There couldn’t have been a better way to reward a trailblazing legend who struck gold for Kenya in the early days of the nation’s track dominance than to ensure he lived comfortably in retirement.
That doesn’t seem to be the case with Charles Asati, a member of Kenya’s gold medal-winning 4x400 metres relay quartet at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.
His is the same old story of Kenyan legends living virtually like tramps, abandoned in their elderly years after being celebrated as bubbling young men.
To rub it in, Asati’s home in Iringa Village, Nyamira County is less than 500 metres away from a power transformer —erected two years ago — yet the Olympic legend lives in the dark, unable to connect electricity to his house.
Asati, who turns 74 next month, has been living in the dark since he was born and he only sees electricity lines near his home. He tells us in an interview at his home that he feels sad whenever he walks out at night and sees light at the neighbours’ while he only relies on solar power to try and keep up with the joneses.
Asati lives alone in a two-bedroom house after he lost his two wives — Josphine Nyangara and Rael Kerubo — with whom he was blessed with 11 children.
Next to his house is that of his son Wilfred Nthabo who works with the Kenya Defence Forces and is based at the Embakasi Barracks in Nairobi.
His daughter in-law Elcah Kwamboka takes care of the old man as most of his children live and work in Nairobi.
“Kwamboka is the one who has been taking care of me after I lost my two wives,” says the former athlete.
His numerous visits to the Kenya Power Company offices in Nyamira and Kisii towns to get connected have borne no fruit.
“The transformer is just 500 metres from my home and we have been waiting for the last two years since we applied (for power).
“I have personally gone to the Kenya Power Company offices in Kisii and Nyamira and my pleas have fallen to deaf ears,” said Asati.
When we visited him at Iringa, he moved around aided by a walking stick and an umbrella, items he says have become part of his life in the rural area.
“When I’m not at the farm, I will walk around carrying an umbrella and the walking stick because of my age and also the rains in this region,” he says. Asati joins the long list of legends who brought fame to the country but they have been neglected by the government despite the hard work they did.
At the 1972 Munich Games, Asati teamed up with Hezekiah Nyamao, Robert Ouko and Julius Sang, the latter two who have since died, Ouko having passed on just last year.
He also made the quarters of a competitive 200 metres.
“The 200m race was competitive and the whites had better training facilities than the Africans and that is why I couldn’t go past quarter-finals,” Asati narrates.
His star had started rising in 1970 when he bagged gold in the 400m at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Scotland, before panning another gold with Hezekiah Nyamao, Ouko and Sang in the 4x400m relay.
In the 200m, race he managed a bronze medal.
After the Munich gold, the celebrated quartet struck another gold at the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand where Asati doubled up with a gold in the individual 400m race, dipping across the line just in time, clocking 49.4 seconds to relegate Uganda’s Silver Ayoo (49.07) to, as his name suggests, the silver medal. Tanzania’s Claver Kamanya (46.16) completed the East African sweep.
In 1976, Asati was named Kenya's captain to the Montreal Olympics Games but Kenya joined other nations in boycotting the Games in protests against New Zealand’s relations with apartheid South Africa.
Born on March 3, 1946, Asati attended Nyaikuro Primary School before dropping out of standard three due to lack of school fees.
He moved to Kericho where he took up manual jobs, picking tea leaves before he went back to school at Itibo Primary School and, later, Kianungu Primary School.
He was then identified by military scouts because of his running talent and was recruited to join the Kenya Army where he was based at the Third Battalion in Nanyuki.
After hanging up his spikes, Asati continued serving at the Kenya Army (now KDF) before he retired in 1986, as a Warrant Officer II.