From Kibabii University to the Olympics: the story of Faith Ogallo

Wednesday May 13 2020
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Faith Ogallo displays her skills during an interview at Nation Centre on May 5, 2020. She is the only taekwondo exponent who qualified to represent Kenya at the Tokyo Olympic Games. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT |

By AGNES MAKHANDIA

Having tried her hand and failed in a number of sports, Faith Ogallo was on the brink of settling for second best when Lady Luck smiled her way and she got a breakthrough in taekwondo.

The third year Kibabii University student is on top of the moon after defying the odds and qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics that have been rescheduled to July 23-August 8 next year owing to the coronavirus pandemic. The setback has not thrown Ogallo off-track. She remains focused on winning a medal in Japan.

The 25-year-old student, who is undertaking a Bachelor of Arts degree in social work, qualified for the Olympics after defeating Chad’s Florence Eldgima 27-21 in the heavyweight final during the African qualification tournament in Rabat, Morocco in February.

MADE A RETURN

Following the feat, Kenya’s taekwondo side returns back to the Summer Games having last featured during the 2008 Beijing Games. Milka Akinyi and Dickson Wamwiri represented the country in Beijing.

In an interview with Nation Sport on Tuesday last week, Ogallo said that her bid to take part in athletics, basketball, netball, and football, among other sports, did not produce the results she desired.

“My coach Eliakim Otieno watched me playing basketball at the university in 2018 and suggested that I try taekwondo because of my physique. Generally, I’m a sporty person and I thought, why not? I attended some classes under his guidance and I slowly learnt the sport. I grew to love it,” the Mariasoti High School alumnus said.

“Through determination, I was called to the university team that participates in the annual Kenya University Sports Association (Kusa) Games. We won this year’s title at the games held at Moi University in January. That was the beginning of a new chapter. I’ve become a regular player in the team,” she said.

Ogallo has competed in various championships together with the team. The events include the Mombasa Chairman’s Cup, Korean Ambassador Cup, as well as the Tanzania’s Korean Cup and Rwanda's Genocide Memorial Tournament. Kibabii excelled in all the competitions.

NATIONAL TEAM CALL UP

Last year, Kibabii also won the Kusa games title at USIU. The team was supposed to represent Kenya at the University World Championship in Italy last year in July. However, the team failed to honour the tournament owing to financial constraints.

Ogallo said her sterling performance caught the eye of the national team coaches and she earned a call up to the national team last year.

Her star continued shining and she landed a place in the national team to the All Africa Games held in Morocco last year.

“I was at the crossroads. I had to choose between sitting the examinations and honouring the national team call up. I decided to take up the national team assignment and shelve my exams. I’m glad I did so because I won silver in my maiden appearance,” Ogallo said.

“I also took part in the Fujihira Championships in Dubai last year and won gold. My confidence grew, and I decided to focus my energy on taekwondo. I’m a junior in the sport, but hard work has enabled me to make tremendous progress. It was a pleasant surprise for me when I made it to the Africa Olympic qualifiers team to Morocco in February,” she added.

Ogallo said she was humbled when she saw her name all over the media after qualifying for the Olympics. She said it is something she holds dearly in her heart.

“I’m doing personal training using some shared programmes. I’m targeting a podium finish in the Olympics. I will do it for pride and for the nation. It will not be easy, but I know it can be done. I would like taekwondo to grow locally like other sports through government support,” Ogallo said.

During the Olympic qualifiers in Morocco, Kenya’s other representatives Evelyn Aluoch (welterweight), Newton Maliro (heavyweight) and Edwin Lemiso (featherweight) did not qualify. They lost in semi-finals of their respectively events.

Ogallo’s dream is to take part in the grand prix.

“This is my ultimate goal. I may sound like I’m going ahead of myself, but I believe the God that has made me achieve what I have in the short span will create a way for me. I owe my success to the university,” Ogallo said.