Weightlifter Omondi raring to heave his name high in Rio

James Omondi poses next to the Olympics ring at the Games Village in Rio. PHOTO/...
James Omondi poses next to the Olympics ring at the Games Village in Rio. PHOTO/Courtesy

James Omondi marvels at the modern weightlifting equipment at the Rio Pavilion, where the event will take place from Saturday during the 31st Olympic Games in Brazil.

The venue is a kaleidoscope of colour with the Rio 2016 emblem emblazoned on each weight, a stark contrast to the facilities, the 29 year-old has been using to prepare for the pinnacle of sports.

“The training area is good its okay, “ Omondi modestly told Citizen Digital via phone from the Olympics Village in Rio.

He began his preparations early July after receiving a wildcard from the Kenya Weightlifting Federation (KWF) despite failing to reach the required threshold at the qualifiers in Cameroon in May 2016.

In Yaounde, he competed in the 94kg weight category and finished seventh and he was certain his Olympic dreams had been quashed for the second time in four years after injury ended his hopes in the build up to London 2012.

A phone call from the KWF President, Pius Ochieng, handed him an unexpected lifeline to compete at this year’s Games in Brazil.

“I was in the gym, I got a phone call from our president he told me they got a wildcard after they sat down as a committee they said I was the one who was going,” Omondi recalled.

Elated, he headed to camp soon after in Kitengela, Kajiado County keen on fine-tuning his skills but the training base was a far cry from the required standards.

The gym is located in the middle of a compound flanked by several garages and metalwork artisans plying their trade.

The sound of metal rods striking iron to raise devilish decibel levels is the prevalent feature in this area as the artisans and mechanics brave the scorching Kitengela sun to earn their livelihood.

The gym’s walls are made from corrugated sheets and the clangs are clearly audible as Omondi lines up the weights on the cracked floor for his training session.

“I am used to the noise,” Omondi told Citizen Digital before he left for Rio.

“There are many challenges in weightlifting our facilities are moderate, we are handling what we have, the guys here enjoy better facilities but we have to do with what we have,” the burly Olympian added.

Omondi’s journey was inspired 11 years ago in high school when the fitness bug bit him and he was a regular at the local gym in Rongai. He had the physique and the drive but he was confused between weightlifting and body building.

“I didn’t know what I wanted exactly but with the help of my coach, he helped me identify what I wanted after he advised me on what to do about weightlifting. So I had to make a choice and I made a choice to lift weights.”

Interestingly, It took him two years to take up the sport competitively. In 2008, Omondi represented Kenya at the Youth and Senior African Weightlifting Championships in Uganda and bagged three medals in the 77 kilograms weight category.

“I was nervous it was my first time to step on an international platform I was also proud of myself, I got a gold and three bronze,” he reflected

Omondi’s ascent to major championships was swift and he represented Kenya at the Delhi Commonwealth Games in India in 2010.

A case of the nerves seemed to be his Achilles heel in the men’s final as he finished 11th out of 18 competitors. Nonetheless, it proved to be a learning curve for the fitness instructor.

“I was proud of myself, because I met different people who I didn’t think I could meet. I learnt more of technique and strategy,” he recounts.

Strategy, Omondi discovered that included employing mind games to destabilize your opponents.

“You might have the good technique and good strength but your strategy is poor, you have to play with your opponent, maybe you put five kilos to the weight it’s a mind game.

“I was competing in 94kg category you might be 10 guys your starting weight might be 100 kilos and the other guy is 101 you have three attempts the moment you go to the first attempt you have to put pressure you put 105. They go to 105 and you know your best is 110 you shoot up to it,” he explained.

Armed with this knowledge, Omondi trained hard with the 2012 London Olympics in his sights.  A twist of fate halted these ambitions in painful fashion, a year before the games.

“I broke my left leg, I was doing some work at home when I fell in a ditch, I didn’t see it, I was very disappointed I knew my career was gone. I was in hospital for six months; six more months to recover basically a whole year without doing anything.”

-Bounce back-

Omondi trains at his local gym in Kitengela ahead of Rio 2016. PHOTO/Courtesy
Omondi trains at his local gym in Kitengela ahead of Rio 2016. PHOTO/Courtesy

In 2014, he bounced back to represent Kenya at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland and finished sixth in the final. Last year, Omondi was fifth overall at the All Africa Games in Brazzaville, Congo. This upward trajectory in his performance in the past two years will not deceive him to rest on his laurels in Rio.

“My realistic targets to improve on my personal best. My current personal best snatch is 125 kg I’m targeting 130, clean jerk is 155 am targeting 160kg, “ He stated.

The weightlifting event is the ultimate test of strength and entails the Snatch and the Clean and jerk. The snatch is a one-movement endeavor where a weightlifter lifts the bar with weights from the floor above the head in one singular motion.

The Clean and Jerk is a two-stage movement, whereby a weightlifter raises the bar with weights from the ground to shoulder height, and then lifting it above the head. An athlete has three attempts to perform each technique and the final score is the combined total of the highest two successful attempts.

“When you are about to take the weight yourself, you have to visualize how the bar has to move, you have to compose yourself, your knees, you have to tighten your legs and have a firm grip so that you can execute the weight in the best way, “ Omondi explained.

He appreciates the challenges the sport is currently facing in the country, where weightlifters train with substandard equipment for major championships.

“The weights we are using are the same they are using what matters is the environment I am already psyched, I am ready. “

Omondi will be the sole athlete representing Kenya in weightlifting in and he arrived in Brazil more than a fortnight ago. He admits that he has struggled to adapt to the six-hour time difference.

“The timings have been hard for me to adjust but I’m adopting. The food is very good though,” he revealed.

Omondi will be in action on the next Saturday (August 13) competing in the Men’s 94 kg weight category with the hopes of putting Kenya on the weightlifting world map.

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