NAIROBI, Kenya, June 12- On his third time of asking, 31-year old Police corporal Benson Gicharu, a bantam weight boxer qualified for his second Olympic Games.
Gicharu lost out in the African Qualifiers in Cameroon which saw his compatriots Rayton Okwiri (welter-weight) and Peter Mungai (light-fly weight) earn selection for Rio, but he never lost hope.
He travelled to Azerbaijan, for the difficult route in the world qualifiers and again, his star never shone. Ultimately, a final chance, organized by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) presented itself in Venezuela.
The father of one struggled to get help from the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK) in terms of facilitation, but no one was willing to open up their purses to help him travel to the South American country and try his luck for the third time.
He got help from the Boxing Association of Kenya but the trouble and challenges were not yet over.
“I was told the flight that would have taken me direct to Venezuela was full. I had to take a connecting flight via France and again when I went to board, I was told I couldn’t because of Visa issues,” a tearful Gicharu narrated after landing back to the country on Monday night from Venezuela.
After pleading his case with the immigration officials, he was allowed to travel on a transit visa but that meant his arrival would have been past the weigh-in in Venezuela which meant he would not be among the fighters.
“I called AIBA and explained to them my situation and asked if they could delay my fight so that I arrive in time. Normally, such doesn’t happen, but my God is great. I am a very prayerful person and they allowed my fight to be delayed,” he explained.
Gicharu went without a coach and made the most basic of cuts, winning his semi-final bout to book one of the 26 slots being contested by 40 boxers after flooring local favorite Victor Rodriguez and earned a place in Rio.
Dominican Hector Luis pulled out of the final and that meant Gicharu made it one better, winning the championship and coming back home with the gold.
“Deep inside I knew something good was coming. Maybe, it is not even this qualification. Maybe it is in Rio. I failed twice and I think that is what pushed me to try the third time. Despite the circumstances, I pushed myself to try. When I left my house that day to go to Venezuela, I told my wife, I am going to qualify for the Olympics,” Gicharu explained.
He now hopes the presence of three Kenyans in Rio will spur him and he believes he can add an Olympic gold to a Commonwealth silver and bronze he has from the Delhi and Glasgow games in 2010 and 2014 respectively.
“I believe in myself and I know with the shape that I am in now, I can win a medal in Rio. I won’t say which specifically, but I am certain and confident I can make it,” added the bantam-weight fighter.
On his preparations he says; “I would like to try and improve on my speed work because on power I am okay. It is speed which is on the low but I believe I can work out something good in the next three weeks.”
Gicharu represented Kenya at the 2012 London Games where he was floored in his first match by Egyptian Hesham Abdelaal and failed to progress to the second round. However, having played in the AIBA series for the last three years and being amongst the top boxers in the continent, he believes he can make it.
The trio of Gicharu, Okwiri and Mungai is putting up camp at the Madison Square Garden in Nakuru where they are fine tuning their preparations, three weeks to the Olympic Games.
Speaking to Capital Sport, Mungai believes the presence of three Kenyans in Rio will make a difference as they will push each other to attain medal places.
“I felt very happy when Gicharu qualified because we are all good friends. I am motivated to do well in the Olympics. I have been training hard since I got the ticket and every day, my focus is on a medal. Whichever comes,” Mungai said.
His sentiments were shared by Okwiri who said; “We are here to welcome him and this shows how united we are as a team. We have a lot of confidence heading into Rio and I am certain we can bring this country a medal.
“I have seen the boxers I will play with and the good thing is that I have faced most of them and beaten them before. Right now it is just about training hard and getting into shape as we wait for Rio,” he noted.
Okwiri and Mungai joined Boxing Association Kenya officials and Gicharu’s family at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Monday night to welcome back the hero and they were later hosted for a dinner.