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Tobi Amusan’s rise from obscurity to stardom

Without any doubt, the most popular and adored athlete in Nigeria at the moment is sprint hurdler Tobi Amusan whose record breaking performance at the…

Without any doubt, the most popular and adored athlete in Nigeria at the moment is sprint hurdler Tobi Amusan whose record breaking performance at the just concluded World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, USA, is the topic of discussion among Nigerians, especially sports enthusiasts.

In the morning of Sunday, July 24, before her semi-final race, Amusan who had become an ‘almost girl’, for narrowly missing out on major victories in the past, wrote on her Twitter handle, ‘Incoming World Champion’ and few hours later, she actually smashed the 12.20 seconds record set by American Keni Harrsion in 2016 to become the first Nigerian to set a world record in athletics.

Tobi ran a blistering time of 12.12 seconds to win her semi-final race and set a new world record. Few hours later, she went a notch higher when she shocked the world in the finals by running a wind-aided 12.06 seconds to further cement her place in world athletics history.

Expectedly, Tobi’s extraordinary performance in Oregon has earned her superlative commendations from the government and people of Nigeria and an indelible place in the history of sports in the country.

However, as it is the case with most athletes, her rise to stardom is neither accidental nor a stroll in the park as she herself has acknowledged the inestimable hand of God, hard work, perseverance, dedication and a dint of luck in her success story.

Born on April 23, 1997 to the family of Mr and Mrs Kehinde Amusan in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State, Oluwatobiloba Ayomide Amusan, who is popularly called Tobi was discovered during her secondary school days at our Lady of Apostles Secondary School in Ijebu-Ode from where her talent in athletics finally took her to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).

Speaking to reporters in the mixed zone shortly after her historic feat in Oregon, Tobi revealed that she started as a football player before switching over to athletics while in secondary school.

“I used to be on the soccer team, but I would be all over the place on the pitch. 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 said.

What she termed as an accident has now turned out to be a divine orchestration which has earned her global fame and freedom from the shackles of poverty.

However, she confessed that in the beginning, it wasn’t rosy as she admitted that out of his love for education, her father vehemently opposed her choice of sports as a career.

“My parents are both teachers. They are strict disciplinarians. 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,” Amusan told BBC Sport Africa.

However, her dad’s hard stance softened eventually when she began to make strides that showed clearly that she was heading to the top in the world of athletics.

Her journey to stardom actually began in 2013 when she won a silver medal at the African Youth Championships held in Warri. At the same event, she missed out on a place on the relay team but went on to win a bronze in the long jump event.

She went on to claim gold in the 100 metres hurdles at the 2015 African Junior Athletics Championships in Addis Ababa

In 2015, while making her All-Africa Games debut as an 18-year-old, she won the gold medal in the 100 metres hurdles.

In 2016, as a freshman at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), Amusan became the second athlete for the university to be named C-USA Female Track athlete of the Year since UTEP joined C-USA.

She was the gold medalist in both the 100m hurdles and the 200m. She also claimed a silver in the long jump at the C-USA Championships.

Amusan first broke the 13 s barrier in the hurdles with a time of 12.83s at the El Paso UTEP Invitational. This eclipsed Kim Turner’s 100 mH UTEP record which had stood for 33 years.

And in her first outdoor race of 2017, she ran a then lifetime best and UTEP record of 12.63s in the 100 metres hurdles.

She was the C-USA champion in her specialist event and also the runner-up in the 200 metres.

At the 2017 NCAA Outdoor Championships, Amusan claimed the title ahead of Camacho-Quinn who was the champion the previous year. She did this in a personal record time of 12.57 s.

At the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, 2015 World Champion, Danielle Williams seemed to be the favourite to take the title in the absence of Sally Pearson. In the final, however, Amusan moved ahead of her competitors and won the race by a clear metre ahead of Williams.

Later in 2018, she won her first African Championships title in her specialist event at the Asaba African Championships. She also claimed a gold medal in the 4 x 100 m relay at the championships.

At the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar, she ran a personal best of 12.48s during the 100 metre hurdles qualifying rounds. In the semi-finals the following day, she equalled this personal best before placing 4th a few hours later in the final with 12.49s.

She broke Glory Alozie’s 12.74-second record from the 1999 African Games in Johannesburg, South Africa.

She twice shattered the Games record in Rabat, Morocco, in 2019. She won her semifinal heat in 12.69 seconds before winning the gold medal at the African Games by clocking a hundredth of a second quicker in the final.

The 12.68 seconds came next. Alozie was the fastest Nigerian in the history of the quadrennial competition when she ran twice to earn a silver medal in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

However, Amusan beat that time in 2021 in Tokyo with a time of 12.60 seconds, which earned her fourth place in the competition.

The 12.44 seconds Alozie ran at the Monaco Diamond League in 1998 were also consigned to history by the reigning Commonwealth Games champion.

The time was the quickest ever by a Nigerian in the history of the competition until September 2021, when Amusan ran 12.42 seconds to set a triple. At the time, it also served as the African record.

Inching closer to her incredible performance in Oregon, Amusan opened the 2022 season by winning the 2022 Diamond League event in Paris, where she set an African record by 0.01s with a time of 12.41s.

She won gold in the 100m hurdles at the 2022 African Championships in Mauritius, defending her title successfully with a time of 12.57s (wind-aided). She also competed in the women’s 4×100m and won gold.

Later in 2022, she competed in a Diamond League meet, finishing second with a time of 12.60s, behind Olympic champion Jasmine Camacho-Quinn.

Still basking in the euphoria of her recent global achievement, Tobi has since arrived in England for the 2022 Commonwealth Games which commenced on Thursday in Birmingham and only one thing is on her mind- to defend her title which she won in 2018 at the Games in Gold Coast, Australia.

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