Olympic dreams: The Kenyan taekwondo athlete

Kenya’s Faith Ogallo (in red) competes in the 12th edition of the African Games in 2019.
Kenya’s Faith Ogallo (in red) competes in the 12th edition of the African Games in 2019.
Image: Getty Images/Fadel Senna
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Kenyan taekwondo athlete Faith Ogallo has been training for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo for almost a year-and-a-half now. Despite the uncertainty still surrounding the event, she keeps working hard and continues to dream.

The Games appear certain to take place, and a limited number of domestic spectators will even be allowed in, but there have already been positive Covid-19 tests among visiting teams. For all athletes, it won’t be a simple case of turning up, competing, enjoying themselves, and possibly returning home in glory.

Taekwondo training is tough and relentless

Kenyan taekwondo athlete Faith Ogallo.
Faith Ogallo.

Ogallo qualified for the Tokyo Games way back in February 2020 at the African Taekwondo Olympic Qualification Tournament. Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that demands extraordinary strength, flexibility, agility, and courage, and coaches are rarely without remorse. Although athletes are well protected, knockouts are common.

The 26-year-old is just one of thousands of athletes who have qualified for the Olympics, but whose preparations have been marred by doubts that it will actually happen. The event was postponed by a year, and until recently, Tokyo was still in a state of emergency over Covid-19.

But Ogallo is persistent and wants to realize her dream of representing Kenya. “It’s been always my prayer to carry the flag of my nation,” she tells Quartz.

Covid-19 testing protocols

Since March, Ogallo has been spending most of her time with other athletes at a training “bubble” camp at the Moi International Sports Centre in Nairobi. Everybody is tested for Covid-19 before getting into the camp. They get breaks to go home, and they have to be tested again before they return.

She feels confident with the safety preparations and assurances provided by the Kenya’s National Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee. In the bubble, she says, different sporting teams are not allowed to visit each other, people are not allowed to have unnecessary interactions, and they’re advised to avoid gatherings.

In Tokyo, Ogolla adds, the athletes will be tested on arrival and they’ll use an app called Cocoa for contact tracing.  “Those measures—I think they are good and they’ll help keep the team safe,” she says. “I think that is a great assurance.”

The sporting dream remains alive

Ogallo, a fourth-year student studying social work at Kibabii University in western Kenya, admits that the uncertainty caused by the pandemic is taking a toll on athletes, but they’re still hopeful.

“It’s not an easy moment. It’s really draining. It has drained all the athletes—so many athletes—and actually we’ve not given up because we were given hope that they [will] not cancel ,” she says. She says participating in her first Olympics will give her the impetus to train more and achieve her goal of reaching grand prix level.

“All my life I had wished to be a sports person, because I loved sport,” she says, as she prepares to finally head to Japan.

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