Kenya is a global athletics powerhouse known for producing world champions who have won multiple medals and broken dozen of records.
However, if one reel offs the names from the past and present – Eliud Kipchoge, Paul Tergat, Timothy Cheruiyot, Catherine Ndereba, Brigid Kosgei, Hellen Obiri, etc. – one cannot help but notice that the overwhelming majority of them are medium and long distance runners.
A screenshot of a video of Kenyan sprinters Mark Otieno (left) and Ferdinand Omanyala (right) posing after qualifying for the 100-meter run at the Tokyo Olympics. / CGTN
A few exceptions in other disciplines stand out, such as the former world champion and Olympic runner-up Julius Yego with the nickname “Mr. YouTube ”because he learned to throw by watching YouTube videos of javelin throwers.
Yego, who is also the Africa and Commonwealth record holder for the event, was the first Kenyan to win a World Cup gold medal in a field competition.
One discipline in which the country has had a tough run is sprinting. Over the years, the country’s sprinters have lacked high-profile competitions, which has resulted in a drop in standards among current Kenyan sprinters.
However, this year could very well be the one where all of that changes. On Thursday, Ferdinand Omanyala, 24, and Mark Otieno, 28, caught national attention after they both qualified for the 100-meter run at the Tokyo Olympics.
National record holder Omanyala achieved a time of 10.02 seconds, while former national 100 meter champion Otieno also qualified in 10.05 seconds during the national tests at the Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi.
For the first time since 1996, the East African country, which is affectionately known as the “Home of Champions”, is sending athletes to the world’s largest sporting event to compete in this discipline.
Donald Onchiri was the last Kenyan to run the distance at the Atlanta Olympics. However, he didn’t get any further than in the first run.
Omanyala was delighted to be able to represent his nation, especially on home soil.
“We went to Nigeria and qualified, but it never felt like it does now. I wanted to qualify in my country and gave the fans a good show at home, ”Omanyala told CGTN.
Otieno is the result of years of hard work and determination to reach one of the greatest climaxes in an athlete’s career.
“I’m so overwhelmed because it was a dream come true and I was looking forward to qualifying for the Olympics,” said Otieno.
Both men are eager to compete and said they will not be intimidated by their more famous opponents from Africa and the world if they take to the track.
Athletes from West and South Africa have traditionally produced the continent’s best sprinters and represented the continent well.
The legendary Frank Fredricks, who hails from Namibia, is widely regarded as the greatest male sprinter on the continent and has won four Olympic silver medals and two world championships in his illustrious career.
“They are just people like us. So when I go to the Olympics, I don’t look at anyone. I won’t look left or right. I’m going for the time and the medal, ”said Omanyala.
They hope to emulate the performance of Nicholas Bett, who stunned the world over 400m hurdles at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing and became the first Kenyan to win a gold medal over a distance of less than 800m.
“From now on we can at least concentrate on the Olympic Games and hopefully, God willing, we will make it to the final and win a medal for Kenya,” said Otieno.
The confidence and optimism the duo display comes not only from their skills, but also from the fact that they have a familiar face to encourage one another.
“I’m glad I have another athlete (Omanyala) pushing each other so either of us can qualify and, so far, so good, we both made it,” said Otieno.
“I’m grateful because he (Otieno) qualified and I qualified, so we’re at least two. Driving two (Kenyan) sprinters to Tokyo is a very good thing! ”Said Omanyala.
Otieno, who also has his eye on qualifying for the 200m, hopes that this breakthrough, after years of waiting, will signal the beginning of a sustained interest in sprint races on site.
“It’s history in the making. We are known for long distance (running). At least we are counted in the 100m, hopefully the 200m now goes up to 400m. “