•No Kenyan, let alone East African, had ever had his name in the start list for a place in the final of the Olympics for the blue riband race
•Despite not getting to the final, Omanyala was still Kenya's fastest man at 10s flat over the 100m
•Having already established himself as one of the top sprinters in the world, Omanyala insists he will not be resting on his laurels
When he stepped onto the starting blocks at the Olympics Stadium in Tokyo for the semi finals of the 100m dash, Ferdinand Omanyala was walking into uncharted territory.
No Kenyan, let alone East African, had ever been enlisted in the start list for a place in the final of the Olympics for the blue riband race.
"It was the best thing that has ever happened in my life because the Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world that anyone can participate in," enthused the 25 year old Vihiga county native.
Omanyala adds: "Lining up in the semis and breaking the national record was a moment I can't even explain. It has been hard work. It has been a lot of time spent in the gym, in the tracks, road running. We have gone through a lot to get to this point. I can only thank God for his enduring grace."
Despite not getting to the final, Omanyala was still Kenya's fastest man at 10s flat over the 100m. He has since run 9.86 in a meet in Austria. He revealed the excitement that greeted his qualification for the semis and the subsequent third place finish in heat 2, which even he thought was enough for a further historic moment— a place in the men's 100m final.
"Everybody was happy about me getting to the semis and their hopes were very high afterwards, off course." Omanyala recalls.
He continues: "I also felt nice getting to the semis. It was an achievement, the first Kenyan ever to get to the semis of the 100m."
Though he eventually fell short of reaching the finals despite running a personal best and breaking the national record, Omanyala and Team Kenya were not too disheartened; one small step for Omanyala, one giant leap for Kenyan sprinters to echo American Neil Armstrong's famous quip when he became the first human to land on the moon.
"I ran a good race and thought I had qualified. If you recall my celebration after crossing the line but then in the 3rd heat, the guys ran faster than us. All the same for me I had achieved the national record and that was a plus for me," the University of Nairobi alumnus says.
The stocky 5'8 sprinter, who honed his sprinting skills at Friends School Kamusinga, acknowledges that since his Tokyo exploits, his status in the athletics circle has changed and he has already solicited the services of an international agent to help manage his career onwards.
"Right now I am in Austria just having fun and relaxing. In a few days I will be running in the Finland Grand Prix. All this is something that Olympics has brought because now am a semi finalist, at least a big thing," he says.
Omanyala purrs with obvious pride over his new found status. Now on a pedestal — at least in the eyes of Kenyan sprint enthusiasts — Omanyala is quick to admit that a professional hand will be needed to handle issues that will come with his renewed status.
"I have an agent (Marcel Viljoen) from South Africa. He will be negotiating my international deals. He will be taking care of everything else including requesting for races. I know he has my best interest at heart." Omanyala says.
Kenya's fastest man also relishes the opportunity to travel the world, something that he disclosed is his number one hobby.
"I love traveling and I know there will be so many races ahead and am ready to get them down. I just want to run and have fun and travel the world because it's one of my favourite past times., he says.
All this could not have been possible before the showdown in the Kenya trials where Omanyala and compatriot Mark Otieno both shattered their personal best times to book their tickets to Tokyo.
Prior to taking to the track for his opening heat in Japan, Omanyala revealed they had worked on improving his start which had been identified as his Achilles' heel.
"We just worked on improving my speed and making my first 50 metres superb so that when I get to the starting point I get a good reaction off the blocks,"Omanyala recalls.
All this was achieved and Omanyala performed exceptionally in his two races.
Asked if he had managed to make new international friends particularly among the sprinting elite — Andy De Grasse, Akani Simbine, Hughes or even surprise champion Lamont Jacobs, Omanyala pointed to the Covid-19 situation and the subsequent limited opportunities for interaction as having made that nigh on impossible.
"We never interacted much with the international guys because we had limited time. Everybody was focused on his objectives in Tokyo. Even in the warm up area everybody was doing his business focusing on the race." he explains.
To run as fast as he did, mind body and soul had to work in unison; the diet he took and how he spent his downtime was as important as his training regime. So what did Omanyala feed on and how did he while away his time away from training?
"Mostly we were having spaghettis and rice because that was what was available in the village. Proteins(meat, chicken, fish), fruits and hydrating a lot. But when we were in Kurume (Team Kenya training camp) we had carried maize flour and we enjoyed our Ugali staple. However, in the Olympic village, we could not because there were more than 11,000 individuals, so there was no special food for anyone. You had to make do with what was on the menu," Omanyala reveals.
While away from his preparations, Omanyala spent his time relaxing and meditating and "daydreaming" about the Olympic Games and watching movies.
It was not all smooth sailing for Omanyala and Team Kenya as they had to deal with the shocking news that compatriot and 100m qualifier Otieno had been suspended from the competition due to suspected anti doping infringement.
Respectfully, and understandably so, Omanyala declines to comment on the issue noting that it is up to Otieno and the World Anti Doping Agency to deal with the matter.
Having already established himself as one of the top sprinters in the world, Omanyala insists he will not be resting on his laurels or basking in the glow of his achievements in Tokyo.
"The hard work continues. My main target is to go under 10 seconds. Every race that I run from now on, I purpose to go under ten seconds," he vows.
The sprinter concluded by appealing to Athletics Kenya to take advantage of their inspirational performances and the interest generated therein to harness the country's potential in the short races.
"I believe people have changed from the notion that Kenyans can't sprint at a world class level. So many young people have been inspired by our performances this year and now they are coming out to run. The authorities should support them like they did for us," he concludes.
NAME- Ferdinand Omanyala
PLACE OF BIRTH- Vihiga
SPORT- Athletics 100m sprint
EDUCATION: Primary-St.Erastus Preparatory; Secondary- Friends School Kamusinga; College- University of Nairobi
AGENCY/AGENT- Marcel Viljoen(FFA consultants)
HONOURS/RECORDS- Olympic semi-finalist, national record holder/national champion P/B- 100m, 9.86 secs