Amusan: From Ijebu Ode to world champion

Ebenezer Bajela and Peter Akinbo write on the progress of new world champion Tobi Amusan from Ijebu Ode to global prominence

Tobi Amusan broke down in tears as the Nigerian national anthem was played in Oregon, USA Monday morning (Nigerian time).

She was on the podium, not as number three or number two. She was number one.

She had just emerged winner in the 100m hurdles, winning in 12.06secs to become the first Nigerian world champion ever.

She beat favourite Jamaica’s Britany Anderson (12.23secs) to silver, while Olympic champion Jasmine Camacho-Quinn (Puerto Rico), who also finished in 12.23secs claimed bronze, after a photo-finish separated she and Anderson.

But the 25-year-old had already shown the world signs of what to come in the semi-finals when she clocked an extraordinary 12.12secs to smash the former world record of 12.20secs held by Keni Harrison of the United States since 2016.

Amusan became world champion in an even faster time (12.06secs) in the final later in the day at Hayward Field, but it didn’t count toward records due to a hefty tailwind.

Her journey to global reckoning has been quite astonishing.

Though African and Commonwealth champion, breaking several records on the way, she never cut it at the global stage, where it mattered most.

At last year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, she missed out on a podium finish after coming fourth in the final, despite some eye-catching performances in the heats to the final. At the previous Games in Rio, Brazil she ended up in 14th position, after reaching the semi-finals.

At her previous appearances at the World Championships 2017 and 2019, she finished 14th and fourth respectively.

Some even tagged her ‘the nearly woman’ following the near misses. But the athlete never gave up. She believed in herself and her abilities.

On November 7, 2016 she wrote on Twitter, “Unknown now, but soon I will be UNFORGETTABLE…I will persist until I SUCCEED.”

That was six years ago, but it was just a matter of time before she surmounted the 10 hurdles before her to global prominence.

And cometh the hour, cometh the woman early Monday morning (Nigerian time). She glided past the hurdles, leaving her competitors in her stride.

As she predicted, she had succeeded and will forever become unforgettable in the annals of sporting history.

Amusan was thus crowned the queen of the hurdles.

“The goal was to come out and to win this gold,” she said.

“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, Amusan added, “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.”

Her feat sent her fellow countrymen back home into jubilations.

Sola Aiyepeku, the Lagos State Sports Commission boss, tweeted, “Great GREAT Moment in history! CONGRATULATIONS Nigeria’s 1st World Athletics Champion & WR Holder, Tobi Amusan! GOD Bless you!!”

Kate Ogar said, “How I wish my fellow Nigerians irrespective of our fields of endeavour would emulate our dear Tobi by putting Nigeria first in all our dealings. Nigeria will be the best and sweetest place to live in. Love ❤you Tobi God’s your strength.”

“She has done it for us, Tobi Amusan, you have written your name boldly in our history and posterity will be kind to you. Thank you, Nigeria is proud of you!!!,” Enetomhe Stephen tweeted.

Mohammed Aliyu added, “Haven’t felt this way in a while upon hearing the National anthem. Our National makes more sense in the eyes of Victory. May GOD BLESS NIGERIA.Thank you Tobi Amusan.”

Another Twitter user, Awodun Moye, said, “Nigerians couldn’t be happier. Congratulations Champ! You broke a world record and outdid it all in one night. This is indeed amazing. Thank you for flying the Nation’s flag on the international stage. Nigerians are very proud of you.”

Also reacting to the feat, Abeeb Fajobi wrote, “This is the first time I am hearing our national anthem on the world stage.

“Thank you Tobi Amusan, this is a proud moment for all of us courtesy of Tobi Amusan. See tears of joy, I can’t hold mine too.”

Beginning

Born in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State on April 27, 1997, the 5ft1in athlete shone at inter-house sports and inter-schools competitions, while attending Our Lady of Apostles Secondary School, Ijebu-Ode.

And it wasn’t long before she started dominating her event.

Fresh-faced and just out of secondary school at 16, Amusan won a silver medal at the 2013 African Youth Championships in Warri. She also claimed gold in the 100m hurdles at the 2015 African Junior Athletics Championships in Addis Ababa. In 2015, while making her African Games debut as an 18-year-old, she won the gold medal in the 100m hurdles.

In 2016, she moved to the US and as a freshman for The University of Texas at El Paso, Amusan became the university’s second athlete to be named C-USA Female Track Athlete of The Year – since UTEP joined C-USA – after winning gold in both the 100m hurdles and the 200m.

The following year, she represented Nigeria at the World Championships in London, where she managed a semi-final finish.

Rise

She came to prominence outside Africa at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, when she breezed past 2015 world champion Danielle Willians to shockingly claim the gold. She also won a bronze medal in the 4X100m relay with teammates Joy Udo-Gabriel, Blessing Okagbare and Rosemary Chukwuma.

Later in the year, she grabbed her first African Championships title in her specialist event and a gold medal in the 4X100m relay in Asaba.

Setback

It’s not been smooth sailing though for the hurdler.

Last year, Amusan thought she had broken the 100m hurdles African record during the Olympics trials at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, after easily winning her event, but was dazed after discovering that the electronic timer had malfunctioned and failed to display the time at the end of the race.

Her hand timer recorded 12.3secs, and that should have been enough to crash Gloria Alozie’s African record of 12.44secs set in 1998, but she was hard done by.

She quickly overcame the drawback to become the first Nigerian athlete ever to win a World Athletics Diamond League trophy, placing first in the women’s 100m hurdles final in 12.42secs to break Alozie’s 23-year record to become the undisputed Africa’s fastest hurdler in the women’s category.

And from there, there’s been no stopping the Ijebu Ode girl, whose desire to succeed has been her driving force.

Punch

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