Kriss Akabusi on the Olympic medal that changed his life

29 Jul 2015
IOC News

In this exclusive video interview for our Words of Olympians series, Kriss Akabusi explains why he still carries with him the silver medal he won with Great Britain’s 4x400m relay team at Los Angeles 1984.

Born Kezie Uchechukwu Duru Akabusi in London on 28 November 1958, Kriss Akabusi spent most of his childhood in care and foster homes after his parents left him and his brother to return to Nigeria when he was only four.

On joining the British Army at the age of 16, he discovered that he had a talent for running. Specialising in the 400m, he qualified for the Great Britain team for Los Angeles 1984.

Recalling what happened next, he says: “I came out there as the quickest quarter-miler in Britain. I made the Olympic semi-final, as an individual in the 400m. I ran a personal best of 45.56. Athletes always remember their times...”

However, it was in the men’s 4x400m relay that Akabusi made a name for himself, teaming up with Gary Cook, Todd Bennett and Philipp Brown to reach the final, where they took silver behind the USA quartet in a time of 2:59.13.

“It’s one of those foundational moments that turned my perspective as to who I was,” comments Akabusi. “I went there as a soldier and I came away in my mind as an athlete in the Olympic arena.”

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He has carried the silver medal with him every day since then. “I’ve still got the medal on me today,” he says. “It signified a change in the person that I was and it showed me the person I could become.

“Having been born and bred in the United Kingdom to Nigerian parents, having been brought up in the children’s home, having joined the British Army, having identified a natural ability and a talent as an athlete, having made my way into the British team, and to come away with a medal from my first major championships… it told me that if I dreamed vibrant dreams and had a discipline, commitment and dedication and worked with like-minded people, I could achieve my dreams.

“So I’ve carried that medal with me every single day, just to remind myself that if I dream big, have great vibrant dreams and dedicate myself to those dreams, the right people will come along on your journey and make things happen.”

That much cherished medal marked the start of a successful international career for Akabusi, the high point of which came at the 1991 IAAF World Championships in Tokyo, where he ran a storming anchor leg for Team GB in the 4x400m relay, catching and then passing the USA’s Antonio Pettigrew – the newly crowned world 400m champion – and stopping the clock at 2:57.53, to set a new national record.

The larger-than-life Akabusi also left Tokyo with a bronze in the 400m hurdles, an event in which he also won European and Commonwealth Games gold in 1990.

Two more Olympic medals came the British runner’s way at Barcelona 1992. The first was a bronze in the 400m hurdles final, a historic race in which the USA’s Kevin Young set a new and still unbeaten world record of 46.78, and in which both Akabusi and silver medallist Winthrop Graham of Jamaica dipped under 48 seconds.

He then teamed up with Roger Black, David Grindley and John Regis to take third place in the 4x400m relay behind the USA and Cuba.

Made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1992 and awarded an honorary degree by the University of Southampton the same year, Akabusi is now a TV presenter and guest speaker, carrying the silver medal that set him on the road to success wherever he goes.

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