Ferdinand Omanyala made everyone sit up and take notice when he ran a Kenyan national record of 10.02 in the men’s 100m to punch his ticket for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in emphatic fashion.
In a blistering sprint at the punishing elevation of the capital Nairobi, Mark Otieno trailed Omanyala across the line in 10.05. The pair made history as the first Kenyan duo to qualify for the Olympics men’s 100m.
Omanyala’s dream was always to compete at the Olympics.
And in just over a fortnight, his dream is set to come true in Tokyo when the starting gun to the track and field program goes off on July 29.
The Bachelor of Science in Pure Chemistry student at the University of Nairobi started his Olympic journey five years ago.
And in that period, he has gone from obscurity to a controversial figure in the sport before realizing his ambition during the Kenyan Trials for Tokyo 2020 in Nairobi last month.
“It is everybody’s dream to compete at the Olympics. I’m so glad I made it, it is my first actually,” Omanyala said from Team Kenya’s camp in Nairobi.
It was a massive understatement from the sprinter who has never been far from the headlines since he ditched rugby for athletics in 2015.
In 2017, the sprinter clocked a national record of 10.11 seconds, but Athletics Kenya (AK) failed to ratify the mark, saying the effort was wind-assisted.
Earlier that year, the 24-year-old was found guilty of an anti-doping rules violation for using a prohibited substance by the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya and served a 14-month ban.
In March, Omanyala clocked 10.01 in Nigeria on March 30 – which was yet again faster than Otieno’s previous Kenyan record of 10.14 run in 2018 – but once more, AK declined to accredit it as a new national standard.
However, World Athletics recognizes the event it was posted, and a furious debate on whether he should be allowed to vie for a place in the country’s Olympics team erupted.
This is because AK had earlier announced it would never invite an athlete convicted of a doping offense to compete for the country still under Category A of nations under the World Athletics watch list.
Following discussions between Olympics Kenya and AK, Omanyala was eventually permitted to compete at the trials after the athlete considered applying to race as an independent athlete in Tokyo.
With the drama behind it, the Kenyan has set his sights on running sub 10.00 in Japan as he continues to work on his technique.
“There are so many things I can do better, especially at the start of the blocks. I did not start very well even at the trials, so that is what we are working on in the camp,” he explained.
To keep fit during the lockdown imposed last year due to the global pandemic, Omanyala teamed up with his former colleagues in rugby.
Ahead of Tokyo, he has benefitted from the coaching of Geoffrey Kimani- the strength and conditioning coach for Team Kenya- whom he worked with within his former sport.
As the final countdown to the Olympics tolls, the sprinter says he fears no one and is ready for the challenge.
“I want to break records because I feel I am very fast!”