What you need to know:
- Second fastest man in the world this season has set his sights on lowering Usain Bolt’s world record of 9.58sec in 100m next year
- Kenyan sprinter is now the all-time eighth fastest man in the world attributes good performance to strength and conditioning sessions with Kenyan Sevens and help from his coach Ayiemba
- At the Absa Kip Keino Classic on September 18 in Nairobi, he timed 9.77 sec to finish second behind American Trayvon Bromell (9.76) in a new African record
He was already enjoying playing rugby as a winger when he joined the University of Nairobi to pursue a bachelors degree in Chemistry five years ago.
Ferdinand Omanyala is a chip off the old block. As a student at Alliance High School and at Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology (JKUAT), his father Dishon Omurwa was a sprinter and a rugby player.
Omurwa ran 100m and 200m races and was a rugby winger, but he enjoyed football more, often playing as a left back and left winger. He reached the national finals with Alliance High School football team in 1980 and 1981, and was a top sprinter for JKUAT in 1984 and 1985.
On the other hand, Omanyala, who played volleyball in primary school, picked up rugby in Form Three in 2013 at Friends School Kamusinga in Bungoma County.
Omanyala, who scored top grades at both at St Erastus Primary School in Naitiri in Bungoma and at Friends School Kamusinga, took up athletics by chance upon joining the University of Nairobi in 2015.
His first training session with the University of Nairobi’s rugby team, Mean Machine, wasn’t enjoyable.
“The knocks and tackles scared me, so I never attended the sessions again,” says Omanyala who was born on January 2, 1996 in Hamisi, Vihiga but grew up in Tongaren, Bungoma where the family later settled . His elder brother Collins advised him to attend trials with the Mount Kenya University rugby team which played in Kenya’s second-tier rugby league.
“Mount Kenya University rugby team’s training sessions at Nairobi Railway Club were favourable, and I like it. But I really wanted to get in top shape like my Kenya Sevens idol Collins Injera,” says Omanyala. “I saw Injera brush aside three defenders in one of the World Sevens Series to score. I yearned for a similar physique so as to survive in rugby.”
He sought the services of Philip Wesonga, an instructor at Nairobi Railway Gymnasium.
Mount Kenya University’s winger, Collins Mulaa who was also sprinter attached to Kenya Prisons, gave the speedy Omanyala some pieces of advice.
“He was impressed with my speed and told me I had great potential in athletics. I scored the most tries and made the first team in one season,” the third born in a family of five boys says.
“Omanyala was a beast of a winger with lightning speed. I thought he could make a good sprinter. After all, he was still young and adventurous,” Mulaa, who played for Kenya Sevens in the 2010/11 season, said.
Omanyala didn't take Mulaa seriously because Kenyan athletics coaches only concentrated on nurturing athletes in middle and distance races. He opted to give it a try.
The 2015/16 Athletics Kenya track season was due to start in Bondo, Siaya County that February and he opted to compete in the second leg in Mumias.
“I informed my dad of my decision to switch to athletics and he was very supportive. He said my speed would work in my favour. He provided me with money for proper running shoes that I bought at Gikomba Market.
“The best gift a parent can give their children is to support their education and their extracurricular activities. I valued education and sports too,” Omurwa who is an agricultural extension officer in Kitale said.
“I also bought him a rugby kit when he was called up for Kenya Under-20 rugby team trials too. As a parent, you provide for the children but let them discover their potential.”
In Mumias, Omanyala surprised many by finishing second in the final of the 100 metres race in 10.90 seconds, losing to the more experienced Hesbon Oduor.
“I got Sh5,000 from Athletics Kenya, and I was happy on my first appearance. My father called to congratulate me after he saw my name in the local dailies,” says Omanyala, adding that the University of Nairobi’s director for sports, Mbaabu Muriithi, recognised his effort, and the university’s management supported him in subsequent races.
Omanyala attended the fourth race at Afraha Stadium in Nakuru and won his semi-final but was surprisingly excluded from the final. In Nakuru, he met his current coach Duncan Ayiemba, who was analysing the races on his laptop and a camera.
“I had earlier met him at the University of Nairobi but I had no clue that he was an athletics coach. We spoke and he told me to meet him in Nairobi where he made a training programme for me,” says Omanyala, who almost quit athletics in his first session.
“I almost gave up trying to cover a distance of 300 metres 13 times but I hung in there. Ayiemba introduced me to the real world of sprints, and Wesonga took care of my strength and conditioning. I realised rugby and athletics training were worlds apart.”
Omanyala attended the sixth and last AK Meeting in Eldoret where he finished third in 10.30 behind Peter Mwai (10.1) and Charles Wamwea (10.2). Rugby started taking a back seat, and Mount Kenya rugby side management tried in vain to lure him back.
He was invited to compete in Kenya Prisons Championships where he shocked experienced athletes, including Stephen Baraza to win in 10.75 seconds. “The next day, the media was abuzz with reports of a rookie who had beaten heavyweights to qualify for the national championships,” notes Omanyala.
At the national championships, Omanyala finished seventh in 10.67 seconds in a final race won by Mike Mokamba (10.35), followed by Mark Otieno (10.39). Mokamba and Otieno were selected for the 2016 Africa Senior Athletics Championships in Durban, South Africa.
Omanyala would be invited for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic trials held at the Kipchoge Keino Stadium in Eldoret. The athletes had an Olympic qualifying time of 10.16 seconds to beat.
“I was under pressure after seeing big names but the tension disappeared after I saw the crowd,” states Omanyala, who shocked Otieno, who had just arrived from South Africa, to win in 10.37. He failed to qualify for 2016 Olympic Games, but he had announced his arrival at the big stage.
“I got hundreds of friend requests on my social media platforms as I looked forward to the 2017 season. With the 2017 World Relay Championships coming up in Bahamas and the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London, I had great expectations.”
Omanyala competed in his first 200m race in the trials for 2017 World Relay Championships, won and made the Kenyan team for the event held on April 22-23, 2017.
“I couldn’t sleep the night after I qualified. I couldn’t believe I would be on my first flight to Bahamas at only 21,” says Omanyala, who was delighted to meet his sprints idols, the 2012 Olympic 100m and 200m silver medallist Yohan Blake, 2004 Olympic 100m gold medallist Justin Gatlin and multi-Olympic 100m champion Shelly Anne Fraser-Pryce in Bahamas.
He helped Kenya qualify for the final but the team eventually finished seventh in 4x200m, and they returned home.
After running personal best 10.24 seconds at Eldoret meet, Omanyala won the Kenya Prisons Championships as the national championships beckoned. While training at the Nyayo National Stadium, Omanyala suffered a lower back pain at the blocks.
“I went back to the hostel to rest after getting medical attention but I wasn’t able to wake up. My legs were numb. I called my coach and we went to see a doctor in town,” says Omanyala.
The doctor who was conversant with sports injuries told him that it was more of a nerve problem and prescribed tramadol and diprofos injections.
Come the national championships on September 14, 2017, Omanyala underwent an anti-doping test after finishing second behind Otieno, who set a new national record of 10.14 seconds.
Omanyala and his wife Laventa Amutavi, who was also a sprinter at JKUAT attended the World University Games in Taiwan.
Upon returning, Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (Adak) officials informed him that his sample had tested positive for banned substance. Omanyala, who challenged the results, was handed a 14-month ban. The doctor acknowledged the mistake, and he escaped the maximum four-year ban.
“Everything that I had built came tumbling down. I missed the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the 2017 World Championships,” Omanyala, who was determined to make a comeback after the ban in 2019, says.
However, there were more roadblocks ahead. So as to curb rising cases of doping in the country, the Cabinet Secretary for Sports Amina Mohamed and Athletics Kenya President Jack Tuwei declared that any sports personality who had served a doping ban would not represent Kenya internationally.
Omanyala was pulled out of the starting blocks in an international race in Mauritius and got sidelined when Team Kenya for the 2019 World Relay Championships was named despite clocking a wind-assisted time of 10.14 seconds to win men’s 100m during the trials in Iten.
Omanyala wasn’t invited for the 2019 African Games trials, and he successfully challenged the matter in court and he was allowed to compete in the Kenyan trials for the 2019 African Games. He finished second in 10.60 seconds.
He won the national 100m title in 10.48 seconds before participating in the national trials for the 2019 Doha World Athletics Championships but fell short of qualifying. With Covid-19 wreaking havoc in 2020, Omanyala concentrated on training, ready for any eventuality.
After training for six months, he was not invited for the inaugural Kip Keino Classic on October 3, 2020. Frustration set in. He contemplated changing nationality, returning to rugby or competing as an authorised neutral athlete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Then Kenya Sevens coach Innocent “Namcos” Simiyu invited him for a team training session in November 2020.
“I pondered whether to quit athletics and go back to rugby or just quit sports altogether and concentrate on my university education,” says Omanyala, who attended rugby sessions in the morning before training for athletics in the evenings for two months. He resolved to give athletics one final shot this year.
Athletics Kenya announced a series of build-up events towards the 2021 World Relay Championships held from May 1-2 in Silesia, Poland. He was invited to compete, and he ran a national record of 10.11 in 100m which didn’t stand as it was wind-assisted.
He was sidelined for the World Relay Championships but Dream Believe Achieve (DBA) , a non-governmental organisation from Nigeria organised races for him in Nigeria where he set a national record of 10.01 in the semi-finals before returning 10.05 in the final. That saw him become the eighth fastest man in the world this year. He qualified for the 2020 Olympics.
Omanyala, who was in South Africa for races, was invited for the Tokyo Olympic trials. His new manager Marcel Viljoen was back in Nairobi. Omanyala set the trials alight with 10.02 sec to officially qualify for Tokyo Olympics alongside Otieno, who clocked 10.05.
In Tokyo, Omanyala finished third in his heat, equalling his national record of 10.01secs before improving it further to 10.00 secs in the semi-finals. He became the first Kenyan to reach the Olympic semi-finals in 100m.
After the Olympics, Omanyala headed to Europe where he became the first Kenyan to run the 100m under 10 seconds in a new national record of 9.96 secs in the semi-finals, and 9.86 secs in the final at Josko Lauf Meeting on August 14 in Austria.
At the Absa Kip Keino Classic on September 18 in Nairobi, he timed 9.77 sec to finish second behind American Trayvon Bromell (9.76) in a new African record.
Omanyala is now the all-time eighth fastest man in the world but his focus is to break Usain Bolt’s world record of 9.58 next year.
He attributes his good performance to the strength and conditioning sessions with Kenyan Sevens rugby team last November and his coach’s training programme.
He is keen on completing his university education and to develop talent in the sprints in Kenya.