Add Carvin Nkanata to the list of former Lowcountry high school athletes competing in the Summer Olympics.
Nkanata, a 2010 graduate of Summerville High School, has qualified for the Kenyan national team in the 200-meter sprint.
Nkanata will join former Burke shot putter Raven Saunders and former Fort Dorchester hurdler Jasmine Camacho-Quinn in Rio de Janeiro next month. Saunders qualified for the United States while Camacho-Quinn will represent Puerto Rico.
Nkanata was born and raised in the Givhans area of Summerville, but his father is a native of Kenya. Nkanata was the Class AAAA state champion in the 400-meter event his senior year at Summerville.
“It’s an incredible honor to be able to represent Kenya in the Olympics,” said Nkanata, who ran collegiately at the University of Pittsburgh. “Kenya has a rich tradition in the distance events but me and a few others are working hard to bring sprinting to the forefront. Hopefully we can continue to bring more attention in Kenya to the sprints if we perform well in Rio.”
Former Summerville track coach Jim Kilbreth, a Hall of Fame coach with 46 years in the business, remembers Nkanata as a project during the athlete’s junior year.
“He came out as a junior, for the first time, and quite honestly he had no idea about track or anything,” said Kilbreth. “That first spring, he wasn’t real good so we told him that if he wanted a chance in his senior year that he needed to work in the fall with the cross country team. He came back that next spring and was a totally different athlete.”
Nkanata focused on the 400 during his senior year, primarily because “his first 200 meters wasn’t very good,” says Kilbreth. The success of winning a gold medal at the state championship meet seemed to sharpen Nkanata’s focus.
“He was a late bloomer but certainly has realized his potential,” Kilbreth said. “He’s a great young man and was a really hard worker. We knew he had some talent and he really excelled in his last two years at Pitt. I was able to see him run in the ACC championships at Clemson during his junior year and I couldn’t believe how much he had improved.”
Nkanata is still relatively new to the 200-meter sprint, electing to turn his focus from the 400 after a few years in college. The 200 event now seems more suited for his talents. He qualified for the NCAA finals in 2013 and has been focused on the 200 since.
“In college, you sort of run all the sprints but once I began to focus on the 200 more, things just took off,” he said. “The two events are really similar in terms of training and the 200 is a bit easier for me.”
Nkanata, who ran the 200 finals in 20.9 seconds at his Olympic qualifier, is working out in Florida for before heading to Rio. He plans to participate in the opening ceremonies Aug. 5 and said he wants to enjoy the entire Olympic experience.
“Only half of the job is complete,” he said. “My goal is to get through the qualifying rounds and get into the finals, which is going to be very difficult. I’m very excited about the opportunity. It probably won’t really hit me until I am actually there in Rio, but I’ll do my best to be ready.”