What you need to know:
- The outpour of tributes in both mainstream and social media from Kenyans and the world of rugby, led by President Uhuru Kenyatta, is clear proof of Ayimba’s status
- The highlights of his stellar career was Kenya sevens team’s maiden appearance at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro (2016) and their World Sevens Rugby Series victory in Singapore, also in 2016
- Kenya Rugby Union chairman Oduor Gangla also confirmed that “a warrior had rested”
Cerebral malaria might have cut Benjamin Ayimba’s life short at prime age, but the former Kenya sevens rugby head coach lived his rugby life to the fullest.
Ayimba’s accolades are what every elite athlete would dream to achieve.
The outpour of tributes in both mainstream and social media from Kenyans and the world of rugby, led by President Uhuru Kenyatta, is clear proof of Ayimba’s status.
A clear manifestation of the universal impact of sport.
Ayimba, a Maseno School alumnus, captained Impala Saracens, Kenya sevens and Kenya 15s national teams over a trophy-laden period.
The highlights of his stellar career was Kenya sevens team’s maiden appearance at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro (2016) and their World Sevens Rugby Series victory in Singapore, also in 2016.
This made Ayimba arguably the most successful Kenya sevens coach.
Just as his achievements read like a script from Hollywood, so did Ayimba’s controversial side, inside and outside of rugby.
The roller coaster career saw him fired twice as Kenyan sevens head coach.
It took only a few hours before the news of his death on Friday at 8pm at Kenyatta National Hospital spread like bushfire all over social media platforms before the legend’s family spokesman Oscar Osir, also an ex-Kenya international, could officially break the devastating news.
“Benjamin succumbed to the multiple complications he was being treated for over the past couple of months,” said Osir.
Kenya Rugby Union chairman Oduor Gangla also confirmed that “a warrior had rested.”
Besides President Kenyatta, the Kenya Rugby League Federation (KRLF) - where Ayimba was serving as a technical director - Deputy President William Ruto, ODM leader Raila Odinga and National Olympic Committee of Kenya President Paul Tergat were among those who paid tribute to Ayimba for his endearing services in sport.
Kisumu County Governor Anyang Nyong'o and Senators James Orengo (Siaya) and Mutula Kilonzo Jnr (Makueni) also condoled with Ayimba's family and rugby fraternity.
Paul "Pau" Murunga, who served as Ayimba's deputy, and Geoffrey Kimani, who was the strength and conditioning coach at the history-making 2016 Singapore Sevens, reminisced on the moments they shared.
“As a nation, we will forever be grateful for his great contribution to Kenya’s sports especially for the many accolades he earned the country over the years," mourned President Kenyatta.
"A warrior rests... We join the Ayimba family and the entire rugby and sporting fraternity in mourning legendary backrow,” said Gangla in a tweet early Saturday.
“His contribution to the growth of rugby development in Kenya and international class high performance rugby and leadership was phenomenal and just the stuff of legends,” said KRFL chairman Richard "Quicks" Nyakwaka.
Murunga said Ayimba was like a big brother to him as well as best friend and mentor.
“He trusted my coaching ability and trusted every word I said. He gave me an opportunity to assist him in coaching and God blessed us winning Singapore and qualified for 2016 Rio Olympics,” said Murunga, who would later succeeded Ayimba as head coach.
Kimani said he was in search of a job in November, 2006, when he met Ayimba.
“I was to give a free session for Kenya Sevens which I did, and Ayimba told me to show up for the next session and that is how my journey with Kenya Sevens started... he actually hired me!," said Kimani. “Ayimba was a fiercely result-oriented coach and a good motivator in the team, which made his work easier and he always kept everything professional, even when on differing opinions.”
Tergat said the world of sports has lost a legend who led Kenya to its maiden appearance at the Olympics during the 2016 Rio Summer Games.
“It's such a huge blow to lose Ayimba who was synonymous with rugby development in the country," said Tergat.
“We have lost a great patriot in Benjamin Ayimba,” said Odinga.
“His performance as a player and coach brought happiness to many who were glued to television sets to watch. He brought the nation together,” said Nyong'o.
Ayimba, who was born on August 27, 1976, in Nairobi, embraced rugby while in Form three in 1993 at Maseno School.
He joined Impala Saracens in 1995 to win the Kenya Cup league and Enterprise Cup doubles in 2000 and 2001.
He also led the side to three National Sevens Series titles in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
Ayimba moved to Nondescripts in 2002 before joining English side Cornish Pirates between 2003 to 2005.
He played for Kenya Sevens at the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Commonwealth Games as well as the 2001 and 2005 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Argentina and Hong Kong, respectively.
After briefly coaching the Kenya’s 15 sides, the “Simbas,” he would then take up the Kenya Sevens coaching job between 2006 and 2011.
He steered the side to a first ever World Series final in 2009 in Adelaide, before creating more history by steering sevens team “Shujaa” to a first ever Rugby World Cup Sevens semi-final in 2009 in Dubai.
In December, 2010, Ayimba was decorated by President Mwai Kibaki with the Order of the Grand Warrior (OGW) award to recognise his sterling achievements in the game.
As head coach in 2015, Ayimba led the team to a maiden appearance at the 2016 Olympics in Rio before guiding the side to their first ever World Series title when his side beat Fiji 30-7 in the 2016 Singapore Sevens final.
Away from Kenya Sevens, Ayimba had coaching stints at Homeboyz, Mean Machine and Kenya Harlequin, serving as assistant coach at “Quins.”
We at the Nation Media Group Sports Desk join the Kenyan and global rugby community in mourning the sad demise of our legend Benjamin Ayimba.
We pray that the Almighty God grants his family fortitude during this extremely difficult period.
How fitting it will be for the national sevens rugby team to honour the late Ayimba by getting onto the podium at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
In Singapore, five years ago, Ayimba demonstrated that this is possible. Indeed, it can be done. Even if only to honour our fallen giant.
May God rest Benja’s soul in eternal peace.
Elias Makori, Editor (Sports) Nation Media Group