Sports

Tobi Amusan, ‘Serious’ Nigerian Athlete Who Doesn’t Party or Drink

Tobi Amusan could not hold back her tears as the national anthem of Nigeria came to life at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, United States of America, the venue of the 18th edition of the World Athletics Championships.

She had just won a gold medal in the women’s 100m hurdles event in a run-time of 12.06 seconds (wind-assisted), becoming the first Nigerian athlete to achieve the feat.

Before this finals, Amusan had set a new world record after finishing her race in 12.12 seconds in the semi-finals of the same tournament, smashing America’s Kendra Harrison’s record of 12.20 seconds set in July 2016.

As early as 2018, the new world women’s hurdles champion had already been seen as a possible replacement of Gloria Alozie, the African hurdles queen who reigned in the late ’90s and early ’00s.

In Amusan’s tears while receiving her gold medal at the Oregon podium were stories of hard work, resilience, confidence and belief since childhood.

Sneaking to the tracks

Oluwatobiloba Ayomide Amusan was born on April 23, 1997, in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State, Nigeria, to two school teachers. The last child of three children, Amusan was raised in a disciplined household, with her father always demanding that she focus on her studies.

She however enjoyed a high degree of support from her mother, who loved sports and who would always engage in “covert moves”, including telling ”white lies” to her father so she could attend championships and trainings.

“My life centred around going to school, sleeping, eating and reading books, the same cycle that I took into my later life later,” Amusan said in an interview with worldathletics.org in 2020.

“My mum was in full support of my athletics career, but dad wanted me to focus on school. He limited my time at the stadium, but I used to sneak to the track, thanks to mum telling dad I’d gone to church!”

Amusan’s athletic journey would eventually begin at age 15, when she won the 100m competition at her school’s inter-house competition.

The Ogun State-born athlete blossomed, and in 2013, she qualified to compete for Nigeria at the African Youth Championships. Amusan excelled in the competition, coming home with a silver medal.

Later in the same year, the athlete was disqualified at World Athletics U18 Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine, for lane infringement during the 200m semi-finals.

Her disappointment on the tracks was however still rewarded when Goodluck Jonathan, the then President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, decided to host the Nigerian contingent to the tournament to a dinner.

The incident shaped Amusan’s disposition to sport, and with time, she made it a full-time career.

“Back then I thought by competing in track I’d get to meet the president all the time. I thought ‘if this is true, I’m going to take track seriously,’” Amusan said, laughing.

The hurdles race, a second option

After Amusan was excluded from competing in the 4x100m relay squad at the trials for the 2014 African Youth Games, she demanded to know the other events she could enter for from the organisers.

When 100m hurdles was suggested to her, she took it up with the feeling that she had nothing to lose.

“If it is run and jump, I thought I’d do it. I had played around with hurdles in practise but I had never competed before,” she said.

Amusan surprised herself by emerging victorious at the trials. She went on to win silver at the African Youth Games in Botswana in the same year and in only her second hurdles race.

In 2015, the world champion recorded an improvement in the sport by going from a 13.69 seconds personal best (PB) to 13.11 seconds within two months. She ended the year by winning gold at the African Games in Brazaville, Congo.

At this point, Amusan knew she had found her area of specialty and there was no looking back.

“It was one of the biggest milestones of my career; winning that championship set me up for who I am today,” she said.

I will soon be unforgettable — Amusan’s 2016 Tweet

In November 2016, Amusan tweeted that she would soon become a great athlete such that she would be unforgettable in the minds of many.

“Unknown now, but I will soon be unforgettable… I will persist till I succeed,” she tweeted.

The tweet coincided with the period the athlete accepted a scholarship to study at the University of Texas at El Paso, United States, in 2016. While at the university, she benefitted from coaches who were once athletic champions, and with time she became a better athlete.

Within three months of working with the coaches, Amusan set a blistering world U20 100m hurdles record of 12.83 seconds.

In the same year, and at the age of 19, Amusan reached the semi-finals of the Rio Olympics.

In 2017, the player returned unbeaten from the 100m hurdles of the outdoor college campaign, earning the NCAA title after a personal best of 12.57 seconds.

Taught to look like she owned the damn world record

Despite a disappointing 2018 calendar, Amusan ended the year by winning gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. She also went on to become the African champion in Asaba, Delta State, in the same year.

She continued to refine her mental resilience and technique in 2019 and got rewarded with one of the top three finishes at the Diamond League meetings in Doha, Stockholm and Birmingham. She also captured the African Games title in Rabat, Morocco, in the same year.

In September 2020, Amusan talked about the mentality that had been deposited in her by her coach.

“My coach taught me that when I walk into a room full of my rivals to [sic] look like I own the damn world record. She always reminds me that I’ve practised hard to trust myself and translate that aggressiveness onto the track,” she wrote.

The outbreak of coronavirus made Amusan have a not too eventful 2020 athletic calendar.

I don’t party, I don’t drink and when I’m on the track, it is serious business

Amusan would always reference her upbringing as the factor that contributed immensely to her becoming a disciplined athlete.

“There is little doubt the discipline my parents showed me helped shape who I am today on the track,” she once said.

“I don’t party, I don’t drink and when I am on the track, it is serious business. I know my next pay cheque is dependent on my next performance. That is what helps put food on the table.”

Amusan unfortunately missed out on a podium finish at the Tokyo Olympics in August 2021, after she returned in 12.60 seconds to finish fourth.

Despite not finishing with a medal at the tournament, the athletic world could already tell that it was only a matter of time before Amusan would take the world by storm.

Motivation from name, diminutive height

In an interview with The Nation in 2018, Amusan, who described herself as a fighter, said she loved embracing challenges.

“I have many challenges but I do not allow them to get me down. In fact, I love challenges because it is under that kind of heat that I do excel. I have faith too and very positive. I don’t for once lose faith in God and I never quit,” she said.

Amusan also talked about constantly drawing motivation from her name and her diminutive height of 5″1.

“Like my name Oluwatobiloba (God is the greatest king), God has been my greatest motivation! I have met somebody that took a look at my height and told me I could not amount to anything as an athlete,” she said.

“That is an additional motivation for me. It’s like proving to them that I can do anything that I set my mind, and God be with me, to do.

“Mentally, I am tough. I don’t care who is racing with me. My goal is always to surpass my previous time and run PRs every time I compete. Then I pray a lot. I am a believer and that has helped me set goals that are bigger than me.”

As the entire world celebrates the emergence of the new Nigerian world champion and record holder, the diminutive Ijebu Ode native is expected to harness more laurels in the coming years as she is just 25.

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