‘Rio is a dream come true’ says Nkanata, after wild Olympic ride

By evelyn watta
Aug 17, 2021

RIO DE JANEIRO, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well,” the father of modern day Olympic games Pierre de Coubertin said.

Carvin Nkanata best exemplified this at the Rio Olympics on Tuesday.

He arrived in Brazil after a 10-hour flight from his training base in Bradenton, Florida USA about three hours to his 200m qualifying race and only reached the Olympic stadium, minutes to his event.

Nkanata's name was only inserted amongst the entries minutes to the start of the eighth heat.

He had a chance to warm up for 20 minutes before he entered the stadium and headed straight to lane one.

The Kenyan was slow off the blocks, legs still heavy from the travel and was lucky not to miss the starters gun, as he basked in the Olympic reverie.

He shadowed the field through the stretch of their run. But that mattered little to the 25-year-old who had fought so hard just to be listed in the race.

His 21.43 the slowest of the eight dashers led by American Lashawn Merritt who was home and dry in 20.15 seconds.

“I booked my flight at 12 O'clock in the afternoon (yesterday) from Florida.I was just like I gotta go, I gotta be there. I was hoping everything is going to work out.

“I could barely sleep on the flight; I was just like I got to be here I got to be here. I got to here officially at about 9:30 a.m. Everything worked out, Nkanata detailed his last 24 hours.

“I really didn’t know the cut off. My coach (American) in Florida was here, he helped me get my lane and just get into the race.”

Nkanata arrived in the stadium an hour before the race 

Nkanata turned out to be Kenya’s sole competitor in the 200m. Mike Mokamba, the other Kenyan in the race opted out, not wanting to strain his barely recovered leg from an injury he incurred back home. 

"He had an injury which he did not discloe to either the management or the medical team. He got the injury three months ago. Supposedly he has been evading training since he arrived. After an MRI yesterday he was discovered with very serious injury,"Team Kenya Head of delegation, Stephen Soi said.  

In Durban, Mokamba struggled and only raced in one of his listed two races. Strangely none of the nine coaches attached to the team by Athletics Kenya, picked out the niggling hamstring injury.

“This is a dream; this opportunity doesn’t come around. I had to pursue my dream. I worked so hard to be here. I put a lot of man hours, sweat, injuries to get here so I couldn’t give up,” an elated, reprieved Nkanata said after his only Olympic race.

Nkanata was denied entry to the games village when he first arrived in Rio on August 5, because he lacked the games accreditation and the accompanying identification, that would have listed him as a Kenyan athlete.

The American born sprinter was ruled ineligible because he did not have a Kenyan passport as the International Olympic Committee,IOC, rules require.

Four days later, his details had been removed from the list of entries of team Kenya by the games organisers, as Soi insisted there was no chance of him competing at the games.

He headed back to his training base in Florida, dejected, questioning why his Olympic committee never put up a fight to have him in the games. 

Kipchoge's nears miss in Mexico 

There are parallels that can be drawn from Nkanata’s experience with that of Dr Kipchoge Keino's run at the 1968 games, when he was three years older than the sprinter.

Kipchoge, the current head of the National Olympic Commitee of Kenya almost missed his Olympic race in Mexico, the only other time when the games were held in South America.

He had been entered in three events the 10000m, 5000m and the 1500m but midway though his first long track event he collapsed and was taken ill.

Two days later, he raced in the 5000m where he won silver and qualified for the 1500m final against the Doctors’ advise that he should keep off the track as he was been treated for gallstones.

On the day of the final, an hour before the race he was still in bed. But he got up, grabbed his kit and boarded the bus to the stadium, bent on running even if it killed him.

The bus got stuck in traffic, Kipchoge fearing he wouldl be late, alighted and ran for about three kilometres to the stadium and was just in time to register for the race, which he won.

It is saddening that the management of team Kenya could not relate or fathom Nkanata’s push to race in Rio.

They had initially indicated to help him acquire the Kenyan passport that he lacked but that thought fizzled out.

Nkanata's fight for Olympics  

Nkanata has represented Kenya in several continental and global races since 2013.

“It has been stressful kept my hopes up and kept praying. Well my story got published in the States and a lawyer reached out to me and he helped me file an appeal at CAS and I got here,” Nkanata said.

His lost the case filed at the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS), who referred him to seek clearance from the track and field governing body, IAAF. He was who only cleared him on the eve of his race. 

According to America’s Post and the Courier, 'the attorney was able to negotiate with the IOC and the National Olympic Committee of Kenya to restore Nkanata’s eligibility, also secured the blessings of IAAF'.

“I desperately wanted to run at the Olympics. I wanted to fulfil my dreams. I represented my country. That’s top two important things,” he reflected on the most important race of his career.

“It was hard. I was jet-lagged tired by everything that just went on. I officially got the word that everything worked out this morning. I had my kit in the bag. I changed when I got here. I warmed up for like 20 minutes. I tried my best. I am just happy I competed.”

As the Kenyan record holder having clocked 20.14 seconds he could have qualified for the semi finals, after the experience of running in Beijing at the world’s last year.

“I am better than the results I produced. I had this long journey, fighting and just making sure I was able to compete so I am happy. Not a lot of people can say that they competed at the Olympics,’ he said, shifting his to the world championships in London next year and Tokyo 2020.