Ferdinand Omanyala won the KIp Keino Classic in WL 9.85! photo courtesy of KIP KEINO CLASSIC
Deji Ogeyingbo wrote this piece on the amazing run by Ferdinand Omanyala, who managed the field, and a false start (mechanical error) to take the world leader and make sure that everybody in the world now knows that Kenya produces sprinters, javelin throwers and distance runners!
Omanyala’s latest showing in Nairobi brings redemption in front of his home crowd and makes him a frontrunner for a podium finish at the World Championships in Oregon
The first time Ferdinand Omanyala raced in front of his home crowd against an international field was in September 2021. It was a watershed year for the Kenyan who had gone through the turmoil of having to take his Athletics Federation to court previously so he can represent his country while also having to contend with catching up with his competitors.
Omanyala was able to get back into the reckoning as he reached the semi-finals of the Tokyo Olympics while also breaking 10s. But he needed to soothe his country which still had doubts about his potential as well as a World Class sprinter coming out of the East African Nation.
At the Continental Gold Tour meet in Nairobi last year, Omanyala started the healing process with his home fans when he stormed to an African Record of 9.77s to finish behind America’s Trayvon Bromell. Although the crowd was scanty because of the COVID-19 regulations, President Uhuru Kenyatta alongside his cronies witnessed the Bantu Abaluyha tribesman make history.
Still, there were few whispers about him and his ability to be the poster boy for a country that prides itself as one of the best in Athletics. Some of the greats of the sport have come from this East African nation. From David Rudisha to Eluid Kipchoge, they always produce some of the great middle- and long-distance runners. Omanyala was the outlier.
Eight months later, in front of a near-capacity crowd in the Kasarani Stadium, Omanyala just might have warmed his way into his heart of Kenyans fully while setting down a marker to his rivals about his authenticity for getting on the podium at the World Championships in Oregon in July.
The African Record holder stormed to a new World Lead and Seasons Best of 9.85s to defeat Olympic Silver medalist, Fred Kerley to take the win at this year’s 100m at the Kip Kieno Classic.
Prior to the race though, the news that Olympic 100m Champion and World Indoor 60m Champion Marcel Jacobs had come down with a bug might have diluted the contest, but the fans and millions watching from all over the world still looked forward to a decent contest that saw Mike Rodgers and Isaiah Young also take to the starting blocks.
Drawn in lane 4, Omanyala was running shoulder to shoulder with Kerley, so he knew he had to get his start right and it would be difficult for the American to reel him in. Well, not necessarily because there was a false start, which later showed in the system to be a malfunction. Regardless, it rattled some of the runners. Not Omanyala.
He picked up himself and once he got out of his drive phase, there was no stopping him as he became the first sprinter to run inside 9.9s this year. Kerley put up a good fight but he seemed to have run himself down after sprinting over halfway before the false start was called back prior to the race.
The win for Omanyala saw a rapturous crowd come to its feet as placards and echoes of his name were being chanted inside the stadium. After trotting almost, the entire length of the track, he went up for a Presidential hug from Kenyatta whose embrace signalled the sort of acceptance a mother gives a wayward child after acing his exams.
In the span of three quarters of a year, Omanyala has beaten the African Champion Akani Simbine on home turf, come within 0.01s of taking down last year’s world leader Trayvon Bromell, and now he has obliterated the Olympic 100m Silver medalist Kerley. It’s the sort of situation any sprinter would want to find himself in, talk more of one whose quests of redemption had the odds stacked against him.
The next two months before the World Champs will be crucial. Diamond league races as well as the African Championships are on the horizon. Omanyala will face hungrier runners. Before, he used to be content with just having to lace his spikes at second string events, but his recent races have surely earned him a seat at the table.
Ahead of the World Championships, one in which no African sprinter has been on the podium in the 100m, Omanyala will be looking to buck that trend this summer, but first, he needs to relish the moment and take each race as it comes even though the test will become stronger form here.