Only two years ago, Faith Ogallo was representing her Kibabii university team in basketball and was not even thinking of the Olympic Games.
But now she’s preparing to represent her country on the greatest stage of all.
Ogallo is the only Kenyan to have qualified for the taekwondo competition at the Tokyo Games and while that ambition was put on hold for a year after the games were postponed, 12 months isn’t too long to wait.
Despite the delay, Olympic glory is still very much her focus, and Ogallo says it is the main factor motivating her to go for several grueling hours daily.
“Winning a gold medal at the Olympics will be a dream come true, and also the desire to feature in the Grand Prix are my main long term objectives and the reason I wake up every day in the morning to train,” she said.
She is, after all, still new to the sport. It was only in 2018 that her university taekwondo coach Eliakim Otieno spotted her playing basketball and recommended that she switches to taekwondo which was more individual-based and gave her more chances of representing the country at the global stage.
“My coach Otieno who doubles as a sport scientist convinced me that I will progress in taekwondo which is individual-based compared to basketball and that because of my dedication and physique, I would most likely achieve more with the university’s taekwondo team which had performed very well at both national and international level,” she said.
Kibabii University has been a consistent force in taekwondo since 2012.
They are Kenya University Sports Association national champions since 2012, East African University Games champions since 2016, All Africa University Games champions since 2015, among other titles.
Ogallo who still plays basketball for fun, along with netball, says it’s taekwondo that has brought her success.
She excelled from the start, rising to represent her country after only a few months.
Barely three months into the university taekwondo team, she went to Rwanda for exposure, where she participated in the Rwanda Korean Ambassadors Championship in October 2018 and won a gold medal.
This was ahead of the KUSA national games in Nairobi in November 2018, where she won a silver medal and the East Africa University Games in Dodoma, Tanzania, in December, where she claimed a gold medal.
Since then, she’s impressed national selectors to such an extent that she earned a national team call-up and represented Kenya at last year’s All Africa Games in Morocco.
There she claimed victories over Algeria’s Linda Azzedine and Egypt’s Mennatullah Abdalaal in the heavyweight division (+73kg) before finishing with the silver medal after going down to Morocco’s 2018 Youth Olympic champion, Fatima-Ezzahra Aboufaras, in the final.
In February this year came the big one, the 2020 African Taekwondo Olympic Qualification Tournament in Rabat, Morocco.
Ogallo once again excelled in the preliminary rounds, eventually defeating Chad’s Florence Eldjouma 27-21 in the +67kg heavyweight division to book her spot in Tokyo.
Ogallo will be Kenya’s first taekwondo representative at the Olympic Games since Dickson Wamwiri and Mildred Alango played for Kenya in Beijing in 2008.