Kenya's Ferdinand Omanyala celebrates after winning gold in the men's 100m final during the athletics in the Alexander Stadium at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England

This Kenyan sprinter is inspiring more youth from his country to take up the sport

Kenyan sprinter Ferdinand Omanyala won the gold medal for the 100-meter sprint at the Commonwealth Games in August — the first time for his country in 60 years. Now, he's hoping to inspire more youth to pursue the sport.

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Kenya's Ferdinand Omanyala celebrates after winning gold in the men's 100-meter final during the athletics in the Alexander Stadium at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, Aug. 3, 2022.

Manish Swarup/AP

When it comes to sports, Kenya is mostly known for its long-distance runners.

Marathoners, like Eliud Kipchoge, have been dominating the field for decades.

Now, a young Kenyan sprinter, Ferdinand Omanyala, is looking to expand on that legacy.

"When I joined, I had this dream of changing the notion that Kenyans can't sprint. Kenyans are known for long- and middle-distance. That's something I wanted to change," Omanyala said in an interview from the capital, Nairobi.

"When I put my mind into something, I have to achieve it. So, I said, ‘One day, I'll become a pro,’" he said.

The 26-year-old is already making a name for himself at home and abroad.

In August, Omanyala won a gold medal in the 100-meter sprint at the Commonwealth Games — the first time Kenya won in the event in more than 60 years, according to Athletics Kenya.

Ferdinand Omanyala of Kenya runs in his men's 100m heat during the athletics in the Alexander Stadium at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England

Ferdinand Omanyala of Kenya runs in his men's 100m heat during the athletics in the Alexander Stadium at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, Aug. 2, 2022.

Credit:

Alastair Grant/AP/File photo

But the sprinter really started to gain national attention last year, when he ran 9.77 seconds at an event — breaking the continental record for Africa and making him the eighth-fastest man in the world. 

It's been a quick rise for someone who never set out to run track.

"I never knew there was sprinting in Kenya," said Omanyala, who initially aspired to become a professional rugby player in college.

But he recalls how someone pointed out his speed while on the rugby field and encouraged him to pursue running.

"I was surprised," Omanyala said. " I said, ‘Let me just try.’"

Now, Omanyala is inspiring a new generation of Kenyans to try sprinting, too.

He has already noticed more athletes racing in the short-distance competitions in Kenya.

"It's motivating to see how I'm encouraging young athletes, and I'm coming with this revolution of sprinters to come and just compete."

Ferdinand Omanyala, Kenyan sprinter

"People are coming out of their comfort zones," he said. "It's motivating to see how I'm encouraging young athletes, and I'm coming with this revolution of sprinters to come and just compete, and everybody wants to make a living out of this, which is a good thing."

But Omanyala said the Kenyan government needs to build more facilities and stadiums to encourage aspiring sprinters.

Especially those who live outside of Nairobi, who might struggle to access professional tracks or coaches to time them accurately.

"Most of the people are going to the events in high schools or colleges. Somebody is timing them and giving them the wrong times, and then, they come to the events and they run slower times, like 12 seconds, and then, they get discouraged or they give up," Omanyala said.

"I want to encourage them that it is not something that will come in a day, or a month or even a year. It takes time." he said.

It entails time and grueling hours of training every day — just to shave off a few milliseconds.

Omanyala is currently enjoying a well-deserved — albeit short — break from track season in order to spend time with his family.

But, he said his long-term goal is to beat the world record held by Jamaican Athlete Usain Bolt and to compete in the next Olympic Games.

"I've already started working on that," he said. “And I believe I'm the Olympic champion for 2024.”

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