By Celestine Karoney BBC Sport Africa, Nairobi
Ferdinand Omurwa Omanyala may now be the fastest man in Africa after breaking the continent’s 100 metres record but the Kenyan admits a doping ban in 2017 will cast a shadow over his achievement.
He ran 9.77 seconds at Saturday’s Kip Keino Classic meeting in Nairobi to break the mark of 9.85s set by South Africa’s Akani Simbine in July.
“Whenever I run these fast times, people talk but for me it is about myself – I am not running for anybody else,” the 25-year-old told BBC Sport Africa.
His time makes him the eighth-fastest man of all time, despite finishing second to the USA’s Trayvon Bromell who also set a new personal best of 9.76s.
Having started his athletics career in 2016, Omanyala served a 14-month doping ban in 2017 after returning a positive drugs test for a banned substance, which he says was in a painkiller he took.
“I felt I was a victim of circumstance,” he explained. “It was a painkiller and then it turned out it had a steroid in it, and that (experience) is what shaped me to be the person that I am today.”
“It gave me resilience, made me stronger – because it is a challenge no athlete would want to go through – and it is a lesson that you shouldn’t just take anything and you shouldn’t just trust anyone in athletics.”
“It has been hard but for me but let us put the past in the past. We forgive, forget and move on. I am that guy who lives in the moment. It has been a tough journey starting off in 2016 – injuries, then the ban – but all that is now in the past. We are creating the future.”
‘No limit in possibilities’
Omanyala insists that he can go even faster and has set under 9.70s as his target, something only achieved by the legendary Usain Bolt of Jamaica, his compatriot Yohan Blake and the USA’s Tyson Gay.
The former-rugby-player-turned-sprinter believes he can go even faster than that, and perhaps close to Bolt’s world record of 9.58s.
“There is no limit in possibilities,” he smiled.
This season has been a breakthrough as he reached the 100m semi-finals at his first Olympics, while setting a new Kenyan record of 10.00s, just one of five personal bests achieved in the last seven months.
“I have been improving in every race because I have been running so many competitions this year,” he says. “That is what I am going to do next year and I will start in early maybe March. So by June, we should be expecting very fast times.”
Hoping to inspire
In a country known for its brilliance in middle and long distances, Omanyala is now aiming to inspire a future generation of Kenyan sprinters.
“My biggest prayer is in the next five years we have more Omanyalas, more kids who can sprint, because I am the first one who tried to struggle my way and get to the top,” he says.
“I know there are many people who can sprint fast, in football and rugby, so if we can get 10 sprinters, Kenya will have achieved something.
“They now believe it can happen because most of the people that were getting into sprints were discouraged by their parents or other people saying ‘you can’t go anywhere with sprints in Kenya’. But now people believe this can be done.
“Now I want to open a sprinting club and encourage young sprinters to train and see where they can go.”
One man who believes that Omanyala, Simbine and the likes of Nigeria’s Enoch Adegoke, who reached the Olympic 100m final, will inspire more Africans is former Olympic and world champion Justin Gatlin.
The American, who finished just behind Omanyala on Saturday, also pointed to the success of Africans in field events.
“The talent in Africa sprinting is great,” he told BBC Sport Africa.
“The world sees African athletes as just distance runners, but now you have javelin throwers, jumpers, sprinters, so I think it has shown the world it has more than just distance talent.
“That is a great thing to have. I have always believed that Africa has more to give to the world than what they have already.”
The top ten fastest men in history:
- Usain Bolt (Jamaica) – 9.58s
- Tyson Gay (USA) – 9.69s
- Yohan Blake (Jamaica) – 9.69s
- Asafa Powell (Jamaica) – 9.72s
- Justin Gatlin (USA) – 9.74s
- Christian Coleman (USA) – 9.76s
- Trayvon Bromell (USA) – 9.76s
- Ferdinand Omanyala (Kenya) – 9.77s
- Nesta Carter (Jamaica) – 9.78s
- Maurice Greene (USA) – 9.79s