Sunday, 1st October 2023

Tobi Amusan. . . ‘Shanko Queen’ who foretold her greatness

By Eno-Abasi Sunday, Deputy Editor
31 July 2022   |   3:39 am
At 6:47 am, six years ago, precisely November 8, 2016, Oluwatobiloba Ayomide Amusan, better known as Tobi Amusan, using an iPhone tweeted, from her base, the University of Texas, El Paso, United States of America.

EUGENE, UNITED STATES – JULY 24: Gold medalist and world record holder Tobi Amusan of Team Nigeria poses during the medal ceremony for Women’s 100m Hurdles final at the 18th edition of the World Athletics Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, United States on July 24, 2022. Mustafa Yalcin / Anadolu Agency (Photo by MUSTAFA YALCIN / ANADOLU AGENCY / Anadolu Agency via AFP)

At 6:47 am, six years ago, precisely November 8, 2016, Oluwatobiloba Ayomide Amusan, better known as Tobi Amusan, using an iPhone tweeted, from her base, the University of Texas, El Paso, United States of America.

The 13-word tweet went thus: “Unknown now, but soon, I will be unforgettable … I will persist until I succeed.” If anyone doubted that prophesy, Amusan, for one day, never did. She worked hard, persevered, and persisted. Finally, she has succeeded and her name will never be forgotten having been etched in gold.
Over the years, Amusan never hid her delight, and resolve to work extra hard to earn global acclaim in line with the moniker, which she goes by on Twitter – @Evaglobal01. Her team, which also believes so much in her, before now, knew that it was only a matter of time before the world record would be accomplished.
Recalling one of such moments when she was made to understand that it was only a matter of time before she became a world champion, she said: “My coach taught me that when I walk into a room full of my rivals, I should 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.” 
The hurdler went into the 2022 World Athletics Championships, which was held from July 15 to 24, 2022, as Diamond League champion, African and Commonwealth champion. And after a string of stellar performances, the 25-year-old record, smashed the world record in the Women’s 100 metres hurdles, to win gold at the 18th edition of the Championships. Consequently, the 100m Women’s Hurdles World Record has become the first ever World Record set by a Nigerian in the history of Athletics.

Amusan first ran a blistering 12:12 seconds to shatter the world record of 12:20 seconds, set by Kendra Harrison of the United States in the semi-finals.

She followed this up with a (+2.5) wind-assisted 12.06s in the final race. The time in the final was, however, discountenanced as it was deemed to be well over the legal +2.0 wind assist allowed in athletics.

Be that as it may, the manner and style in which the Ogun State-born became the World 100 Metres Hurdles Champion, as well as erasing the former world record to create a new one left everyone in awe.
“The goal was to come out and to win this gold,” Amusan said after the feat, adding, “I believe in my abilities but I was not expecting a world record at these 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 in the semi-finals, 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.”
The World Athletics in a tweet confirmed this saying: “We’re all in awe.”
Following in that step, Adidas Running, an arm of fitness and wellness giant Adidas on its verified Twitter handle, @adidasrunning screamed: “New World Record!” 
The outfit added: “First Tobi Amusan obliterated the 100m hurdle world record with a time of 12.12 in the semis. Then she stormed to gold in the final. Oregon – you just witnessed a masterclass.” 

Harrison, whose record was broken by Amusan joined the league of those felicitating the latest champion hurdler when she wrote on her Twitter handle, @Ken_AYE_ “Congrats to @Evaglobal01 records are meant to be broken & you smashed mine. Glad to see the record gets to stay in the Adidas fam.”
After being decorated with her prized diadem on the podium, the Nigerian National Anthem, for the first time, rang out loud from the Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, United States. 
As she sang along, tears of joy welled up in her eyes, and slowly cascaded her cheeks in trickles. But as the wordings of the anthem sunk deeper, especially in the line, which says, “the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain,” the tears came down in torrents. She did not shed tears alone, many Nigerians across the world did so while sharing in her glorious moment.
As the anthem reached a crescendo, one of the male commentators said through the public address system, “Years and years, and years of work for one moment of perfection and history, and that is what it meant for Tobi Amusan.”

With Amusan’s feat, she has gone down in history as the first Nigerian to win a world title, and an unprecedented world record in one day. Beyond the record-breaking feat, Amusan also got $100,000 richer (over N60m) as a bonus from the organisers.

The Road To Stardom
LIKE most athletes of international acclaim, Amusan had small beginnings and this dates back to her inter-house sports days at Our Lady of Apostles Secondary School, Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State.
Born in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State, on April 27, 1997, it did not take long before local authorities noticed her gazelle-like strides and built on her endowments. 
Alongside other local schoolchildren, Amusan had been receiving basic athletics training from coach Ayodele Solaja, a former decathlete at the Dipo Dina Stadium in Ijebu Ode.   
But Solaja’s visit to Amusan’s alma mater during an inter-house competition, (where the girl nicknamed “Shanko” because of her very small frame) was leading bulkier and taller contemporaries convinced him that there was more in her than meet the eye.
Pronto, Solaja approached her parents to let her join Buka Tiger Athletics Club. Solaja, popularly called Buka T, in a recent interview, said besides training the hordes of student-athletes, “I go to their schools whenever they are doing inter-house sports. I noticed them and invited them to the Dipo Dina Stadium in Ijebu Ode. I used to go to about six schools in Ijebu Ode with over 50 athletes that were coming at that time. But when they had an inter-house sport in Tobi’s school when she was in Junior Secondary School (JSS), I went there and noticed her talent. I was already training her, but that was when I saw her individual talent. I noticed her as a potential athlete. I noticed her talent and approached the parents to allow her to come to training.” 

On whether he foresaw Amusan talented enough to break the world record someday, he responded: “At that time, she was so small. Even though she had that talent, she was tiny. We used to call her “Shanko.” But as a coach, I expect the best from my athletes and hope that they can even go further than their talents and strength can carry them. I knew she had the talent to achieve big things in athletics. But world record? No, I was not thinking about that.” 

Amusan also confirmed Solaja’s claim that Amusan’s small frame was seen by many as a disincentive to athletics. 
While recalling challenges she faced during her early days in Nigeria, she admitted being told that she couldn’t become an athlete because of her size. She said in an 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. There were other challenges such as getting the right equipment to train and the lack of encouragement.”

On how relocating abroad contribute to her career growth, she said: “It was a tough time competing in Nigeria. It was hard to train here (Nigeria), not because the personnel are not there, but because the right facilities and motivation are lacking. There are coaches in the country who want you to reach the peak of your career and become a global name, but they don’t have the right things they need to assist you to achieve that goal. But when people change their environment and move abroad, they reach their peak and achieve a lot in a faster time than if they had remained in Nigeria. This is because the things we lack here are present abroad and our athletes know where they are coming from and what they have been through. There is enough motivation for you to succeed and there are lesser things to worry about as you work towards achieving your goal in the sport.”
Before taking things a notch higher, that is while still campaigning for fame locally, laurels began pouring in early when she, at 16, won a silver medal at the 2013 African Youth Championships, which was held in Warri, Delta State. 
In the 100m hurdles event at the 2015 African Junior Athletics Championships in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, she won a gold medal, and another gold as a debutant in the 100m hurdles event at the All African Games. 
Her brilliance on the tracks improved tremendously since arriving at UTEP, in the United States, in 2016. This manifested in her becoming the second athlete in the institution to be named C-USA Female Track Athlete of The Year (that is since UTEP joined C-USA). And this was after she won gold in both 100m and 200m hurdles.

At the World Athletics Championships, which were held in London, in 2017, where she represented Nigeria, her best was a semi-final finish.

As she continued her journey to the zenith, Amusan, at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, brushed aside the 2015 world champion, Danielle Williams to pick up the gold. She went ahead to a bronze medal in the 4x100m relay with teammates Joy Udo-Gabriel, Blessing Okagbare, and Rosemary Chukwuma.
Same year, she won her first African Championships title in her specialist event, and a gold medal in the 4X100m relay in Asaba, Delta State.

Three years ago, Amusan was very disappointed after she finished fourth at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar. But that poor performance appeared to have fired her up as her form has been upswing since that episode.

For instance, after posting a personal best of 12.41 at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Paris, France, in June, she travelled to Eugene for the World Championships, where she hit the bull’s eye.
En route to becoming the world champion, Amusan also won the Diamond League Trophy in Zurich, in 2021 in the 100m hurdles. During the Paris Diamond League, in 2022, Amusan broke a record and became third in the world.

Audacity Of Self-belief
UPON her arrival at UTEP, El Paso, Texas as a freshman, Amusan did not go to bed after making the audacious remarks: “Unknown now, but soon, I will be unforgettable … I will persist until I succeed.” She toiled hard to make that come to pass. 
She again had the audacity to speak into existence, what was not, shortly before fortune smiled at her. Making the disclosure was Jamaica’s Danielle Williams, who finished third in the 100 metres semifinals, in which Amusan, set a new world record. 

Reacting to Amusan’s feat, Williams, a former world champion, who could not make the podium in Oregon, said: “I ran the greatest race of my life and so, if I don’t make the final, I am satisfied because I know I gave the best I had today.
“The race was wicked. Tobi literally spoke it into existence. Just last night, I was watching on Shanice’s Instagram … they have a wall that says ‘only the best of athletes’ and on Shanice’s page I saw a little snippet of what Tobi wrote: ‘Incoming world record holder.’ 
“To see it unfold today is amazing. I am proud of Tobi. Definitely, she can speak things into existence.” Williams added that Amusan’s feat was a reward for hard work and perseverance after so many heartbreaking moments in her career.
“Tobi is one of my closest friends in the circuit. She was frustrated when she finished fourth in Doha, and Olympics in Japan and almost quit the sport. It was terrible for her.
“Her performance today is an inspiration for me because it is not easy to come out strong after all she had gone through. To see her do this now is amazing,” she said.

Victory As Soothing Balm To Distressed Nation 
OF late, the nation has endured torrid times in her sporting, political and socio-economic lives. In the area of security, the political leadership has left no one in doubt that solution is miles away.

It was in this prevailing national gloom that the news of Amusan’s victory wafted across the horizon like a sweet-scenting fragrance, eliciting tears, joy, and happiness in equal measure. 
President Muhammadu Buhari, on whose watch, many say that things have gone wrong in the country, equally admitted that the Amusan’s feat has brought unforgettable memories and tears of joy.

In his congratulatory message to Amusan, signed on his behalf by his spokesperson, Femi Adeshina, Buhari thanked Amusan “for making the Nigerian national anthem resonate again from the international podium, leaving the nation with the excitement and unforgettable memories of tears of joy and triumph; hope and victory; incredulity and belief.”
Buhari remarked that the hurdler’s legendary career and achievements would continue to inspire the upcoming generations of Nigerian athletes to achieve spectacular successes.
Drawing parallels with the shenanigans happening in the country viz-a-viz Amusan’s displayed excellence in faraway Oregon, a Nigerian, Kote Obe-Eleme, who cried alongside the champion hurdler, poured out his heart on his Facebook page in a piece he titled, “Tobi Amusan, Cry My Beloved Country.”
Obe-Eleme, a veteran journalist wrote: “Which ticket did Tobi Amusan take to the World Athletics Championships – Muslim-Muslim, Christian-Muslim, Christian-Christian ticket, or Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Fulani or it’s my turn?

“Like Tobi, the girl born in Ijebu Ode in 1997, who has made Nigerians proud and is bringing home N65 million to support our GNP, I shed a tear for Nigeria and Nigerians. They have abandoned what should lift them and held tight to things that keep them down perennially,” he said.
He questioned: “What are we doing about school sports; about early childhood education; about civic education; about agriculture; about industrialisation; about refining our crude oil? If it’s not me, it is my tribe; my religion; my cult; it’s nothing else.
“Tobi went to school in Ijebu Ode where she discovered her talent. But she was developed by a university in the United States where they didn’t care about her ethnic or religious background,” he added.
He, however, thanked Amusan for the cathartic experience saying: “Tobi, thanks for the tears that dropped from your eyes when Nigeria’s national anthem was playing. There are millions of Nigerians crying with you for a beloved country rendered bankrupt by a wicked political class. We shall overcome.”

Feat Represents Nigerians’ Can-do Spirit
IN their congratulatory messages to the UTEP alum and El Pasoan, many prominent Nigerians insist that Amusan’s feat is reflective of the “can-do spirit” that is present in every Nigeria. 
One of them, the Senior Advisor to the President, (Communication & Stakeholder Engagement), African Development Bank Group, Dr. Victor Oladokun, said the feat reminds us that impossibility does not exist.

Tweeting via @Victor Oladokun, he said: “Women’s 100m hurdles world record holder, Tobi Amusan (@Evaglobal01) is not a flash in the pan. The #Nigerian superstar athlete was the 2018 Commonwealth & 2018 African champion. She is a two-time African Games champion. Won 2021 Diamond League Trophy in Zurich.”

He added: “Your accomplishments, humility, and grace are exemplary. Thank you for galvanising the nation and reminding us once again that the word ‘impossible’ is a figment of the imagination. Congratulations.”
In a similar vein, senator representing Ogun West Senatorial District, Tolu Odebiyi said of Amusan: “Her success speaks volumes of what ordinary Nigerians can achieve if only we are able to provide the necessary environment for them. I wholeheartedly support this motion and encourage my colleagues to also support it.”

Odebiyi was responding to a motion by Senator Ibikunle Amosun, a former governor of Ogun State who on Tuesday, cited orders 41 and 51 to seek the Leave of the Senate to present a motion on the commendation of Amusan, for winning a gold medal in the Women 100m hurdles at the 2022 World Athletic Championships.” 
On his part, Senator Olalekan Mustapha said: “I want to join my other colleagues from Ogun State to congratulate Oluwatobilola (@Evaglobal01) I’m directly happy because Tobi is an ijebu girl and from my senatorial district.” 

Mustapha added: “I want to congratulate her and I want to enjoin my colleagues to help us in commending the girl for representing Nigeria proudly.” 
In its resolution, the Senate resolved to commend Amusan for her spectacular achievement in the track and field event, and also urge the Federal Government to honour her with a national award. 

Build On Amusan’s Success
BEYOND the call for a national honour for the hurdler, the Senate joined other Nigerians in calling on the Federal Government to “increase investment in the sports sector as a way of creating opportunities for our teeming youths and bringing Nigerians into international recognition.”

This sentiment is shared by a past president of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Mr. Dan Ngerem, who said that there is a need to cash in on the opportunity thrown up, just as he cautioned against budgeting money for competition and not for developmental programmes.
While also stressing the need to bridge all obvious gaps that are making room for failure, he added, “that is where I am appealing to the current sports minister to make sure that we build on this success. Let us not make it another Chioma Ajunwa moment, when it will take us so long to have another major event like that. 
“My hope and prayer are that this time around, we pick up these athletes, make sure we monitor them, and ensure that there are programmes for them. Above all, we should stop budgeting money for competition; there has to be money to build them (athletes) to the best they can do so that they can optimise their talents… To bring up a world beater like Ese Brume or Amusan Tobi, time is needed – like four to eight years or even more than that. If you need to have a programme, you need to support that programme; you need to take the welfare of the athletes and there is a disconnect here…” Ngerem said.