million shillings (32,000 U.S. dollars) each while silver medalists got 1.2 million shillings while bronze medalists pocketed 780,000 shillings.

Henry Kiprono Kirwa set the pace claiming three gold medals in an awesome display of middle and long distance running.

With the performance in Beijing, Kirwa becomes the only other single athlete to win three gold medals in one Paralympics Games, a record previously held by Henry Wanyoike who clinched two gold medals in 5,000m and 10,000 T12 in Athens 2004.

In the T12 category, unlike that of Kirwa, the athlete has to be accompanied by a guide because they cannot see.

The 35 year old won the men's 5,000 T13 gold medal last week to open his account in Beijing setting a new world record of 14:24.02 along the way.

A gold in the men's 1500 meters followed on Saturday morning and he then topped it with a new Paralympics record of 31:42.97 minutes to win his third gold on Sunday in the 10,000m T12 becoming Kenya's most successful Paralympian at a single event.

Double All Africa Games Champion Abraham Tarbei opened Kenya's gold account on Wednesday when set a new world record on his way to winning gold in the men's 1500 meters T46 class.

The 21 year old athlete set a new world best time of 3:52.50 to win the race and gave Kenya her first gold medal of the Games.

Blind athlete Francis Thuo had won Kenya's first medal at the games last Tuesday afternoon when he won silver in the men's 5,000 meters T11 category.

Other silver medalists include Samwel Mushai and Mary Nakhumicha in javelin. Defending champion and World record holder Henry Wanyoike won the only bronze.

Beijing's performance was a huge improvement from the last edition in 2004 Athens where they finished 41st position overall with one gold medal, 4 silver and two bronze.

(Xinhua News Agency September 18, 2008)

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