Kenyan boxer, Rayton Okwiri, makes his Olympic debut in Rio and someday hopes to challenge his idol in the boxing ring. Sponsored by GE.
Nairobi – When you think of the Olympics and Kenya, you probably think of long distance runners competing and winning medals because, after all, that’s what Kenya is known for on the international stage. But there is another sport at least one Kenyan athlete is hoping to draw the world’s attention to: boxing. The first, last, and only time Kenya won a gold medal in boxing was when Robert Wangila grabbed it in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. In doing so, Kenya became the first African country to bring a boxing gold home.
Rayton Okwiri qualified for the 2016 Olympics as a Welterweight (69kg). Okwiri is one of the top boxers in the world, ranked number four by AIBA (Amateur International Boxing Association) Pro Boxing. He is looking forward to the upcoming games in Rio, which will be his first time competing in the Olympics.
"This is a dream come true. When I first started boxing, I told my mom once over dinner that one day I will go to the Olympics because of these hands," said Okwiri. "I told her I will be a world champion because of these hands."
Okwiri's boxing career began in Mombasa, his hometown, where he grew up in a poor family. As a student at Serani Secondary School, Okwiri often found himself in trouble, getting into fights and beating up classmates, especially those older than him.
Rayton makes his grand entrance for his match against Andrey Zamkovoy (RUS), during the 2014 “Matches for Champions” Welterweight match in Baku, Azerbaijan.
"I grew up as a hard fighter,” said Okwiri. “I used to bully my school mates and that's when my uncle realized I have a talent.”
It was his uncle who saw his potential and introduced him to the boxing gym in 2003—the same gym where gold medalist Wangila used to train.
Okwiri gave up fighting in school once he started training in the gym. He knew back then that if he wanted to pursue boxing seriously he would have to remain focused. He is grateful to his mother for disciplining him at a time when his peers were doing drugs like heroin. As the only child, Okwiri knew that he would have to be the one to lift his family out of poverty. He has done that.
“He is a good son, he takes care of all his family like me, his father and his grandmother,” said Priscah Adhiambo, his mother. “He has buy for me a house in Mombasa so I am very proud.”
Adhiambo said she is also proud of her son for making it to the Olympics. And, although, she does not have enough money to be with him in Rio, she will be watching the local channels closely and waiting for the results.
“I will see him on the TV and I will be cheering him on,” said Adhiambo. So will Okwiri's 6-year-old son.
Okwiri, now 30, is ready to fight anyone in Rio—even one of his idols, Manny Pacquiao. There was a good chance of that happening, with this year being the first time that professional boxers will be allowed to compete in the Olympics. But, according to Sports Illustrated, Pacquiao will not compete in Rio in order to focus on his responsibilities as a senator in the Philippines.
Rayton looks for the perfect moment to land his first punch.
In fact, Okwiri has his own responsibilities. For the last 10 years, Okwiri has been a police officer with the Kenya Prisons Service so he has to juggle his job with boxing. He is thankful for the support he receives from his employer when he is off training and competing.
John Kameta, President of the Boxing Association of Kenya, has full faith in Okwiri’s abilities and powerful punches.
“Rayton represents the face of the lion. He is a lion in boxing. He doesn’t fear anyone,” said Kameta.
Two other boxers, Peter Mungai and Benson Gicharu, will join Okwiri in Rio, which is an improvement from the last Olympics when only one Kenyan boxer qualified.
“I know we are properly represented. I have faith, rather the entire nation has faith, in Rayton Okwiri and the team,” said Kameta. “Kenya is great at boxing.”
Kameta is so confident that the team will win medals that he is already focused on boxing beyond Rio. He is urging the government through the Ministry of Sports and the National Olympic Committee to put more effort into getting a bigger team together for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
When it seems all hope may be lost, Rayton eventually prevails against undefeated AFB boxer Andrey Zamkovoy, who won a bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics.
For the last six years, nobody has done better than Okwiri in East and Central Africa in his weight category. His advice for young boxers and athletes who want to be successful is to be disciplined, work hard, and have passion to achieve your goals.
"Passion is the only thing I have been having so that's why I have been performing well," said Okwiri.
How well we will find out when he has his first Olympic boxing match on August 7.
All Photo Credit: Amateur International Boxing Association