By Yemi Olus

By the time you will be reading this piece, Nigerian hurdler Tobi Amusan would have made her debut at the IAAF Diamond League meeting held in Rome on Thursday, May 31st, and the event will more or less serve as a formal initiation into the elite club of the world’s best athletes.

Amusan

By competing in the Diamond League, Amusan now becomes Nigeria’s second athlete in recent years to feature in the prestigious meeting, joining Blessing Okagbare who has been one of the most consistent faces in the Diamond League’s history.

Okagbare’s consistency in the Diamond League earned her a place in the Guinness Book of Records in 2016 for the most appearances by an athlete in the series. In almost a decade, the only other Nigerian athlete who cut a regular figure in the Diamond League is Tosin Oke, the 2010 Commonwealth Games Champion, three time African Champion and two-time Gold medallist at the All-African Games in the men’s Triple Jump.

However, Oke who is now 37, last represented Nigeria at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London, and his last competitive season in the Diamond League was in 2015. In the last two seasons, Okagbare has been the only Nigerian competing in the series, and the Beijing 2008 Long Jump Silver medallist will be thrilled to have some company.

Amusan has enjoyed a meteoric rise in her career since 2015 when she emerged African Junior Champion in the 100m Hurdles, and then the All-African Games Gold medallist later that year. She secured a Track and Field scholarship to University of Texas El Paso at the end of the 2015 season, and has since enjoyed a new lease of life.

In 2016, she broke UTEP’s 33-year old record in the 100m Hurdles, running under 13secs for the first time in her life when she clocked 12.83secs, which qualified her for the Rio Olympics where she got to the semis. The time remains the Nigerian and African Junior Record! The time would have become the official World U20 Record but for the fact that there was no post-race drugs test.

In 2017 she broke UTEP’s 200m Indoor Record previously held by Okagbare, and then lowered her Personal Best in the 100m Hurdles to 12.63secs a month later, which was the fastest time in the world at the time.

In June of that year, she stormed to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) title by smashing her PB once more, replacing it with a time of 12.57secs, making her the second fastest Nigerian and African of all-time in the event behind Glory Alozie who still holds the Nigerian and Continental record of 12.44secs.

Amusan’s feat also made her the third Nigerian after Olapade Adeniken and Okagbare, to win the NCAA title as UTEP undergraduate students. Adeniken successfully completed a 100m /200m double in 1992, while Okagbare did a 100m/Long Jump double in 2010.

At the 2017 World Championships in London, Amusan was expected to at least make the final, but she failed to advance from the semis after finishing 4th in her race with a time of 13.04secs. Alozie weighed in on Amusan’s performance in an interview with Vanguard, saying:

“I wasn’t surprised our girl Tobi failed to make the final. Having run so fast before the championship put so much pressure on her, and there was a high expectation from every angle including her rivals. She is just a young athlete who may not know how to handle things. But I’m sure that she must have learnt a lot from this championship. I bet if the race is to be run again, she’ll do better than her performance now.

“In 1997 I couldn’t make the team to the Athens 1997 Worlds, so that made me to go home and work harder and I was able to run the fastest time in the world in 1998. Let’s give Tobi a little time and everybody will see the good stuff she is made of. Running 12.57sec is not a child’s play over the hurdles. Only a very good and talented athlete can run that fast.”

Despite not making the final of the World Championships, 2017 was still a good year for Amusan as she signed an endorsement deal with Adidas, foregoing her final year of eligibility with UTEP.

In 2018 she got to the final of the 60m Hurdles at the World Indoor Championships and even defeated reigning World Champion Sally Pearson in the semis.

However, the highlight of her career turned out to be the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast where she stunned 2015 World Champion Danielle Williams of Jamaica to win the 100m Hurdles with her Season’s Best of 12.68secs, narrowly missing the Games Record of 12.65secs. That time puts her at No.7 on the world rankings at the moment.

She was also Nigeria’s sole Gold medallist in Track and Field in Gold Coast (asides the medal won by Suwaibidu Galadima in Para-Athletics), and the first Nigerian to win a Gold medal in the 100m Hurdles at the Commonwealth Games. She also won a bronze medal in the 4x100m, making her the only Nigerian  at the 2018 Games to win two medals.

Amusan has since competed in a couple of races after the Commonwealth Games, including the Drake Relays where she finished 2nd to World Record holder in the event, Kendra Harrison of the USA, and the Adidas Boost Games earlier this month. The IAAF Diamond League will certainly spur her on to greater things, and who knows, Alozie’s Nigerian and African record may soon be obliterated.

 

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.