Kenyan sprints sensation Ferdinand Omanyala Omurwa is an eternal optimist.
Thanks to his undying hope for a better tomorrow, he has twice pulled away from the edge of athletics precipice when giving up on his career seemed the easier thing to do.
He has survived a 14-month ban from athletics that threatened to end his fledgling career after he unknowingly took medication that contained a banned steroid.
And after serving the ban and returning to the sport to a cold reception, he embarked on a journey to qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games which ended up being an emotional roller-coaster.
After attaining top fitness level in anticipation of the national trials, Covid-19 pandemic happened, and all sporting activities were put on hold for a year.
Registering the second-fastest time in the world this season over 100 metres last Saturday in the Kip Keino Classic at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, was the culmination of many months of painstaking training and a lot of effort.
Born on January 2, 1996, Omanyala is the third born son.
“It’s a family of five children, all boys. My two elder brothers are through with university education. My younger brother is studying architecture. The last born is a good rugby player at Alliance High School but I hope to lure him to athletics one day,” he said when we visited him on Wednesday at his residence in Kasarani, Nairobi.
His father Dishon Omurwa is an agricultural extension officer in Kitale, and his mother Adelaide is a farmer. He is married to Laventa Amutavi, also a sprinter and long jumper, and has one son — Quinton Finn Omanyala.
Because they have to produce a lot of power without necessarily carrying excess weight, physiologists recommend that sprinters should be lean and muscular. Omanyala has achieved this by working out in the gym and eating healthy foods.
“Off-season, I train three times a day from Monday to Saturday. On Mondays, I work out in the gym in the morning, then train on the track till lunchtime. In the afternoon, I go back to the gym, and follow it up with another track session. On Tuesdays, I do 250-meter hill runs 18 times in the morning, and perfect my mobility in the afternoons. On Wednesdays, we perform core work-outs that involve strength training. Thursdays are for sled pulls (pulling heavy, weighted sleds tied to the waist by a rope), and train on hip mobility. Thursdays are for perfecting mobility and on Fridays, we repeat Monday's training regime. Saturday's are for block starts and perfecting speedwork on the track,” he said.
During competitions, the drill changes. “During the season, we reduce the workload and train two sessions a day. The difference is that I rest on Wednesdays, and have speed training on Saturdays. Mondays and Fridays are for 30 to 60-metre sled pulls, while Tuesdays and Thursdays are for training in the gym and on the track,” he says.
In high school, he scored A-minus which earned him a place at the University of Nairobi to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry.
But his love for sport had started at primary school. He started with volleyball but changed to rugby when he joined Friends School Kamusinga.
“I played Sevens rugby as a winger at Kamusinga with Mwamba RFC player Steve Sikuta at a time his brother Dan Sikuta was already playing for the national team. In 2015, just after finishing secondary school, I was invited for Kenya Under-20 team trials in Nairobi, but I lost my way and only traced the venue two days later, by which time I learnt the team had been selected. I loved rugby and grew up idolising Kenya Sevens star Collins Injera,” the sprinter who later played for Kenya Rugby Union championship team Mount Kenya University after failing to nail down a place at the more competitive University of Nairobi rugby team Mean Machine, said.
He switched to athletics full time.
To attend his first race in 2015, a broke Omanyala was given bus fare by his classmate Patricia to attend an athletics championship in Mumias. He beat seasoned sprinters and made news headlines, then the University of Nairobi took note. From then, the university facilitated his trips to athletics competitions.
In between, he won more races locally, met his training partner Dennis Nyongesa and coach Duncan Ayiemba who had also been training at the University of Nairobi.
He is very much a student of the sport. “I spent many hours online watching videos of my idols Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin, hoping to one day be like them,” he says.
Under coach Ayiemba, Omanyala has grown from strength to strength. “Coach Ayiemba loved athletics and attended almost all local competitions. He is the reason I have succeeded in everything. He analysed my races and introduced me to electronic timing system,” he says.
In his second year in athletics, he won the Kenyan trials for the 2017 World Relay Championships, and made the Kenyan team to Bahamas as a second-year student.
“In Bahamas, I met (2011 World Athletics Championships 100m gold medalist) Yohan Blake, (multiple Olympics and world 100m champion) Shelly Anne Fraser-Pryce and (2019 world 100m relay champion) Mike Rodgers in person when I was only 21, and it left a big impact on me,” he says. Kenya reached the final, but finished seventh.
In 2017, he suffered a back injury in training. He was due to represent Kenya Prisons in 200m in the National Athletics Championships. Around the same time, a half-fit Omanyala qualified to represent Kenya at the World University Games in Taiwan.
“One day I woke up and I could not feel my left leg. It was numb. I went to see a doctor in the city who ruled out a problem with the bone and muscle. I declared that I was due to compete in a race, and the doctor injected me with a painkiller to enable me honour the competition. The numbness and pain went away. On the day of the championship, I underwent a routine anti-doping test and on September 14, 2017, the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya notified me that my sample had tested positive for a banned substance. I later learnt that the tramadol and diprofos injection for pain contained betamethasone, a banned steroid. My 14-month ban shocked me, my coach. I was automatically locked out of the Kenyan trials for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
“The doctor acknowledged the mistake, but after serving the ban which ended in November 2018, I was tested again and Athletics Kenya cleared me to resume competitions. I was now targeting 2019 season but almost everyone avoided me like the plague. It was a long, lonely journey with my coach.”
He stayed true to his mantra “never give up” and started training for the 2019 World Relay Championships scheduled for Japan. His winning time of 10.14 seconds at the Kenyan trials held in Iten qualified for a national record, but it was deemed wind-assisted, and on a non-standard course.
Nevertheless, he made the Kenyan team, and his confidence was boosted. Well, momentarily. Days later, the national federation informed him that athletes who had tested positive for banned substances would not represent Kenya internationally.
He was ejected from the team and was barred from competing in races leading to national team selection but he successfully challenged the decision in court and was allowed to compete in Athletics Kenya events again.
He neither made the national team for 2019 African Games nor the 2019 World Athletics Championships, then Covid-19 pandemic forced suspension of all sporting activities globally in 2020, rendering him inactive alongside other athletes globally.
But better times lay ahead. He would go on to set a new national record over 100m of 10.01sec on March 30 this year in Nigeria and qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games after registering 10.02 sec in the Kenyan trials.
In Tokyo, he became the first Kenyan to reach the semi-final of the 100m race at the Olympics when he registered 10.00 sec, in the process also breaking the national record a second time.
After the Olympics, he would become the first Kenyan to run the 100m race in sub-10 sec time, timing 9.96 sec and 9.86 sec in the first and second round respectively of the 100m race of Josko Lauf Meeting in Austria on August 14.
Then came the big one last Saturday on home soil. He ran 9.77 sec to finish second behind American Trayvon Brommel (9.76), in the process breaking the African record. He is the all-time eighth fastest man on earth and is eyeing Bolt's world record of 9.58 sec.
He is managed by Marcel Viljoen of Johannesburg-based company Fitness From Africa, and he is already attracting sponsors, with gaming company Odibets coming on board to sponsor his training sessions.
American sportswear manufacturer Nike supplied him with running shoes after the Olympic Games, and he has a clothing label that he runs with his wife.
In his spare time, he watches movies and listens to music.