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Tobi Amusan:The World At Her Feet; Her Story Will Inspire You

Leave a comment | | July 30, 2022 9:11 pm

When Nigerians were already thinking it would be another disastrous outing for the country at the just concluded World Athletics Championship in Oregon, USA, Tobi Amusan did the unthinkable. She not only won Nigeria her first gold medal in the history of the Championship, she also broke the record in the 100m hurdles twice in one day (semifinal and final)

Almost prophetic, Tobi Amusan in November 2016  had tweeted: “Unknown now but soon I will be unforgettable, I will persist until I succeed.” Many of her rivals must have discarded it as a wishful thought by an emerging athlete. Almost seven years later, the Nigerian has not only come to fruition but has written her name in gold.

Amusan caused a stir after smashing a world record in the women’s 100-meter hurdles in the semifinals at the World Athletics Championship on Sunday, when she returned a record time of 12.12 seconds, beating Kendra Harrison’s  2016 record of 12.20 by 0.8 seconds.

She went on to bag gold in the final, though her initial finishing time of 12.06 was ruled out due to strong wind speeds.

After fourth-placed finish at both the 2019 World Athletics Championships and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics,  Amusan’s persistence has finally seen her engrave her name into the track and field record books.

However, it always seemed as if the odds were stacked against her running career from the beginning. “My parents are both teachers, they are strict disciplinarians,” Amusan told BBC Sport Africa.

“When you grow up in such a family, they feel you should focus on school. And being a female, they think you are going to go astray, lose focus and all of that.

“But because my mum saw what I didn’t see in myself, she felt she could give me a chance. And she kept telling me not to disappoint her.

“My mum would tell my dad I was going to church while I sneaked to practice or tell him I was going to a school debate while I went to an out-of-state competition. That’s where it all started.

“My dad got really mad one time when he found out I was running. He burnt all my training gear and told my mum that’s the last time he wanted to see me in a stadium.”

Fast forward several years, and tears of joy flowed freely as Amusan stood on the top step of the podium at Hayward Field on a historic day for Nigeria, which saw the country’s national anthem played at the World Athletics Championships for the first time ever.

“It has not sunk in yet, maybe the magnitude of what just happened will hit me later,” she said. “I go out there and put 100 per cent in every championship and it’s just never enough. Every time it’s a fourth-place finish.

“Then this time my 100 per cent is not only a gold medal but a world record. Trusting myself just made everything easier. I’m thankful to the man above for keeping me healthy. When God says it’s your time, it’s your time.”

Amusan’s world record sent shockwaves through the athletics world.
“Wow” tweeted Jamaican track and field great Usain Bolt, while 200m champion and American record holder Noah Lyles tweeted: “12.12  are you kidding me?” Both congratulated her on Twitter.

In November 2016, the now-25-year-old tweeted: “Unknown now but soon I will be unforgettable, I will persist until I succeed.”

“I could not believe it when I saw it on the screen after the semis. But it was just a matter of time,” Amusan told reporters after the race.

Her win, which is Nigeria’s first gold at such an event  was met with joy, with congratulations pouring in from well-meaning Nigerians. However, some have expressed skepticism at the race, which saw numerous competitors run their best times ever.

“I don’t believe 100h times are correct. World record broken by .08! 12 PBs set. Five national records set,” four-time Olympic gold medalist and BBC commentator, Michael Johnson wrote on Twitter, adding that Great Britain’s Cindy Sember commented that she had been running slow at the time of her personal best and national record. The semi-finals saw numerous athletes set their best times.

“All athletes looked shocked,” the former 200 and 400 meter runner said.
“Heat 2 we were first shown winning time of 12.53. Few seconds later it shows 12.43. Rounding down by .01 is normal. .10 is not,” he said.

Johnson received swift and fierce backlash for his comments, and later returned to Twitter to clarify further, pointing out that he had predicted that Amusan would win.

“As a commentator my job is to comment. In questioning the times of 28 athletes (not 1 athlete) by wondering if the timing system malfunctioned, I was attacked, accused of racism, and of questioning the talent of an athlete I respect and predicted to win. Unacceptable. I move on,” he said.

Her journey into athletics started as somewhat of an accident at Our Lady of Apostles Secondary School in Ogun state, Nigeria.

“I used to be on the soccer team, but I would be all over the place on the pitch,” Amusan said.
“My coach suggested I go try out on the track team and I became the fastest girl on the team, and that’s how I got on the school relay team.”

She went on to make the national squad for the 2013 Africa Youth Games in Nigeria, but she missed out on a place on the relay team and went on to win a bronze in the long jump instead.

Competing over hurdles was another unexpected switch in Amusan’s journey to stardom, and is where she would truly break through on the senior stage. “The officials were always picking who they wanted in the relay team. Sometimes they would say I didn’t have the experience so they would pick whoever was their favourite,” she explained.

“It was a lot of pressure on a young athlete. I considered quitting. I really wanted to travel with the senior national team and some coaches told me to try the hurdles.”

She had to overcome doubts from officials in Nigerian athletics before picking up her first senior hurdles title at the African Games in Congo-Brazzaville in 2015.

“The typical Nigerian approach is to make you feel like you cannot make it,” she said.
“I wasn’t expected to medal at those Games. There were so many voices saying I couldn’t but I used that to show that I could – and that title changed my life.

“That’s how I got a scholarships to the United States. I can say that’s really when my athletics career began. I never dreamt of going to the United States. I just wanted to run fast and be one of the Nigerian greats.”

Since moving to attend the University of Texas, El Paso, Amusan has not looked back. She won gold in the 100m hurdles at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, and later the same year took her first African Championships title on home soil in Asaba.

She agonisingly miss out on medals – finishing fourth at the World Championships in Doha three years ago and then again in Tokyo last year.

“2019 was tough because I remember running the fastest time in the qualification rounds, around the same time in the semi-finals and the same time in the final,” she said. “I ran so fast but wasn’t fast enough to get a medal. I was broken, I was devastated. That was one of the most horrible experiences.

“I moved on, and then came the Tokyo Olympics. Things just crumbled a month before when I strained my hamstring at practice.”

She has constant support from her mother, but her father has remained unfazed by her exploits.

“Honesty, he still doesn’t support me doing track,” she said. “He just feels like there’s more to life than running around. Every time I call him when I’m at a competition he just says ‘Okay, do your best, God will help you’ and that’s it.”

The newly-crowned world champion and record holder – who also picked up a cheque for $100,000 for her blistering showing in Oregon – will now defend her Commonwealth gold in Birmingham that is ongoing.

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