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Emmanuel Wanyonyi: Silent, unassuming master chasing Olympics glory with Kenya

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Emmanuel Wanyonyi (110) and Wycliffe Kinyamal (111) leads the pack of 800m men finals during Athletics Kenya Paris Olympics Trials on June 15th 2024 at Nyayo National Stadium.

For one who first started as a herdsboy in Kitale before taking up menial jobs and later venturing into athletics, 19-year-old Emmanuel Wanyonyi’s story is one of determination to succeed in the face of adversity.

He owes his success to a number of people who believed in his talent.

While lower primary, Wanyonyi dropped out of Kapretwa Primary School in Trans-Nzoia County and went to Kitale town in search of menial jobs.

He earned between Sh200 to Sh1,000 after working for different families as a herdsboy.

“I dropped out of school while in standard three and I couldn’t withstand seeing my family members suffering. I went to Kitale in Trans Nzoia County where I looked for manual jobs, including taking care of cattle for various families, to earn a living,” Wanyonyi told Nation Sport in an earlier interview.

While herding cattle, one of his friends saw him running and asked him to try athletics. In 2018, a teacher from his old primary school spotted his talent, took him back to school and enrolled him in Class Seven.

He excelled in school races which he participated in, and one day while competing in regional school games in Kapsabet, he attracted the attention of Eliud Kirarei, a teacher at Kosirai High School in Nandi County. He convinced Wanyonyi to join the school upon finishing his primary school education, and the rest is history.

Four years

In an athletics career spanning four years, he has shown remarkable progression, moving from being an amateur athlete to win the 800 metres title at the 2021 World Under-20 Athletics Championships in a course record of one minute, 43.76 seconds in Nairobi.

He graduated to the senior ranks in 2022, finishing fourth in the men’s 800m final at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Oregon. Last year, he won the Diamond League series trophy and went on to claim silver medal at the 2023 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.

He has now set his sights on winning a medal at the 2024 Olympics as he competes at the games for the first time.

“This will be my first time at the Olympics, and the first thing I will do when I get there is to ensure I make it to the final,” he told Nation Sport last week.

He is aware of the risk that comes with competing at such a high level where the stakes are high.

2N Running Club

“Sometimes if you are not careful, or fail to calculate your race well, you can be bundled out and lose,” the athlete, who trains under 2N Running Club in Kapsabet, Nandi County, says. From experience, Wanyonyi knows about being bundled out and losing.

At the Kenyan trials held at Nyayo National Stadium on June 14 and 15. He was tripped and fell during the semi-finals and finished sixth, well outside the qualification places for the final. But he made a successful appeal and was allowed to compete in the final, where he surprised everyone.

Wanyonyi won the trials in 1:41.70, the third fastest time of all time, which is also a world-leading time this season. Wycliffe Kinyamal finished second in a personal best time of 1:42.50, followed by Koitatoi Kidai in third place in 1:42.66.

David Rudisha’s world record of 1:40.91 is the fastest over the distance, followed by Dane Wilson Kipketer (1:41.11). Wanyonyi also became the fastest man to run under 1:42 on Kenyan soil.

“If I didn’t fall yesterday I would not have run like this today, so everything happens for a reason,” Wanyonyi, who is coached by Italian Claudio Berarrdeli, mused afterwards.

His coach Berarrdeli did not expect him to post such a result in a race held at high altitude.

“I’m proud to have coached a boy who looks destined for greater heights. He is disciplined and listens to instructions and also follows his programme well and I know he is going places. Personally, I didn’t expect to see him running the fastest time this season given the altitude in Nairobi,” said Claudio.

It is this red-hot form that he is taking to the Paris Games as he dreams of attaining Olympics glory at the first time of asking.