Seraphino Antao, nicknamed the ‘gazelle’ because of his speed, remains to date the only Kenyan to have ever won a gold in the short sprints at any world level; and the first Kenyan to win a medal for the country. He started Kenya’s ‘gold rush’ and was the first Kenyan flag bearer, after independence, at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.
Born on 30th October 1937, Antao started his athletics career in 1956. In 1957, he broke the Kenya record for the 100 and 200 metres sprints earning him a spot in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Antao was selected for the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff in Wales and in 1960, he attempted the Olympic Games in Rome and was subsequently invited to London to compete against the U.S.A.
In the 1962 Commonwealth Games held in Australia, Seraphino competing against the likes of Harry Jerome, clocked in at 9.5 seconds for the 100 yards and 21.1 seconds in the 220 yards taking away the gold medal for both events. He became the supreme sprinter in the whole of the Commonwealth.
Antao moved to England. In 2003 the Kenya Amateur Athletics Association held its 50th anniversary celebrations and Antao visited Kenya for the event. On arrival, with a distinctively Coastal Kiswahili accent and in spite of being away for 40 years, he said animatedly: ‘Mimi mtu wa Mombasa bwana’. Antao was the first to be honoured at the award ceremony.
Nostalgic about the old days he reminisced ‘Unlike today's Grand Prix there were no monetary rewards for us during the world meets . . . Athletics has become more technical compared to our days. . . Kenyan athletes lack adequate technical training for sprint.’
Seraphino Antao, the ‘gazelle’, passed away at the age of 74 in London on Tuesday 6th September, 2011. A more in-depth story is scheduled for the next issue of AwaaZ.