Robert Wangila is the only Kenyan – and African – to win an Olympic gold medal. He was welter weight champion during the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea.
Overcoming a deprived childhood in Jericho and Muthurwa in Nairobi’s Eastlands, he joined the elite league of athletes by dint of hard work.
Wangila was a quiet man whose most eloquent speech was made in the ring with his fists, especially the right one. He left many of his opponents hanging on the canvas, struggling to get back on their feet.
A highly disciplined athlete, Wangila was extra-ordinarily committed to training. When the sessions ended, he departed quietly, usually alone.
Charles Mukula, the boxing coach who shared time with Wangila, remembers him thus: “He was a quiet and humble man. He liked keeping to himself. He trained hard. He was an awkward fighter, by which I mean you couldn’t figure him out. You could never get in the ring saying Wangila fights like this. He would surprise you. He was good at reading his opponent and adjusting accordingly. And he had a deadly right hand, which he depended on heavily. If you look at his record, you will see many knockouts. They usually came from it.”
Indeed. The Olympic gold was won that way.
Robert Wangila died in July, 1994 in the United States after a fight with David Gonzales in which the referee stopped the contest to save him further punishment. He went to the dressing room on his own, but shortly afterwards lapsed into a coma from which he would never recover. But his memory is as alive today as the adoration of his boxing skills was then.