Nick Okoth's rise from slum boy to competing at the Olympic
Kenya’s Nick Okoth after booking a slot in the Tokyo Olympics. [Courtesy]

It’s strange how fortunes turn around. While growing up at the sprawling Mathare slums, former Commonwealth Games featherweight silver medalist Nick Okoth developed unbridled love for football.

His peers then admired how he dribbled and juggled the ball in the football crazy slum. And many people expected that he could emerge as a star footballer.

That never came to pass thanks to influence from his elder brother Absalom ‘Diblo’ Okoth, which saw him don the gloves and head to the ring.

Okoth has no regrets for that decision; trading football for boxing – a sport often known to instill discipline.

Okoth was a member of the national team to the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he won silver in the featherweight category.

Okoth, better known as ‘Commander’ in boxing circles, last featured at the Olympic Games during the 2008 outing and had to wait for 12 years to qualify for the second time this year for the Tokyo Games, which has been postponed to 2021 due to Covid-19 crisis.

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He qualified for the games after defeating Ugandan Isaac Masembe in featherweight category during the Africa qualifiers in Senegal in February. 

“Boxing has changed my life. I have gone places because of the sport. Growing up in Mathare slums, boxing opened doors for me. But credit goes to my brother Diblo, who convinced me to change from football to boxing.

“Diblo has helped me a lot in the sport. Being a policeman, he advised me to join Kenyan Army. I heed the advice and it really helped me,” Okoth, a father of three, said in a phone interview. 

“I have waited for 12 years to qualify for Olympic Games but the coronavirus denied me the chance to compete this year. But I will compete in the Olympic Games for the last time next year because I will be 40 years old in 2023. Rules don’t allow over 40-year-old boxers to participate,” said Okoth, a corporal at Kenya Defence Forces. 

“In 2012, I missed out the London Olympic Games because of work commitment.”

Okoth provides inspiration and technical skills to upcoming boxers at their Kenya Defence Forces Amateur Boxing Association (Defaba). 

He has won many titles including bronze medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, African Games in Congo in 2015 and Rabat in 2019 respectively.

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