Tobi Amusan’s unforgettable record-setting performance in the women’s 100-meter hurdles at Oregon World Athletics Championship last Sunday has remained the talk-of-town, up till now.
Amusan, 25, however, chose to look beyond at how Godly and positive thinking have helped her stay focused on her journey to the top.
Amusan, who arrived in Birmingham, UK, for the defense of her Commonwealth games gold, over the week, said she looks beyond the odds, more to the bright side of life in her quest for gold.
“Truth is that I’ve had challenges with some people who doubted my abilities and many times falling short of the mark, but I don’t dwell on that. I looked at the positive side of life; the bright side of life.”
Amusan’s semi-final race saw her set a new world record with a time of 12.12 seconds, besting the previous record of 12.20 seconds set by American Kendra Harrison in 2016.
Less than two hours later in the final, with Harrison in the lane beside her, Amusan ran an even better time (12.06), but the high in-race wind speed was higher than the allowable limit. Thus, she claimed the gold medal but the world record stayed at 12.12.
Mere moments after her gold medal-winning race, Amusan looked into the camera while sporting a cross necklace and yelled, “God did that!” Then during her post-race interview, she made sure to credit God time and time again for her historic performance.
“I’m elated. It’s been a journey and I’m thankful to God for keeping me healthy. And I couldn’t be more thankful to have come out of here with the win and the world record. It’s crazy! It’s crazy.
She continued later, “I came out and trusted my hard work and trusted that God is in control.”
Twitter also helped Amusan recall the doubting periods and how she reacted to them.
On November 8, 2016, she tweeted that she was unknown but promised her followers that she would soon become unforgettable.
“Unknown now, but I will be UNFORGETTABLE…I persist until I SUCCEED.”
That message has remained pinned to the top of her social media profile and provides a summary of her rise to glory in Oregon. The Nigerian’s persistence has finally seen her engrave her name into the track and field record books.
“The typical Nigerian approach is to make you feel like you cannot make it,” she said, speaking to BBC.
“I wasn’t expected to medal at those Games. There were so many voices saying I couldn’t but I used that to show that I could – and that title changed my life.
“That’s how I got a scholarship to the United States. I can say that’s really when my athletics career began. I never dreamt of going to the United States. I just wanted to run fast and be one of the Nigerian greats.”
Since moving to attend the University of Texas, El Paso, Amusan has not looked back. She won gold in the 100m hurdles at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, and later the same year took her first African Championships title on home soil in Asaba.
Yet at major global events, she would agonizingly miss out on medals – finishing fourth at the World Championships in Doha three years ago and then again in Tokyo last year.
“2019 was tough because I remember running the fastest time in the qualification rounds, around the same time in the semi-finals and the same time in the final,” she said.
“I ran so fast but wasn’t fast enough to get a medal. I was broken, I was devastated. That was one of the most horrible experiences. “I moved on, and then came the Tokyo Olympics. Things just crumbled a month before when I strained my hamstring at practice.”
She has constant support from her mother, but her father has remained unfazed by her exploits.
“Honesty, he still doesn’t support me doing track,” she said.
“He just feels like there’s more to life than running around. Every time I call him when I’m at a competition he just says ‘Okay, do your best, God will help you and that’s it.”
Amusan became a hurdler by chance.
At 13, she turned up to compete in a local athletics meet, only to find that just one event remained on the program: the hurdles.
Amusan’s coach encouraged her to enter. She ended up winning the race.
Born in the town of Ijebu Ode in the western Nigerian state of Ogun, Amusan gradually made the transition to hurdles as a teenager. She continued competing in sprints and long jumps but managed to squeeze in one hurdles session a week. She put cones and tires on the track to jump over because there were no hurdles in her town.
When she was replaced as a member of Nigeria’s 4x100m relay squad at the trials for the 2014 African Youth Games, she figured she had nothing to lose and entered the hurdles. She won that and went on to earn silver at the African Youth Games in Botswana. Then followed a trip to Ethiopia in 2015, where she won African U20 gold, followed by a breakthrough victory at the All-African Games in Brazzaville, Congo.
“It was one of the biggest milestones of my career; winning that championship set me up for who I am today,” she said.
There was no looking back; she was now a full-time hurdler.
In 2016, Amusan received a scholarship to attend the University of Texas, El Paso, where hard training brought her personal best down from 13.10 to 12.83.
At UTEP, she worked with new coach Lacena Golding-Clarke, a three-time Olympian from Jamaica and the 2002 Commonwealth Games 100m hurdles champion. There were setbacks along the way, of course. At the U20 world championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland in 2016, Amusan struggled with her technique and finished in fifth place. She was so devastated that she thought about quitting the sport.
But she regrouped and, after reaching the semi-finals at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Amusan went unbeaten in the 2017 outdoor US collegiate season and won the NCAA title with a PB of 12.57.
She went into the 2017 World Championships in London as the season’s fourth-fastest hurdler, but cramped up in the cold conditions and failed to make the final.
“After London,” she said, “I learned that the fact that I was in the mix, knowing I was capable of doing stuff at this age – I was just 20 – and being ranked in the top eight makes me confident that when I get my technique right, my speed right, and get a bit stronger, I’ll be fine.”
Amusan turned pro at the end of that year and went on to win gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, at the age of 20. She also triumphed at the African Championships later that year.
In 2019, she finished just 0.02 shy of bronze in Doha. Last year, she came 0.05 from a medal at the delayed Tokyo Games.
“I don’t think there is a track and field event which can teach humility quite like the sprint hurdles,” Amusan said. “You can be the fastest in the field but one mistake can spell the end of your race. A hurdler should never go into any race with any level of complacency or arrogance. It teaches you to be humble.”
The newly-minted world champion and record holder, who also picked up a cheque for $100,000 for her blistering showing in Oregon, will now defend her Commonwealth gold in Birmingham.