Don’t look down on the soot-encrusted earthenware pot; remember, the white porridge that slakes your hunger comes from its bowels. It is the way of Providence: when it was time for Nigeria to rise for recognition, the whole world rose to salute the Green-White-Green.
It was not only Oluwatobiloba (Tobi) Ayomide Amusan that was shedding tears of joy. There were many lachrymose eyes among TV viewers as the petit perennial also-ran tearfully sang her heart out in sync with the rendition of Nigeria’s national anthem. She had defied the odds. She had broken the world record twice within hours. She had set a new world record in Women’s 100 Metres Hurdles.
Something good could come out of Nigeria after all. And it did.
Permit me to roll out the drums in celebration of Amusan and Nigeria today. Some of my countrymen and women have been so used to the stream of bad news about their country that they refuse to celebrate any interlude of good news. Some even interpreted Amusan’s tears as proof that she regretted being born a Nigerian! Ahh!
There ought to be a limit to self-flagellation. What kind of masochist would derive pleasure from perennial de-marketing of his country while at the same time demanding that he be respected by the rest of the world? If you acknowledge that your country is an irredeemable shithole but refuse to celebrate anything good about the place, how do you want the rest of the world to react?
I am not unaware of the threat of Boko Haram terrorists to kidnap President Buhari and Governor Nasir el Rufa’i. I have also been following the exploits of the terrorists as they inch their way to Abuja and major cities in the country. Social media forces you to know that these are perilous times in Nigeria. But I insist that we have a right to embrace our good fortune whenever we have something worth celebrating.
Just when the world thought there wasn’t much else to Nigeria but terrorism, scams, drug peddling and corruption, bang came the surprise!
Amusan’s story is a tribute to dogged determination born out of an uncommon conviction that a crown of glory was her destined prize at the end of it all. At just one inch above five feet and weighing only 57 kilograms, Tobi has never physically stood out all her life. She has always had to make her performance speak for her, right from her days at Our Lady of Apostles Secondary School, Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, Nigeria.
In those days, she had to sneak out to attend training sessions because her father wanted her to concentrate on schooling and forgo athletics. Her mum often covered her tracks. However, when her father found out that his daughter had been attending training sessions under the guise of going for choir practice, he gathered her training kits and burnt them. He wanted his daughter to focus on achieving her dream of a good university education with a degree in Medicine or one of the sciences.
As a teacher, he reasoned that the future belonged to only those with the requisite educational attainments, not to sportsmen and women. However, when neighbours and family members who had been monitoring young Tobi prevailed on her father, he accepted that she could continue with sports on the condition that she combined it with academics. Her mother, also a schoolteacher who had been an athlete in her school days, was her pillar of support.
Actually, Tobi Amusan had started out as a footballer. She just loved running around! One day, she was introduced to an athletics coach who fielded her against some experienced local athletes and she beat them all. There was no stopping her from that point onwards. From success at local competitions, she graduated to the national scene where she won a silver medal at the 2013 African Youth Championships in Warri.
Having made two unsuccessful attempts to gain admission to top universities through JAMB, she took her parents’ advice and enrolled in Tai Solarin University to study Human Kinetics. Then, fate intervened as she succeeded in gaining a scholarship to study at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Amusan’s mental strength has stood her in good stead over the years. Her parents confirm that she had always been a strong-willed and focussed child. If she wanted something badly, she would go for it, no matter what sacrifice she needed to make. Her strong will made her envision the day she would sprint her way into immortality by becoming Nigeria’s first world record holder in athletics.
A quick check at her old tweets reveal a thread of self-assuredness. On November 8, 2016, at (7am Texas time), she tweeted: “Unknown now, but I will be UNFORGETTABLE … I will Persist until I SUCCEED ….” What could she have been thinking about?
The following year, in response to a question from a journalist, she served notice of what was to come: “At this moment, Kendra [Harrison] owns the record and I don’t have any but she doesn’t have two heads. It will be good for me to run a personal record or break the world record if she is not careful” And then she added, “just kidding…”
Two years ago, she gave the world an insight into what makes her strut like a giant, no matter the odds: “My coach taught me that when I walk into a room full of my rivals to look like I own the damn world record. She always reminds me that I’ve practiced hard to trust myself and translate that aggressiveness onto the track.”
On July 25, 2022, at the Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, Amusan became the world champion in women’s 100 metres hurdles, beating the former record held by Jasmine Camacho-Quinn. But for a tailwind of 2.5 m/s in the finals, we would have been celebrating the first time one athlete created two new world records in the same event within two hours!
Amusan’s coach at the University of Texas El Paso, is Lacena Golding-Clarke, a three-time Olympian from Jamaica, and the 2002 Commonwealth Games 100 m hurdles champion. She helped Amusan focus on training hard and lowering her personal best from 13:10 to 12:83. Those were the humble steps the new world champion had to climb in order to attain the current global reckoning. Since then, she has fallen, risen, fallen again and finally risen to the pinnacle of global glory. No one can honestly begrudge her perch at the top of world athletics. She has paid her dues.
Kendra Harrison, the former world record holder in Women’s 100 m Hurdles, congratulated Amusan for her 12.12 seconds record which beat Harrison’s 2016 world record by 0.08 seconds. Tobi won the gold medal after running a wind-assisted 12.06 seconds in the final to win the race.
“Congrats to Evaglobal1 [Oluwatobiloba Amusan], records are meant to be broken and you smashed mine. Glad to see the record gets to stay in the Adidas fam.” Both Harrison and Amusan are kitted by Adidas.
Usain Bolt, the only sprinter to win Olympic 100 m and 200 m titles at three consecutive Olympics (2008, 2012, and 2016) and two 4 × 100 relay gold medals, celebrated the Nigerian world champion on Twitter: “Superb Tobi.” He needn’t say more.
But the British Broadcasting Corporation trio of Andrew Cotter, Michael Johnson, and Steve Cram made futile attempts to cast doubts on the timing of Amusan’s world record-breaking performance. Andrew Cotter said, “She has smashed the world record; she has really won 12.12 seconds, taken almost a tenth of a second.” Michael Johnson added, “You don’t beat Kendra Harrison by such a margin.” Cotter continued, “We are trying to process this, but 12.12 seconds?”
Compare that to how the BBC crew reacted when America’s Sydney McLaughlin broke the women’s 400 m hurdles world record in 50.68 seconds. As she approached the finishing line, Andrew Cotter screamed, “Watch the clock!” And after she won he shrieked, “She smashes the world record! Incredible, 50.68 seconds!”
When it comes to sportscasting or any kind of ‘casting’ for that matter, casting aspersions on the achievements of Africans is the favourite sport of some commentators in the BBCs of this world, no matter their skin colour. But we don’t need their validation. The same clock they queried in respect of Amusan’s timing was the same clock that timed her co-competitors. Sorry! Anyone miffed by this 25-year-old lady’s leap into immortality doesn’t need our permission to jump into the Thames.
Oluwatobiloba Ayomide Amusan is the symbolic white porridge of limitless possibilities produced by the sooty pot of an under-achieving African nation. Nobody should grudge us this momentary basking in the sun!
Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021)