NAIROBI, Kenya, May 8- Commonwealth silver winner, Ben Gicharu, has to contend with the pressure of emulating the 1988 Seoul Olympics success of the late Robert Wangila as he prepares to compete in the grandest stage in London this summer.
The flyweight will be the only male boxer travelling to the Olympics from the ten members of the ‘Hit Squad’ that competed at the African qualifiers that ended in Algiers having booked his ticket as a losing finalist in his division.
“The sad reality that I will be training alone which has put me in a position that I have not been used to and this will be a tough assignment to carry on without my colleagues since training is usually teamwork,” Gicharu expressed the enormity of the task at hand after his fellow Hit Squad members failed to find the right combinations in Algeria.
Gicharu 27, a Kenya Police corporal, deployed at Nairobi’s Railways Police Station is grateful for the chance to represent the country as he hopes to find sufficient support.
“After a few days rest to soak in this feat, I will embark on my own practise routine as I wait for word from the Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) and National Olympic Committee Kenya on plans to enable me train in places like France to gain more international exposure,” he intoned.
He lost in the finals to Botswana’s Oteng Oteng with his colleagues Daniel Shisia and Charles Okoth dropping out in the semis of their categories.
Gicharu, the eldest of three siblings who began sparring since his days in primary school in his Kayole Estate rough neighbourhood reflects of his childhood dream and believes he has come of age.
“Boxing was my way of avoiding bad company in my tough estate, where I would find myself spending many hours at the Kayole Social Hall learning the ropes of the sport,” he added as he embraced his evidently proud mother.
Alice Njangira vividly recalls her son’s visit to the social hall which she discouraged until she met Maurice Maina, his coach at the Queens of Peace training centre in 1998 who elucidated to her about his ability.
“I was not for the idea of my first born fighting in the ring with others but with time I noticed a strong character change and now pride in his hard work as he takes on the world in London”
“When he was enrolled at the police training college in Kiganjo in 2006 due to his exploits in boxing, I realised that his talent was bound to take him places resolving to be part of his success story,” she added as she held on to his dangling silver medal.
Gicharu’s prowess had seen him catch the attention of Qatar in 2004 who wanted to lure him to participate for the oil rich nation but he rejected their advances on the basis of patriotism which he feels has paid back.
“I know it will be a huge challenge as many Kenyans will be banking on me to equal the efforts of Wangila in Seoul but as long as I get my practise right, victory will be eminent,” he affirmed in reference to the flyweight who went down in history as the first and only Olympics gold medallist for Kenya outside athletics.
Wangila who passed on in 1994 from injuries received in a fight with David Gonzales in Las Vegas having turned professional won the top medal after knocking out Frenchman Laurent Boudouani in the final.
Mucharu knows emulating the groundbreaker in London will advance his career which has been seen him clinch three silver medals thus far in his career including one in the second Benazir Bhutto International Boxing tournament held in 2011.
He however decried the squabbles that bedevilled ABA during the qualifying process in the country and called on all stakeholders to settle all the issues as he represents his peers at the Olympics.
“These wrangles don’t do well for the development of the sport, since based on our performances in Morocco its evident we have talent among us, but we have a lot to do to match up the standards of the West and North Africans,” he added.
This is a concern shared by his coach Patrick Waweru who accompanied the team to the championship as he also sought to explain the team dismal show in the event.
“Besides our wrangling in the federation that nearly cost us greatly, it was an awful thought to hold the training camp in Mombasa since Morocco turned out to be cold deeply affecting our chances to clinch top honours.”
“As much as many will feel that we failed to exceed the expectations of the Beijing team of five, the boys did well losing only by slim margins even though we witnessed open rigging as our appeals for fairness were ignored by the organisers,’ he added.
48 boxers from 30 countries qualified with Algeria leading the highest number of qualifications to London with six boxers ahead of Egypt with five while Cameroon and Ghana have four each.
The boxing contest will be held at the Excel Exhibition Centre in London from July 28 to August 12.