Trailblazers who put Kenya on world map

Nyantika Maiyoro and Hezekiah Nyamao are names that may not ring a bell

Wednesday September 28 2011


Nyantika Maiyoro and Hezekiah Nyamao are names that may not ring a bell for many Kenyans.

But they are among pioneer athletes who brought fame and pride to the country even before independence.

Maiyoro won gold for the Kenya colony in 5,000 metres while running bare footed in the 1954 Commonwealth games while Nyamao clinched a gold medal for Kenya in the 4x400m relay in the 1972 Munich Olympics.

He ran the race together with Charles Asati, Robert Ouko and Julius Sang.

Talking to The County Edition recently, Maiyoro was nolstagic about his youthful days as Kenya’s pioneer sportsman.

Had he been born at a different time, he would be a millionaire. Today, he leads a common man’s life at his Isoge settlement scheme farm in Borabu district.

The once great Kenyan athlete says that following his success in sports the Gusii council employed him as a stadium manager. He retired in 1999.

He nows keeps himself busy doing farming on his 50-acre land given to him by president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in the early 60s.

Maiyoro was born in 1932 at Kiogoro village in Nyaribari Chache, Kisii District. He dropped out of school at standard five to focus on his athletics career.

Awarded shields

During his days, they used to run for free and winners were only awarded shields and trophies unlike today where star athletes get millions of dollars.

The 1954 5 Commonwealth games in Vancouver, Canada remains fixed in Maiyoro’s mind.

He says that he had gone to the toilet and when he emerged other competitors had already started the race.

“I quickly removed my tracksuit and followed them, at the finish I could not believe it, I defeated all of them and won the race,” the aging Maiyoro recalls.

His 22-year career began at the age of 14 in 1946 when he starred in inter-schools competitions.

He used to participate in 1,500 and 5,000 metres but later specialised in the latter upon the advice of his coach and mentor, paramount chief Musa Nyandusi.

He was East African champion from 1948 to 1951 in Tanganyika, Uganda and Kenya.

He represented the Kenya colony in the African championships in Madagascar in 1952 in the then Northern Rhodesia.

Maiyoro also won a bronze medal in 5,000 metres in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia.

Other Kenyans who participated included Mombasa-born Seraphino Antao, who died this month, Kiptanui Mkenta, Paul Boit and high jumper Joseph Lerisai.

Maiyoro’s most memorable competition was during the 1962 Commonwealth games in Perth, Australia when he won a bronze medal in 5,000 meters.

He recalls that during the championships, Antao clinched double gold in the men’s 100 and 200 metres.

Due to his splendid athletic career, British rulers built him a four bed-roomed house near the Gusii stadium where he used to train for many years.

“They proposed that I stay near the training ground and away from women and prohibited brews in the village fearing they could destroy my promising career,” Maiyoro recalls.

He says he was shocked when the council took over the house built in 1949.

Quit athletics

Maiyoro says he was given the house by a Mr Skipper who was the colonial governor for Kisii District and acted as the chairman of the Kisii Municipal Council.

He occupied the house with his family until 1965, a year after he quit athletics.

He moved to Nyanchwa Estate on the outskirts of Kisii town where he rented a council house at Sh300 a month and rented out his at Sh700 a month.

His efforts to get his house were frustrated until Prime Minister Raila Odinga intervened in 2009.

Maiyoro says that the council took the house in 2000 after he retired as the stadium manager.

“Heroes like Maiyoro must be recognised because they did a great job for this country,” Mr Odinga said at a rally at Gusii stadium when he directed the council to return the house.

“I’m proud of what I did for this country but we have been dumped despite our contribution,” Maiyoro lamented.

He says that he would be a proud man if a proposal by Mr Odinga to have Gusii stadium named after him sails through.

“I prefer a good name and if the stadium will be named after me I will be much better,” he added.

“I dropped out of school because I found it difficult to balance between class work and the athletics career.

He calls upon young athletes to nurture their talents well.

“They should make proper use of their talents because it pays well unlike our days,” he said.

At 71, the Olympic Gold medal remains Nyamao’s highest achievement.

At 30 years, Nyamao was the oldest member of the Kenyan team to the Munich games.

“It is a dream of every athlete to win an Olympic gold medal. Some feel very sad when they retire without winning. I am a proud man to have won the gold,” he said.

Another race he remarkably remembers is the 1971 4x400m relay in Paris where they broke a record. Kenya was the only team from Africa.

Born on December 6, 1938 at Riangombe Nene, Nyaguta in Nyaribari Chache, the pioneer athlete now operates a shop in Kiogoro, Nyamira.

He began his athletics career at 15 when he won the inter-schools championships in Kisii.

He joined the Kenya Army in 1963.

“My career blossomed in the army because we had the best training facilities. I am where I am because of the army job,” Nyamao said.

He retired from the army in 1997.

‘‘I was also motivated by the desire to make my country proud... representing our country was the top most priority,” he adds.

“When you go into a race, the most important thing is to participate. Winning and glory come later. Many people go into the race but there is always one winner and when you are the one you feel very happy,” adds the Nyanza South Athletics Kenya Branch life member.

He now mentors young athletes in the region.