One of rugby's 2009 Olympic bid team amazed to play in Rio

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Kenya's Humphrey Kayange, back, tackles New Zealand's Rieko Ioane, during the men's rugby sevens match at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Kenya's Humphrey Kayange, back, tackles New Zealand's Rieko Ioane, during the men's rugby sevens match at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — When the IOC voted overwhelmingly in 2009 to readmit rugby into the Olympics, Humphrey Kayange was right there.

Kayange, captain of a Kenya team coming off a stunning third-place finish in the Sevens World Cup, was part of the bid delegation in Copenhagen helping to show off rugby's global appeal.

The vote result sent him hugging and high-fiving fellow collaborators and players Jonah Lomu, Agustin Pichot, and women's captains Cheryl Soon of Australia and Anastassiya Khamova of Kazakhstan.

Only in his wildest imagination did he believe that, seven years later, he'd actually make it to the Rio de Janeiro Games as a player, still.

But there he was on Tuesday at Deodoro Stadium, running in the first Olympic men's rugby matches in 92 years. In the stands was Pichot, now vice chairman of World Rugby.

With tape wrapped around both of his wrists and thighs, Kayange played a half each in Kenya's opening pool matches, both defeats: 31-7 to Britain and 28-5 to New Zealand.

His disappointment was tempered by the pleasure of playing in the Olympics, in front of party-seeking, happy, good-sized crowds.

It felt surreal and humbling.

"I'm very proud of the achievements back in 2009, and I'm very proud to have the opportunity to play out here, an amazing feeling," he said.

"In 2009, I wasn't sure I'd still be running out on the park with the boys. I was just heading out to the U.K. for my studies.

"There were thoughts in my head that I would love to be in Rio, and as the years went by the possibility could happen if I kept in shape and worked hard. It's been a good seven years, and," he added with a laugh, "I'm quite pleased the body has just kept together at this point."

The 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) Kayange, known as "Tall" because "saying Humphrey was a bit of a bother for everyone so they just say, 'Ah, the tall one,'" was spurred on this year when Kenya won its first world series tournament in 114, crushing Fiji 30-7 in the Singapore final.

With their arrival home broadcast live on national TV, the Kenyans received a red carpet welcome at the airport, and a national holiday was declared. The team's results dipped after that but the 34-year-old old man of the team was picked for the Olympics, and Kayange believed his 11-year international career might peak this week.

"I've been toying with the idea, what's my next sort of motivation, what will keep me going?" he said. "But this is amazing, this is the top of the list, and I don't know if anything can replace this."

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