9.77, current African record holder, 2nd fastest time this year, 8th fastest time ever! I am so glad that I got to end the season with such monumental milestones. This season has been a great one, every single time I have set my foot on the track, I have witnessed the power of my pic.twitter.com/tgwvV3D3Jv
— Ferdinand Omurwa OMANYALA (@Ferdiomanyala) September 19, 2021
This is Deji Ogeyingbo’s third column for RunBlogRun. We think that you will enjoy learning about Ferdinand Omanyala, the fastest man in Africa.
— Carol Radull (@CarolRadull) September 18, 2021
Ferdinand Omanyala: The Kenyan who became the fastest man in Africa
On 18 September 2021, on a stifling afternoon at the Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi, the Kip Kieno Classic which is the only Continental Gold held on the continent of Africa turned into a stunning festival of speed and an unparalleled riot of achievement.
America’s Trayvon Bromell clocked the fastest time of the year to claim the men’s 100m in a time of 9.76s, the seventh fastest time of all time. Olympic silver medallist Christine Mboma held off Ivorian Marie Josee Ta Lou to complete an astounding season in the women’s 200m.Two-time Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon continued her fine form in the women’s 1500m in front of a small but vocal Kenyan home crowd.
Interestingly, the headline wasn’t about Bromell’s astonishing timing, nor was it because Mboma tore up the blue tartan track of the stadium with her incredible top end speed. It was mainly because of Kipyegon’s compatriot, Ferdinand Omanyala.
Coming in second behind Bromell in the men’s 100m was Omanyala. Yes, a Kenyan had just become the fastest sprinter in Africa by virtue of his 9.77s run and the eight fastest man in the World, a little over five more meters, he could have won the race. Doesn’t matter really, because the fact that a Kenyan had just produced such incredible piece of sporting history over the short sprint was just short of outstanding. It was implausible.
In order to sink in this incredible piece of sporting achievement, it’s necessary to encapsulate how big Kenya’s athletics is on the World stage. The country has for the past five decades produced some of the best Long- and middle-distance runners the World has seen, dominating from the 800m to the Marathon. From David Rudisha to Eluid Kipchoge, their dominance has been unrivaled that only a handful of countries in the World can boast of their medal haul of such distances at the major Championships.
90% of Kenyan athletes are Nilotes from the Kalenjin grouping of tribes. These athletes form a large chunk of the ones we watch on the global stage.Whether it’s their genetics, food, upbringing, there hasn’t been a concrete reason why they produce some of the best long-distance runners.
What distinguishes Omanyala is that he comes from the Bantu Abaluyha tribe. These tribe are well known as football and rugby players, with their bulky physique well-suited for these two sports. Naturally, that makes him a different proposition in the World of track and Field. And most importantly, not the type of physique for middle and longer distance races.
Although he played rugby at a younger age, Omanyala delved into athletics in 2016, as he set himself on a mission by attempting to break the notion that Kenya can’t produce quality sprinters. The journey was cut short as he served a 14-month doping ban in 2017 after returning a positive drugs test for a banned substance, which he says was in a painkiller he took. It also meant he was banned from ever representing Kenya again; on account of a failed drugs test.
“After meeting Ferdinand in February of 2021 at the Nairobi’s Kasarani stadium, I knew there was something special about him. Even before we met, he sent me a video of his from a race in Kenya. One look at it and my intuition told me that he was a potential Olympic champion!! Interestingly in the first race that I saw him run in he was beaten to second place!” Charles Ouko a Sports Scout based in Kenya said.
Even after serving his 14 months ban, he was excluded from representing Kenya at the following global meets: 2018 Commonwealth Games, 2019 Yokohama World Relays, 2019 Asaba African championships and the 2019 Doha World Championships. The race to ensure that he competes for Kenya started there.
While his legal team were challenging Athletics Kenya’s (AK) decision to continue excluding him from Team Kenya, he was chalking up races to keep himself in the best possible shape. Prior to 2021, his Personal Best over the 100m was 10.32s.
Still coached by his long-time trainer, a soldier named Duncan Ayiemba, they began putting in the work and at the 1st weekend meeting in Nairobi, he clocked a wind-aided 10.18 (+2.1). He went on to win the final in 10.29s. The signs were looking good. However, the best was yet to come for him.
Omanyala took a trip to Nigeria in March to compete at the 3rd Making of Champions Grand Prix. He didn’t take much time to announce himself as he blazed to a new lifetime best and National Record (NR) of 10.01s, obliterating the previous record of 10.14s set by Mark Otieno Odhiambo in 2015. The time also ensured that he qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.
He followed that performance up by competing at a meet in South Africa which he won in 10.06s. What happened next was ground breaking as he got the ruling in his favour and AK had no other option than to allow him compete for the county. That ushered him into the Kenyan trials, which he duly delivered a gritty performance defeat Odhiambo, wining in 10.02s.
The Olympics in Tokyo beckoned and he was on the verge of making history. He did get into the record books as he became the first Kenyan to reach the semifinals of the men’s 100m at the Olympics after equaling his PB of 10.01. He narrowly missed out on a spot in the final after he placed 3rd, but he still came off with a new lifetime best of 10.00s. Even at that, there were still doubts about his potentials and his ability to churn out times that will rival the best in the discipline. It was just a matter of time before he ran inside 10s.
Two weeks later, at the Laufmeeting in Austria, Omanyala was in scintillating form once again, as he clocked 9.96s in the heat of the men’s 100m, before shortly going on to lower the time to 9.86s to win the final. People were beginning to take him seriously. He was just 0.02s shy off the African Record set by Akani Simbine in June of 2021.
— Ferdinand Omurwa OMANYALA (@Ferdiomanyala) October 8, 2021
“I have been improving in every race because I have been running so many competitions this year,” he says. “That is what I am going to do next year and I will start in early maybe March. So by June, we should be expecting very fast times.”
Couple of more races in Finland and Belgium saw him get the most of the year in terms of competition, but it wasn’t until his las race of the year where he made the World stand still. For a nation that has won numerous medals at the Olympics and have some of the great stars in the sport, he got a standing ovation from the handful of crowds that included the President, Uhuru Kenyatta at the Kasarani Stadium.
— University of Nairobi Students Association (@UNSA_UON) September 18, 2021
For an athlete who only just over a year ago was running times within the 10.3s to 10.2s range to be able to run 9.77s in a short time frame is nothing short of special. It surely means he’s got a lot left in the tank. Who knows he could drift into the 9.6s zones going in to next season.
— Aleckie Ronald (@SirAlexas) September 19, 2021
Omanyala can only get better. He is in uncharted territory at the moment in men’s sprinting. A place where the greats like Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay and Yohan Blake made look easy. Consistency is however important at the stage of his career, and most importantly, capping it off by winning medals at major championships.