Baylor Hall of Fame Profile: Bayano Kamani
Two-time NCAA Hurdles Champ Ran for Panama in Olympics
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Bayano Kamani wouldn't even know where to look in his home in Long Beach, Calif., for the NCAA championship rings, medals and trophies he won in a track career that included running for Panama at the 2004 and '08 Olympics.
"I have a lot of teammates and colleagues that also won (NCAA championships). You go into their place, and they have them up on the wall. And I'm like, 'OK, that's cool,''' Kamani said. "I don't even know where mine are. I'm just that kind of person. I don't like to hold on to material things or accolades."
Now 35 years old and the head track and field coach at Long Beach City College, Kamani will be honored again when he's inducted into the Baylor Athletic Hall of Fame at Friday's Hall of Fame banquet at the Ferrell Center.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm super humbled to be in there with Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner and Mike Singletary," he said. "But when I was doing it, it was never like, 'If I do this, I'll get in the Hall Fame one day.' Even while I was running at Baylor, I was like, 'If I run fast enough, one day I'll make it to the Olympics.' Call me shortsighted, but I was just thinking, 'OK, the next day, I need to do this.'''
A prep All-American and state champion in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles at Houston Westbury, Kamani was part of a recruiting class that included 2013 Hall of Fame inductee Brandon Couts and Damian Davis, a relay All-American who was part of the school-record 4x800-meter relay team.
"I had all these guys who I ran track with growing up, like Damian Davis and Brandon Couts, and we all ended up running there at the same time. It was ridiculous," Kamani said. "These were guys I had known pretty much my whole life. And then Floyd (Thompson) came in later. And it was like, 'Wow, this is just like summer track all over again.' I knew these were guys that were not going to back down to any challenge."
In his four years at Baylor, Kamani established himself as one of the premier 400-meter hurdlers in the world, winning NCAA championships as a sophomore and senior and placing second as a junior when he posted a school-record time of 48.43 that still stands.
He had just turned 19 before the 1999 NCAA Outdoor Championships, when he ran a personal-best time of 49.7 in the prelims and blazed to a winning time of 48.68 in the final.
"It was very unexpected, actually," Kamani said of his first NCAA title. "It wasn't like I was getting blasted all season, but I wasn't running NCAA championship times all year, either. I just knew it was in me the whole time. And Coach (Clyde) Hart would tell you the same thing. You put me on the line, and I'm going to compete with whoever, it doesn't matter. You put me on the line with Couts in the 400, and he's at least going to know I'm there."
The culmination came at the end of Kamani's senior season, when he finished 1-2 with teammate Michael Smith in the 400 hurdles and also ran second leg on the 4x400 relay that beat Auburn by one-hundredth of a second.
"There was no pressure, not for me," Kamani said of running on the 4x400 relay team that captured one indoor title and two outdoor in his four seasons. "We were so cocky about the 4x4. If we ever lost, it would be like, 'OK, that was a really fast time. Next time we lock up, it's going to be on.' But we didn't lose very many of those. And if we did, it was probably because someone was hurt or the whole team wasn't there."
While at Baylor, Kamani also won a silver medal at the 1999 University Games and made the USA team again in 2001. But after he graduated, his father, Fransisco Kamani, approached him about competing for Panama.
"At first, I was really reluctant about it. I was like, 'Nah, I'm doing this USA thing. This is great,''' he said. "But he told me, 'You have roots in Panama. No one's going to hate you for running for Panama.' I just had this real identity crisis, like are people going to think I'm taking the easy way out."
Running for Panama at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, Kamani placed fifth in the finals in 48.74, less than half a second out of a medal spot.
"If you're running for the U.S. and you don't win, you better hang your head real low and come back to the village at night so that nobody sees you coming in," he said. "But after the Olympics, I went to Panama, and everyone was so happy and excited. They shut down the whole country when I ran in the finals – no commerce, nothing. No boats went through the Panama Canal. It was crazy.
"I love America, but nobody would ever do anything like that for an American. If I had grown up in Panama, I wouldn't have come to Baylor and I wouldn't have run 47 seconds, just because America breeds those kinds of expectations. And now I was able to share that with Panama, 'Look, this is what you can actually achieve. There is nothing genetically different about me. My roots are here.'''
Four years later, Irving Saladino from Panama won the Olympic gold medal in the long jump.
"Even though I didn't win a gold medal for Panama, I know I'm 100 percent directly related to the amount of effort and all the stuff they put into track and field," Kamani said. "I was a catalyst for a lot of things to change in Panama, just from doing that. So, I don't regret the decision at all."
Kamani made it back to the semifinals in the '08 Olympics, but back injuries forced him to eventually quit. He's now in his third year as the head coach at Long Beach City College.
He has a 9-year-old son, Bayano, from a previous marriage, and he and his wife, Lache', have a 4-month-old daughter, Orca.
Joining Kamani in the 2015 Hall of Fame class are football's Tom Muecke and Ed Marsh, basketball's Terry Black and Danielle Crockrom Fontenot, golfer Jimmy Walker, tennis standout Benedikt Dorsch and soccer's Molly Cameron.
Track & Field: LBCC head coach Bayano Kamani inducted into Baylor Athletic Hall of Fame
Baylor Hall of Fame Profile: Bayano Kamani