What you need to know:
- He played at the 2016 Rio and 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games as well as in three Commonwealth Games; 2013 Glasgow, Scotland, 2018 Gold Coast, Australia and Birmingham, England.
- Vancouver Sevens in Canada holds the best memories for Odhiambo, who named the late Benjamin Ayimba as his favourite coach while Collins Injera and Oscar Ouma as his best players.
“I agree, I still had some gas remaining in my veins, my soul was still willing, but my body wasn’t...I felt it’s the right time.”
That is how Billy “The Kid” Odhiambo sums up after retiring from active rugby, at a time many thought he was at the peak, and in fact, ready to take up the mantle at Kenya Sevens.
Odhiambo called time on his rugby career on his 30th birthday on November 7.
Odhiambo says a culmination of many things led him to hanging his boots, a move that caught many by surprise especially after the explosive centre recovered from a nagging injury.
Odhiambo was the only remaining player from the golden generation that would be considered as an anchor for Kenya Sevens’ campaign to return to the World Rugby Sevens Series next year.
“I just didn’t wake up one day and decided...I took time to listen to my body,” says Odhiambo.
“I have had a series of injuries like the one that cost me a place in the 2016 Singapore Sevens team.”
“I felt I have been around for a long time and I don’t know if it’s because I joined the national team early,” Odhiambo explains.
“My body wasn’t responding to training like before, warm-up took time and just waking up in the morning was the most difficult thing.”
Odhiambo says that he would take ages to warm up before matches, making it difficult to cope up with the high competition for places in the team.
“I lacked consistency owing to injuries as I would stay away for three months. That broke my momentum and rise,” he intimates, adding that he needed to be close to his young family especially his wife Zam Zam and two sons; Zafar, 3, and Zahim, eight months.
“I believe I have not reached the peak of my career or reached where I wanted. I feel I have not played rugby at the highest level, but you can’t force your body,” says Odhiambo, who played for Kenya Sevens for the first time at the World Rugby Series during the 2012 Port Elizabeth leg in South Africa.
Odhiambo, who went on to play 68 matches in World Rugby Sevens Series, scoring 111 tries and 557 points in total, says it would have been his dream to play for Kenya Sevens and help them back to the World Series.
Odhiambo last played for Kenya Sevens during the last leg of the 2022/2023 World Ruby Series in London in May where Kenya lost to Canada 12-7 in the playoff final.
The defeat saw Kenya relegated for the first time from the series since becoming a core side in 2004.
“It was a dark day for the country. The defeat was tough to take in. I had never experienced that kind of feeling before,” says Odhiambo.
“We thought we would find our way out of relegation but things turned awry when we failed to reach the main cup quarterfinal of any leg,” said Odhiambo.
Odhiambo explains that he had more responsibilities and there was pressure for him and other senior players- Nelson Oyoo and Alvin Otieno to rally the young players but it was too late.
“I got into the team when it was on the rise and I could get direction from senior players. Here I was as a senior player in the thick of things,” said Odhiambo during NTV’s Monday night live ports show, SportOn! hosted by Bernard Ndong and James Wokabi.
Odhiambo is elated that Kenya Sevens were able to stun South Africa 17-12 to recapture the Africa Cup and qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics in Harare, Zimbabwe in September.
“They played with cohesion and their style of play of spreading the ball worked well. One could see there was self-belief back with stakes high. Decent work was put in,” quips Odhiambo, who is confident the Kenya Sevens will return to the World Series with more exposure.
After hanging his boots, Odhiambo has left his options open even though he is working as a coach at the M-Pesa Academy.
“I am yet to know what exactly I will do but I will stay in rugby and give back to the game,” says Odhiambo, a Bachelor of Business Administration and Information Technology graduate from Strathmore University.
Odhiambo, who played as football striker while at MM Shah Primary School, Kisumu, embraced rugby in form one at Maseno School in 2007 by chance.
“As a free soul in sports, my desire was to join the most popular sport at the school and it happened to be rugby,” says Odhiambo adding that the player, who helped cement his place in rugby at Maseno, was former international Leo Seje Owade. “He was a lethal backrow and I wanted to play like him.”
While in form three in 2009, Odhiambo was signed by Kisumu Rugby Club and went on to play for the club at Dala Sevens where they stunned Homeboyz to reach the Cup quarter-finals.
Odhiambo was over the moon when he faced Mwamba as he came face-to-face with his idols like Collins Injera.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes and even though we lost, it left a memorable mark as I got to play with Injera at Mwamba and Kenya Sevens team,” he added.
While at Maseno, Odhiambo was drafted to the national under-19 team that toured Zimbabwe in 2010 before he joined Strathmore University in 2012 on a scholarship.
Odhiambo got a call that saw him join the Chairman's Select for the 2012 Safari Sevens, the same year Kenya Sevens coach Mitch Ocholla picked him in his team that was preparing for Rome Sevens even, though he didn’t get to travel.
"My first time at Safari Sevens was a big thing and special for me since I was in high school. My family and friends were there to watch me play," says Odhiambo, a third born in a family of two girls and two boys from Kanyir in Karachuonyo, Homa Bay county.
His nephew Martin Owillah also played for Kenya Sevens and Kenya Simbas.
It’s after he played for Strathmore at Nakuru Sevens that he got another call from Kenya Sevens Strength and Conditioning coach Chris Brown to link up with the team that was training at Brooke House under head coach Mike Friday.
“I was forceful and adventurous and Friday nicknamed me Billy “The Kid” after the notorious gunslinger from American Wild West movies,” revealed Odhiambo, who played for Kenya Seven for the first time at the 2012/ 2013 World Rugby Sevens leg in Port Elizabeth.
“I came off the bench against Argentina where we won 21-17. It was such a good outing for me,” says Odhiambo, adding that training in 2012 and today has changed with technology playing a big factor.
“We trained for a few hours then but things have changed with professionalism coming to place. There is more money in terms of sponsorship,” notes Odhiambo.
Odhiambo, who left Strathmore University Leos to join Mwamba Rugby Club in 2016, has since been a regular in the World Rugby Series.
Odhiambo captained Mwamba to great success in sevens rugby. One of the highlights of his captaincy was leading the team to a glorious victory in the 2019 Kabeberi Sevens in Meru.
He played at the 2016 Rio and 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games as well as in three Commonwealth Games; 2013 Glasgow, Scotland, 2018 Gold Coast, Australia and Birmingham, England.
Vancouver Sevens in Canada holds the best memories for Odhiambo, who named the late Benjamin Ayimba as his favourite coach while Collins Injera and Oscar Ouma as his best players.