AMUSAN: Discovered by Alaba, nurtured by Solaja and Aliu, made world champion by Golding-Clarke.
The newly minted world champion in 100m hurdles and world record holder in the event Tobi Amusan is the talk of the town in Birmingham
As the newly minted world champion in 100m hurdles and world record holder in the event Tobi Amusan begins the defence of the title she won at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold coast, Queensland, Australia, at the Birmingham 2022 Games, Olukayode Thomas spoke to coaches that discovered and nurtured her before Golding-Clarke took over at the University of Texas, El-Paso.
When the Ogun State Sports Council sent Coach Alaba Ogunde to Ijebu-ode in the 2000s as a grassroots coach, she never thought that one of the athletes she discovered will July 24, 2022, enter the record book as the first Nigerian athlete to win a gold medal in World Athletics Championships since its inaugural edition in Helsinki, Finland, 1983, a time when the athlete was not even born.
Nor did Ogunde foresee that the same athlete she discovered will be the first Nigerian ever to hold a world record in any athletics event since the beginning of the modern Olympic Games over a century ago.
The first national female athlete from Ogun State, Ogunde wore the green-white-green colour of Team Nigeria alongside athletes like Rufinah Ubah, Lawrence Adegbehinde, Gloria Obajimi, Kemi Obadeyi and others.
She represented Ogun State during the golden era of the National Sports Festival and also Team Nigeria at major games and championships.
Amusan in the beginning
Alaba’s son based in London, England, woke her up with news of Tobi Amusan’s epoch-making performances, becoming the first Nigerian to break the world record which she did in the semi-final of the 100m hurdles and also becoming the first Nigerian to win a gold medal in the World Athletics Championships, a feat she accomplished in the finals.
In a season of turmoil, economic crisis, political crisis, insecurity and scarcity of everything from petroleum to aviation fuel, skyrocketing price of essentials commodities, including the crisis in the world of sports in Nigeria Amusan’s feat was a breath of fresh air,
“’ I was overjoyed, extremely happy for her, for her family, for well-meaning Nigerians and myself. I am always happy for her. I saw the video very early in the morning, my son in England sent it to me.”
Alaba said she had nothing but good memories of the times she spent with Baby Amusan then at Ijebu-Ode,
“She was and is still a very nice young lady. She attended Our Lady of Apostle Ijebu-Ode.
“I was posted to Ijebu –Ode from Abeokuta in early 2000 to Dipo Dina Stadium. I discovered her in the U-13 competition. I started her and others in High Jump and Long Jump. She was so small then that I normally put her on my lap, Roberts was my assistant then. I introduce her hurdles before she left to work with one of my assistants then Ayodele Solaja.
‘’When we met at the National Sports Festival held in Abuja it was a happy reunion. She called her friends and introduced me to them she also collected my contact details.
“I always pray for her, I am very happy for her especially when I remember her humble beginning. she has never denied me, she always welcomes me and recognizes me.’’
Not just Amusan, Alaba has worked with the fastest women quarter-miler in Africa Falilat Ogunkoya and Abiola Onakoya,
Amusan collaborated on what Alaba said about her humble beginning in an early interview: “I faced a lot of challenges as a young athlete – especially when I started. People told me I could not do athletics because I don’t have the shape for it as a child, but here I am today doing what I love to do. I discovered that no one goes far listening to whatever people tell them. Do what you know is right and keep at it until you become the best.”
From Alaba to Buka Tigers
Alaba handed Amusan to Ayodele Solaja of Buka Tigers Athletics Club. Popularly called Buka T in the athletics family.
He started working with her while she was still in High School but her parents wanted her to concentrate on her studies.
Ayodele revealed ‘’At a time, her father stopped her from coming to training but when she finished her examination, the father gave her permission. At a point in her career, I took her to Akwa Ibom and she competed for the state at the National Sports Festival, later Delta State.
‘’By 2013 she competed at the African Youth Athletics Championships in Asaba and the World Youth Championships in Ukraine.
‘’At a point, I was training her 100m, 200m and Long Jump. In the long jump whenever she was attacking the board she always slows down.
‘’I was a decathlete. Then I had this feeling that she will be successful in the heptathlon that was when I found out good she will be in the hurdles’’
Ayodele recalled that Amusan always ‘’had that hunger, you know she is smallish so use to call her Sanko. She has a very large heart but because of her stature I give her 80% of what I give others, she is always very determined. I never thought she could break the world record because of her bad start.
“But after she won the Diamond League I knew she will soon be up there. This year, she ran many races and I was scared she will burn out. Too many relays, at a time she was even recalled to run the relays so that Nigeria can qualify.
“At that point, I had this conviction that she will either burn out or do wonders. The American coach really did a good and wonderful job on her. I knew she will medal in Oregon but I never thought she will break the world record.
‘’I want our youth to learn from Amusan’s example and take their studies and track career seriously. For most of the budding athletes in my club, I always tell them to read and train very well and go to the USA. Because if you do well in your event and get a scholarship to the USA the sky is the limit,”’
Solaja wants Nigeria to celebrate and reward Amusan, ‘’I believe Ogun State and Nigeria should do something big for her. This is a world record, unprecedented in the history of Nigerian sports. If they treat her well, it will encourage others. She is now what we can call Professor Emeritus in Sports.
‘’Ogun, corporate Nigeria and the Federal Government must celebrate her and reward her.’’
He said Amusan achievement is not easy to come by ‘’athletics is a very difficult profession, a lot of travelling, injuries, it’s not no easy, no time for enjoyment, it’s a regulated life, it is not easy, it is not easy at all, people only see the glamour, they don’t see the hard work and the pains’’. Said Solaja.
Solomon’s philosophy and wisdom of analysis Amusan of feat
Solomon Aliu another coach who played a major role in nurturing Amusan goes biblical in explaining Amusan’s feat in Oregon. Quoting Psalm 118;22 (KJV) ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone’’. Aliu recalled that in 2014, ‘’ Amusan and I were to travel to Oregon, the USA for the World Athletics Junior Championships, the venue of the just concluded World Athletics Championships.
‘’I got my visa on a Friday and she was to get her own on Monday but she couldn’t join us in Oregon because she didn’t get the visa to travel with us but look at the way God work, the venue she couldn’t travel to in 2014 as a junior athlete, was the venue where she broke the world record and became the world champion. I am very happy, I feel fulfilled, and I am happy that she achieved this in my lifetime. Amusan is a coach delight, a down-to-earth athlete, always ready to work and very competitive ‘’
UTEP, Lacena Golding Clarke, a world record and world champion
Amusan moved from being an athlete with the potential to being a global star when she moved to the University of Texas, El-Paso and started working with coach Lacena Golding-Clarke.
Said Amusan of the coach that took to the top, ‘” You all should meet my lovely coach and second mum, Coach Lacena Golding Clarke. She recruited me while I was back in Nigeria to the University of Texas, El Paso when I was running 14.2s and today is history for both of us.
‘’She was also a world-class hurdler during her active days; multiple finalists at the Olympics, World Championships and a Commonwealth Games Champion representing Jamaica. ‘’
Golding-Clarke and Amusan’s journey began during the 2017 season, when Golding-Clarke mentored sophomore Amusan to her third consecutive All-American status after claiming her first NCAA title in the 100m hurdles, breaking her own school record with a time of 12.57 and helping the women win their first outdoor conference title in program history.
Amusan ended her career at UTEP with three All-American honours, four individual C-USA titles and one NCAA outdoor crown.
Golding-Clarke competed for Jamaica at the Olympics in 1996, 2000 and 2004, participating in the long jump and 100m hurdles. In the 2004 Olympics, she finished fifth overall in the 100m hurdles with a time of 12.73; her personal best is 12.65.
Dream of a gold medal in the World Championships
Golding-Clarke and Amusan’s dream in Oregon was the gold medal “The goal was to come out and to win this gold,” Amusan said after the feat, “I believe in my abilities but I was not expecting a world record at this championships. You know, the goal is always just to execute well and get the win. So, the world record is a bonus.”
On her world record, she explained, “I could not believe it when I saw it on the screen after the semis. But it was just a matter of time. And I am thankful. Before the final, I just tried to stay calm and do my best. I took a deep breath knowing that I have some goals to accomplish and it worked pretty good. I knew it was very fast but not this fast.”