Africa's fastest man, Ferdinand Omanyala bags Gold for Kenya, 60 years later

Africa's fastest man Ferdinand Omanyala is the new Commonwealth Games 100m champion. Omanyala dethroned defending champion and rival Akani Simbine from South Africa after clocking 10.02 second in the finals of the 100m at the ongoing 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham on Wednesday, August 3 2022. Omanyala is the second Kenyan to take the title after Seraphino Antao in 1962, when the event was still run over 100 yards. 

It’s strange how fortunes change. It has been the norm that USA, Jamaica and the Caribbean region provide talking points in every Olympic year or World Athletics Championships season for sprint races. But the script was different this time round, thanks to Ferdinand Omanyala, Africa 100m champion and continental record holder over the distance.

Despite being knocked out of the World Athletics Championships, Omanyala has certainly changed World Athletics charts. Against huge odds Omanyala basks in a world leading time of 9.85 seconds – what with a personal best of 9.77 seconds! It is not a question of if but when will Omanyala break Jamaica’s Usain Bolt’s world record mark of 9.58 seconds. When the African cock crows, Omanyala will break the world record someday. African ancestors are waiting!

Not only is he Africa’s fastest man, he is also the inspiration for a new wave of sprinters in Kenya. Kenya had nine athletes at this year’s Africa Championships in Mauritius, which ran on June 8-12. The aura around Omanyala has been dubbed as “Omanyala-mania” in sprints in the country. But will he beat Usain Bolt’s 100m record? “I long to run fast times this season…even I can attempt the world record. It is possible. The world record is still in my sights,” he said.

In April, Omanyala gave Kenyans a night to remember when he set a new season best at the ASA Athletics Grand Prix 4 inside Germiston Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa.
It was a night that started off with huge expectations. And the clash between him and homeboy Akani Simbine, the reigning Commonwealth Games champion, was simply breathtaking.

Omanyala, who holds the Africa record at 9.77 seconds set the Kip Keino Classic meet at Kasarani Stadium, won the 100m race in a season best mark of 9.98 seconds.
Simbine, who was then the Africa champion, returned second in 10.11 seconds ahead of Bradley Nkaona, another homeboy, who checked in third in 10.38 seconds. Omanyala also chalked up a win in 200m. The battle brought back memories of 2021 Kip Keino Classic meet when Omanyala finished second in 9.77 seconds to slap a new mark on Simbine’s then Africa record of 9.84 seconds.

Omanyala and Simbine clashed for the first time at the Diamond League meeting inside King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels last year. Omanyala came fourth in 10.02 while Simbine finished sixth in 10.18. In March, Omanyala was simply the meet’s showstopper as he set a world leading time in 100m during the third leg of Athletics Kenya track and field meeting at Nyayo Stadium. Omanyala, who made it to the semi finals at the Tokyo Olympic Games, posted an impressive 10.0 seconds in 100m on the final day of the third leg of Athletics Kenya track and field meeting. He pulled a fast one on Samuel Meya (10.36), Stephen Oluoch (10.55), Hesbon Ochieng (10.56), Robinson Motende (10.71), Stephen Onyango (10.77) and Tyson Juma (10.86).

Omanyala said the world indoor meetings helped him sharpen his speed.
“The world indoor meetings have been quite helpful. Imagine doing 60 metres at six seconds is no mean feat. I now want to prepare for the World Athletics Championships (set for Eugene, Oregon in USA on July 15-27),” he said then.

Not bad for an athlete who started off the season last year with a 10.1 seconds in Nigeria, which came even after he had violated anti-doping regulations and AK had threatened to bar athletes who have been sanctioned or served doping bans from representing the country. Athletes are handed bans for missing tests, failing to update their whereabouts and testing positive to banned substances.

After completing his 14-month ban, Omanyala sued AK at the Sports Dispute Tribunal (SDT) following the federation’s policy to ban athletes found to have violated anti-doping rules, from representing the country in domestic and international competitions. SDT ruled the AK decision “invalid”. “Banning all athletes found to be/to have been in violation of anti-doping rules from representing the country in global athletic events does not distinguish between intentional and unintentional doping violations,” it said.

Kenyan sprinters – men and women – have, however, made impressive strides. The late Nicholas Bett set Kenya’s sprint medal display in motion when he won gold in 400m hurdles at the World Athletics Championships in Beijing, China, in 2015.

Bett said in an interview in 2015: “America’s Edwin Moses, the 400m hurdles athlete has inspired me a lot. He is a very good hurdler and I’ve always wanted to emulate him, having won medals in Olympics and the world championships.”
It was a long wait for Africa until Bett won the 400 metres hurdles in a global championship race in 2015, the feat previously achieved 43 years ago by Uganda’s John Akii-Bua, in the 1972 Munich Olympics.

His kid brother, Haron Koech, followed it up with a silver at the Africa Senior Athletics Championships in Durban, South Africa, in 2016. Bett died in a road accident in 2018.
There is a sizeable number of Kenyan women sprinters dotting the continental stage.
Millicent Ndoro and axmilla Imali are the hottest Kenyan 100m and 200m girls this season. Ndoro is a police corporal attached to Central Police Station in Nakuru while Imali is attached to Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI).

Ndoro competed at the Africa Games in Rabat, Morocco, in August 2019, Africa Athletics Championships in Asaba, Nigeria in August 2018 and in the 2015 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. She finished fourth at the semi finals inside Carrara Stadium at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. At the 2018 Africa Senior Athletics Championships in Asaba, Nigeria, Ndoro bowed out at the semi finals. She basks in a personal best of 11.4 seconds in 100 metres set at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2014.

She also has a personal best of 23.48 seconds in 200 metres set at the national championships in 2018. Although she has never won a medal in any of the international championships, she is till hopeful of attaining a good show in future. Imali is the 2019 African Games 4×100 metres relay bronze medalist and has battled Namibia’s Olympic 200m silver medalist Christine Mboma and 2017 world 200m silver medalist Marie-Josée Ta Lou of Ivory Coast at the continental stage. There is also the 2016 Africa 400m silver medalist Maureen Jelagat, a sergeant at Kenya Prisons Service at Langáta Prisons camp.

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