How Tobi Amusan moved from nearly quitting athletics and being "depressed for weeks” to being the world’s fastest 100m hurdler ever

After the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in 2021, the Nigerian star found herself pondering deeply about her future. She was on the brink of giving up on the sport. In an exclusive interview with Olympics.com the world 100m hurdles record holder opened up on the difficult moment in her career, reflects back on the race of her lifetime at the 2022 World Championships and why she thinks she can run a sub-12.

By Evelyn Watta. Created on 26 August 2022.
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

World 100m hurdles champion Tobi Amusan has never doubted her sprinting ability.

But after Tokyo 2020 in 2021, she considered quitting athletics, frustrated by her failure to medal, yet again.

“Two Olympics, and three World Championships, every year we put in the work and it’s always a fourth-place finish or semi-finals,” she said. “So, every Championship year I had like trauma- what if I come in fourth place again?”

Finishing fourth in Tokyo, after missing the podium at the 2019 World Championships, left her struggling to overcome the mental side of six years of pushing and believing in herself.

“Last year I almost gave up on track. I came back from the Olympics, and I went straight into depression mode for weeks,” Amusan told Olympics.com in an exclusive interview.

A moment of openness from the Nigerian who stunned the world with two blistering runs at July’s 2022 World Championships. She broke the women’s 100m world record in the semi-finals clocking 12.12 seconds, and two hours later in the final burst out of the blocks for the gold medal in an even faster time of 12.06, although that didn't count as an official record due to their being too much tailwind.

How Amusan’s trial run turned into a passion

Amusan was a chance hurdler. As a young teen, aged 13, she went to a local track and field meeting in her nation’s administrative capital of Abuja. Like most teens she liked to race and wanted to be part of the big waves in the sprints. But when she arrived, most of the sprint events had finished. What remained were some field events and a ‘run and jump’ race.

“The events left was long jump, hurdles and some events that I can't even put my head into. I was like, hurdles, isn't that just run and jump? Let me go!” she recalled. “I think I defeated the fastest girl we had then doing the hurdles. I think she had a PR of 14 flat, and I ran 14.2 to win the event.”

That trial run was enough to get her hooked-on hurdles.

Soon after, her burst of energy earned her silver at the 2013 African youth and the continental junior champs two years later. It was impossible to beat the future prospect at the 2015 African Games, where the speedy 18-year-old won the title. Then still a rising star, she qualified for Rio 2016, where she reached the semi-finals.

Relocating to the U.S. to study in Texas helped her scale up to become Africa’s star hurdler. Proud moments that later weighed differently on her perspective.

Her first ever tweet in November 2016 was a forewarning.

“Unknown now, but soon I will be unforgettable... I will persist until I succeed...”

“I went to the Olympics; I am like, 'I want to be one of the greats,' But I wasn't actually focussed on the world record at that time with a (personal best of )13.0, I was nowhere close. I wrote it… and just pinned it right there. That was like the only tweet for the year.”

Fast forward to two world champs later- a semi-final in 2017 and fourth place in Doha 2019, Amusan was deflated. The surprise gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games was an inspirational moment and an opportunity she sometimes feared would never come.

The race to shake off a 'nearly girl' tag

There were plenty of naysayers too. To many she was Nigeria’s ‘almost girl’.

“I remember someone saying that I'm a giant in Africa, but a wounded lion on the world stage… While some people were like, ‘with this line up, she is going to come fourth oh’!” she bared to Olympics.com.

“I was like, ‘I’m trying my best, you don’t have to nail me to the cross because I came fourth’.”

Tokyo 2020 offered the native of Nigeria’s Southwestern state of Ogun another chance to make it on a major championship rostrum. Boasting of a personal best of 12.48 Amusan dug deep, finishing fourth behind the winner Jasmine Camacho-Quinn of Puerto Rico. 

READ MORE: Jasmine Camacho-Quinn wins 100m hurdles gold - Olympics

Amusan hit herself hard for missing out on a medal, as she reckoned she was in her best form and injury free. It contributed to downward spiral that left her contemplating quitting the sport.

“When the process seems like it is not progressing it is so hard! Last year I almost gave up on track,” Amusan said. “What is the point? I train four years to come fourth place at the Olympics? Why am I still competing? It was so nerve-racking.”

Winning the Diamond League Trophy last September, the first African hurdler to do so, helped her cross that last hurdle of doubt.

“That propelled me into the fall training and I had something to motivate me going into the 2022 season. If I hadn’t won that Diamond League Trophy, you probably wouldn’t have heard about me this year.”

“(Also) focussing on the positive side of life and the sport in general got me from 2021 to this year. Just putting God in the centre of everything and keep doing what I do,” she added, emphasising the role her strong Christian faith plays in her career.

Nigeria's world 100m hurdles champion Tobi Amusan.
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

From Nigeria’s ‘almost girl’ to ‘national treasure’

Early in the 2022 season, an in-form Tobi showed flashes of brilliance after shrugging off a series of injuries. She won the Diamond League race in Paris in an African record of 12.41 and pushed the winner Camacho-Quin to the line in Stockholm a few days later.

Still, only her and Jamaican coach Lacena Golding-Clarke, whom she has worked with since 2016 when she joined University of Texas at El Paso, believed she could upset the form book with a lifetime best performance in Oregon.

“We have this mother-daughter kind of bond… She would always let me know that ‘you got it! You are the best out there’,” she explains of her coach a three-time Olympian and the 2002 Commonwealth Games 100m hurdles gold medallist.

“Even when I was not in shape, my coach would talk some fast times into my head (until) I feel like I am super woman.”

Then on 24 July 2022, nearly 10 years since her first hurdles race, greatness happened. She took the world by storm with two blistering runs.

“Coming up with a win and a world record was superb!”

“I feel like semi-finals is the hardest part of the rounds. When I got to the seventh hurdle, I saw I was in charge. I sort of eased off because I didn’t know how fast I was going…maybe if I did, I would have dipped 11.9…just kidding,” Amusan said, bursting into her usual laughter at the thought.

The race of her lifetime meant lowering Kendra Harrison’s time by eight hundredths, the largest time drop in the women’s hurdles in 42 years. But she wasn't done yet.

Tobi Amusan winning the women's 100m hurdles in Eugene.
Picture by Getty Images

“The final was more of being composed. I have the world record, but you need the world title. I needed a world championship medal under my belt. It’s something we've always missed for years. I tried to stay relaxed, but I wasn’t."

She continued: “But once I got out from the first hurdle, I just knew I needed to run. I was like just go, go, go…and the rest is history!”

It was even faster, but the time didn't count as a world record due to the amount of wind in the stadium.

There were also people who questioned whether the clock was incorrect.

“Why would there be a timing error in just the women’s hurdles? It malfunctions in the prelims, in the semis and the finals?” she posed responding to those doubts about her super-fast times.

“Right now, looking at what I did at the worlds 11 seconds is going to be easy-peasy now…at first 12.20, I said it’s going to take a 12:19 to break the world record. And now 12.12…12.0… I am like yeah…”

Asked what has kept her grounded through the difficult times, she answered. “The doubters. A lot of people said I am too short for hurdles, because my lower body is shorter. A lot of athletes say, ‘I am so tough I don’t let those things get to us, trust me it does get to us!’ If you have to delete social media so that you don’t see how these haters belittle you with their words, do it!”

Nigeria’s new found ‘national treasure’ is now aiming to win her second Diamond League Trophy on September 8 in Zurich and then recover for another Championships year in Budapest. An Olympic gold medal is her top priority at Paris 2024.

“I am going to be in Paris, God willing! Its one of my favourite tracks!”

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