How Omwanza’s omission nearly cost Kenya 1972 Munich Olympics gold

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019 00:12 | By
Kenya’s athletics legends Charles Asati, Dan Omwanza and John Ngugi during the burial of their colleague Robert Ouko last weekend. Photo/PD/AMOS ABUGA

When Kenya’s athletics history shall be written, the memorable 4x400m relay team that won gold at the 1972 Munich Olympics will be prominently  mentioned. 

Robert Ouko and Julius Sang, both deceased, as well as Charles Asati and Hezekiah Nyamao will all get credit, having combined well to win gold for Kenya. 

However, the interesting bit is that Sang was not even supposed to be in the team. Dan Omwanza, popularly known as Omoisi Omobe, was the man who set to complete the line-up, having been part of the quartet that qualified during the Olympics trials in Mombasa in 1972.

“Going to the games, I was supposed to anchor the team but it was seen as a Kisii quartet (all the four members were from the Gusii community) so the coach had other ideas. I was dropped for Sang because 800m was seen a sure win for me,” reminisces Omwanza who had also won the 800m and 400m during the trials.

That is how US-based Sang, who had been named in the reserve team, was elevated with Omwanza relegated to the bench alongside Billy Koskei.

Omoisi Omobe, which loosely translates to a tough boy, did not take his omission lightly. Despite not playing it out in public, his team-mates protested bitterly and even threatened to strike if he was not reinstated.  The sprinters eventually decided to do it for Kenyan, which paid off.

“I was bitter. Olympics come once after four years and if you let your chance go, it will never come back. I was happy Kenya won eventually but sad that the chance to win a relay medal never materialised.

And as you know four years later in Montreal, Canada, Kenya boycotted the games,” added the retired military officer, who was later reprimanded for what was termed as trying to bring friction while on national duty. 

Kenya’s Munich victory had luck written all over it. USA were seen as favourites but were disqualified from the final for dissent. 

“They were the best team at the moment. Deep down, we had settled for silver but USA’s disqualification gave us a lot of hope,” recalls Omwanza, who quit teaching to join the military. He also bemoans how national heroes have been neglected.

“We have lost many legends, most of them dying poor. The government has to start recognising what each of us is capable of doing. We need to be engaged even in administration matters. Waiting until a legend is no more before starting to shower them with praises is very wrong,” he concludes.

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