Kenya’s boxing captain Nick “Commander” Okoth has attributed several factors to his return to the Olympic Games after 12 years in the cold.
Okoth said his wife, Rachel Ouko, whom he described as his “favourite fan,” along with his elder brother (the 1998 Commonwealth Games welterweight silver medallist Absolom “Diblo” Okinyi) and his senior at the Kenya Defence Forces, Colonel Paul Njuguna, gave him vital tips and inspiration that saw him finally crack the Olympic code.
Other Kenyan boxers Elizabeth Akinyi and Elly Ajowi were eliminated on Wednesday.
Akinyi was outclassed by top seed Ahbib Oumayma from Morocco in the semi-final of their welterweight bout while Ajowi also had his dream of making to the Olympics cut short after losing to Moroccan Youness Baalla in a heavyweight contest.
Okoth, who turns 37 on March 3, was also in full praise of “Team Kenya” coaches and officials, led by head coach Musa Benjamin and former international Benson Gicharu, for their “immense contribution” to his success.
Above all, Okoth, who had evoked Job 8:7 before the fight, thanked God for giving him another stab at the Olympics.
The verse states: "And though thy beginning was small, yet thine end shall be very great."
"Before I left the team hotel, I knelt down seeking His mercy and blessings and, for sure, I returned to the same place to thank him for the victory," said Okoth.
Okoth booked the ticket after he chalked a 4-1 decision against Uganda's Isaac Masembe in their featherweight semi-final contest on Wednesday night during the Africa qualifiers for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games at Dakar Expo Erena. Only one out of the five judges failed to award the Team Kenya captain, whose last appearance in the Olympics was during the 2008 Beijing Games, as they scored 28-29, 29-28, 29-28, 29-28 and 29-28 respectively.
Okoth will now face Zambian Everisto Mulenga in the final Friday.
Mulenga also edged out Samuel Takyi from Ghana in a 4-1 decision in the other semi-final.
However, Masembe and Takyi still have another chance when they meet in the box-off on Friday before the explosive Okoth and Mulenga final.
"My wife told me never to get tired because she knew the sacrifices that we had both made for me to stay in good shape, even after the injustices at the African Games," said Okoth. "She told me that I had come from far, and that the journey was about to end."
Okoth said he was only worried about Egyptian Mohammed Fahmi Komsan who he beat in the second round after handing Wilson Semedo from Cape Verde a 4-1 defeat in the first round. "After beating Komsan, my wife said the event was now for me to lose. It happened to be my easiest win. My wife knows when I am at my best though she doesn't show it so that I don't slacken," said Okoth who beat Komsan 4-1 before beating Manuel Gomes from Angola 5-0 in the quarter-final for a date with Masembe.
Okoth, the 2010 Commonwealth bronze medallist, said Colonel Njuguna sent him a link for Masembe's bout.
"He told me to study and analyse it with the help of my coaches. But, as much as they helped, the onus was with me to execute. I thought I was a quarter-turn maestro but Masembe was equally good.
"I had to devise a strategy and made all the calculations on my way to the arena. The trick was to start with a jab followed by some combinations and side movements," said Okoth. "It worked pretty well."
"I told him to maintain his range, calculate his scoring strategy, hit the target before making a follow up immediately coupled with side movements," said Okinyi alias Diblo, who is also the 1999 Africa welterweight silver medallist. "He is a good listener and rarely disappoints. It's a good feeling."
Okoth said that before taking on Masembe and Komsan, he recalled Gicharu having told him never to show his opponent his weakness. "The moment you show your rival that your are tired, that will be the end of you, Benson told me," recalled Okoth. "They call me Commander hence I had to live up to my status by leading from the front."
Okoth said his motto is never to entertain his opponents in the ring. "I promised Kenyans a beautiful outing of total war and I hope I have delivered even though I have one more bout to go," said Okoth, the father of two, Kevin, 15, and Delhi, 8.
Okoth revealed that he went an extra mile to research about his opponents before taking to the ring. "The coaches can only do so much. There is no secret to success in boxing but hard work. One has to push himself not only in training but in his hunger for knowledge and information. One needs to learn new techniques and style from other boxers in every category," said Okoth. "I didn't know any of my opponents but I had to source for information about them and it worked."