Feature: Kenya's first table tennis icon

2013-01-14 12:03:18 GMT2013-01-14 20:03:18(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

By Ben Ochieng

NAIROBI, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- Mayur Shah remembers the first time he met Henry Rono, a Kenyan athlete who smashed four world records in a span of a month in late 1970s.

"I was in the Kenyan contingent to the 1978 All Africa Games in Algiers, Algeria. After watching him train and compete in the championships, I concluded that he is the greatest athlete of all time."

"His training regime was rigorous, precise and most of us in the contingent would interrupt our training schedules just to watch him go through the paces," Shah told Xinhua at their family enterprise office in Nairobi over the weekend.

Rono is a former Kenyan athlete who in the mid 1970s smashed four world records in a span of four weeks.

Never before in the history of sports has an athlete been in such impressive form, as he was at that time and there is little doubt that Rono would have swept everything before him had global geopolitics not catalyzed Kenya's boycott of the 1976 and 1980 Olympic Games.

Shah is Kenya's one time top table tennis player and is believed to be the best of the lot ever to grace the sport in the country.

His cabinet may not be full of silverware like Rono's, but a combination of discipline, hard work and passion for the sport have placed him among legends.

Shah made his international debut for Kenya at the princely age of nine during the All Africa Table Tennis Championships in Alexandria, Egypt in 1974, making him the first athlete to represent Kenya at the most tender of ages.

He reached the quarter-finals in the under 15 category. Four years later, he was a member of the Kenyan team to the 1st Zone Six Table Tennis Championships in Nairobi, the same year he travelled to Algeria for the 2nd All Africa Games as part of the Kenyan contingent and where his irretrievable iconic opinion about Rono formed.

And as if mingling with the great, Rono and other stars of the day was not enough for the young Shah, the visit to State House, Nairobi for the customary flag hand-over ceremony by the Head of State was an event of nostalgic proportions that has remained permanently etched in his mind.

"It was an opportunity of momentous and emotional scope to visit the seat of power and to appear in a group photo with President Jomo Kenyatta," reminisces Shah.

In 1979, Shah was part of the team to the 35th World Table Tennis Championships in Pyongyang. Other members of the team were Philo Pinto, Jane Pinto,Sharad Ghai, Charles Ndolo, James Mutie, Maureen Rego and Michelle Ribeiro among others.

As a student at Highway Secondary School in Nairobi, Shah ruled the schools' circuit like the proverbial colossus. He won the All Secondary School Open title for three consecutive years between 1976 and 1978.

He was also a winner of three straight titles in the Aryans Open and the Nairobi Gymkhana Boys singles and under 17 in 1976. His other conquests included the Coast Open and East African titles.

Shah's unstoppable exploits were however brought to a debilitating end following a freak road accident while a student at Wichita State University, Kansas, where he was undertaking his Business Administration degree course. He is a holder of Master's degree in Business Administration.

"The accident took a lot of wind from my sail. After that I was never the same agile and vibrant player that people knew. I decided to step aside and let other young players make their contribution."

As you begin to wonder how a man of much disposition in education, business and sports has not let success go into his head, his eldest brother, Bharat walks into the interview room at Kenafric Industries Limited. Only then do you realize it is a family trait.

"We are a sporting family and our love for sports is unprecedented. We have made our contributions as players and now it is time to give back to society," says Bharat who is also a former table tennis great.

"That is why we all flew to South Africa to cheer on our national cricket team during the 2003 Cricket World Cup," interjects Shah, who is the youngest of four brothers.

None of his three daughters has followed in his sporting footsteps as they prefer swimming.

His job as the marketing manager at Kenafric Industries Limited has turned him into a globe trotter, leaving him with little time for the game apart from supportive roles like sponsoring tournaments.

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