What you need to know:
- After our several matches, I couldn’t help noticing how fast Ferdy is. I mentored him in rugby, recalls sevens rugby star Injera
- Omanyala himself had dilly-dallied with different sports but deep down, his parents knew his future would be in athletics
- Success on the track was soon followed by goodies off it with betting firm Odibets awarding him a car and Adidas adding him to their growing roster of elite athletes
Long before Africa 100 metres record holder Ferdinand Omanyala conquered the continent and burst onto the global stage, two people were aware of his potential.
Omanyala himself had dilly-dallied with different sports but deep down, his parents knew his future would be in athletics.
“When Ferdy was born, he was a healthy baby and it was all joy to have him around.
“Whenever I chased him around in the compound, I could not keep up. He ran so fast,” his mother Adelaide Omurwa narrates, smiling with so much pride. His father Dishon Omurwa then adds: “One time I remember he messed up and I wanted to cane him. He took off so fast and that is when I realised he must have taken after my sprinting talent because I used to sprint and play rugby back in Alliance High School and in my college days,” recalls the Kitale agricultural officer, matter-of-factly.
As a teenager, Omanyala preferred rugby to athletics but as fate would have it, his darting runs down the wing convinced many that his future was on the track. “I remember when I joined high school, I tried playing volleyball and hockey but they did not excite me.
“I later joined rugby and I excelled in it. After high school, I joined the rugby team at the University of Nairobi and we trained at the Railway Club,” said a beaming Omanyala.
“One of my teammates noticed how fast I ran in the wings and he asked me to try athletics in the 100 metres.
“That evening, I downloaded the Athletics Kenya calendar and signed up for their next event. I called my dad and told him I wanted to join athletics. He was happy and encouraged me and even bought me my first running gear,” he revealed.
“I stayed with my cousin in Nairobi and he kept insisting that I was wasting my time in athletics. But I did not let anyone kill my dreams. One time at the UoN grounds, I noticed coach Duncan Ayiemba training athletes and I approached him to be my coach. He did not hesitate. We started off and he has been my coach ever since,” he added.
Fast rugby winger
Legendary Kenya sevens rugby star Collins Injera believes Omanyala made the right call to ditch rugby for athletics.
“Once the Kenya rugby team was named and I saw the name Ferdinand Omanyala in the list, I asked my teammates who this guy was because I had not heard of him,” Injera recalls.
“The first feedback I got from my teammates was that he is very fast on the wing. After our several matches, I couldn’t help noticing how fast Ferdy is. I mentored him in rugby since he was very passionate and dedicated,” said Injera.
“I believe he made the right decision transitioning from rugby to athletics because we have seen what he has achieved in a short span of time,” adds Kenya’s all-time World Sevens Rugby Series top try scorer.
But Omanyala’s mother would hear none of it. In her pecking order, books would always come first before sports, a stand she has since softened.
“My mom insisted I pursue and concentrate with my degree and saw no hope in athletics. I remember my first race was in Mumias and I won that race. I also ran in the Rio Olympics trials in 2016 but I did not beat the qualifying time,” recalled Omanyala.
“I am extremely happy my son built me a decent house. I was against his sport but I now see the heights athletics has taken him. Seeing him shake hands with the President of Kenya (at the Kip Keino Classic) made me so proud too. It is my prayer my son gets lifted to greater heights,” his mother reflects.
Omanyala concedes that his steady rise from a rookie in athletics to the African record holder has greatly been fueled by his “greatest supporter” - his wife Laventa Amutayi.
Not least because the couple met on the track, a place where he now enjoys so much success.
“My wife Laventa Amutavi has been my greatest supporter because she is also an athlete who competes in the 100 metres and long jump.
“We met in 2016 in the Inter University Games where we were both competing. We train together at the Kasarani grounds five days in a week.
“We have been blessed with one child, and it’s my prayer our son will follow our athletic career,” disclosed Omanyala.
But Laventa had initially played hard to get.
“When we first met with Ferdy, he asked for my phone number, but I resisted,” she reminisces.
“I asked him to give me his instead so that I evade. We met again when we were both competing in the company’s competitions and he still insisted he wanted my contact. I was a bit embarrassed this time round and decided to give him my contact. That is where we hit it off,” recalls his ever-smiling wife.
Omanyala comes from a family of many talents with his elder brother Kevin Omurwa having embraced music as a career while his younger brother Isaac Omurwa prefers rugby.
“My siblings have also supported me immensely and always come to the track to watch me run.
“My elder brother is a rapper and has released a song about me. I am so proud of him. My younger brother is in Alliance High School and plays rugby in the school team. He is fast too and after he completes school, I want to mentor him in athletics,” Omanyala explained during our exclusive interview that also airs Sunday night on NTV from 8pm.
The stocky sprinter singles out the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics where he broke the national record to qualify for the Summer Games as his breakthrough moment.
“My stepping stone came by when I qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in Kasarani. I ran 10.2 seconds, beating the qualifying Olympic time and that was very fulfilling.
“I will always remember my first Olympics which is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The atmosphere was spectacular and the menu was right. I was surprised to find ugali and omena in Kurume camp, some of my favourite dishes,” he offered.
“Sadly, I did not make it to the final but being in Tokyo to show the world that Kenyans can sprint was satisfactory. In my next Olympics, I want to destroy the track and be the world’s greatest.”
His record-breaking feat at the Kip Keino Classic arrived unexpectedly especially with big names such as former Olympic champion Justin Gatlin in the mix. But Omanyala says his instincts all pointed towards a fantastic final.
“My Africa record did not come as a surprise to me. I had put in so much training towards the 2021 World Continental Tour Kip Keino Classic.
“On the day of the race, I recall telling my coach that I believe that was the day I will run fastest time. I was feeling so light that week. I am 85 kilogrammes but I could feel like a featherweight
“Ironically, I pulled a groin injury during warm-up that morning. When I got on the track, I convinced my mind and body that I can run and give my best.
“I got off the blocks so fast and after a 40 metres run I changed my running gear. It was myself against time, not even my opponents. 9.77 seconds was the time I clocked on the finish line half a second behind American sprinter Trayvon Bromell.
“I could not believe it. Not only did I break the Africa record, I had beaten five-time Olympic medalist Justin Gatlin among other top athletes. I had made my country proud.
“The President came to watch me race and after the race, he requested to shake my hand. It was a spectacular moment!” underlines Omanyala.
“Ferdinand has shown me that growth is inevitable. He has made me start coaching other athletes on short races. One time he ran for me 1.80 seconds in 10 metres and that is when I saw the African record go down. I push him so hard even when his body resists. We cannot let it go to a comfort zone,” says coach Ayiemba.
Chasing world record
Success on the track was soon followed by goodies off it with betting firm Odibets awarding him a car and Adidas adding him to their growing roster of elite athletes.
“I made my first one million shillings last year and I wanted to celebrate my mom by building her a house last year,” said Omanyala.
“My career has come with several achievements. Last year, I was awarded in the Kenya’s Top 40 under 40 (by Nation Media Group) and named one of the 100 most influential Kenyans.
“In December last year, I was honoured to take a role of Inspector in the National Police Service and I will represent the service in future track events.
“Earlier this year, I won the Sports Personality of the Year award in the Soya Awards 2021 held in Kakamega,” added Omanyala, an epitome of humility.
After a break-out campaign last year, Omanyala has embarked on serious training this year polishing his start in the 60 metres indoor event where he has already broken the national record thrice.
This is no mean feat since Paulvince Obuon's previous national record time of 6.70 seconds was set on January 28, 2005, at State College, United States.
“This year, I had so much fun in the World Indoor Tour's Miramas Meeting in France.
“It was a great experience although I started to pick speed when the race was over but it can only get better with time. I set a new national record time of 6.63 seconds in my debut in the 60 metres which has stood since 2005.
“I took it as training as I build towards the outdoor season. My target now is to run 6.40 seconds,” said Omanyala.
“I am now training for my upcoming big competitions which are The Kip Keino Classic in May, World Athletics Championships in June and Commonwealth Games in July.
“I train every morning and afternoon five days in a week. I start with the gym where I lift weights, then run uphill for two hours. I then do runs in Kasarani Stadium for about two hours. I then break for lunch and repeat the same routine in the afternoon.
“The workout is immense and one can only be consistent and disciplined to achieve their goals.”
Like world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge proved during the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, Omanyala wants to leave a mark in global athletics.
He has set his sights on breaking the world 100m record set by arguably one of the greatest sprinters of all time – Jamaican Usain Bolt.
“I am now going for the world record. I am not turning back and I believe I can beat Usain Bolt’s 9.58 seconds world record. That’s my focus now,” asserted Omanyala.
Omanyala has already thrown down the gauntlet after setting a world lead time of 10.00 seconds during the Third Athletics Kenya Track and Field Meeting at Nyayo National Stadium on Saturday.
“We are now aiming for the world record, I don’t expect Ferdinand to underperform in any of the competitions and I don’t expect anything lower than a gold medal,” underlined coach Ayiemba.
Also watch the interview Sunday night exclusively on NTV from 8pm.