BLACK STARS OF THE TRACK ARE BACK TO LIFE Featured

By YAW OFOSU LARBI September 26, 2019 2535 37 comments

The Ghana men’s 4x100m team showed that our golden talent is ready to roll again at the World Athletics Championships in Qatar.

Bolt’s are big shoes but the former Prempeh College boy is ready to fill them.

Rose Amoanimaa Yeboah climbed up to the podium, eyes up, looking to the skies in a sort of bewilderment and disbelief at what she had achieved. Ghana’s high jumper, aged 17, had just won gold at the African Games, finishing with a height of 1.84 metres. Soon, the Ghana national anthem began ringing through the bells of live trumpets and the well-connected sound system at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat.

Finally, after a modest soupçon of success at the Games, it was Ghana’s moment.

Fifteen hours later the men’s relay team were in the dressing room holding each other’s hands, praying and pepping themselves up with the belief that they could do it.

“The first few minutes before the race were tough for me,” said Benjamin Azamati, the youngest sprinter in the relay team, in an interview afterwards. “I was nervous.
“We knew the Nigerians were better on paper but believed we had a special crop to beat them this time.”

Presec’s finest

Azamati is currently the fastest man in Ghana. His rise to join the national team was phenomenal.

He began at the Presbyterian Boys’ Senior High School in Accra, where he smashed records and remained consistently unbeaten until he left the walls of the famed school.

At university, Azamati joined the athletics team. He knew it was a path to greatness but, like the former British/world champion Linford Christie, he did not see running as something to take very seriously. In the 2017/18 season of the Ghana Universities Sports Association games, however, he won the 100m sprint and everything changed for him.

In no time, Azamati was out of the country taking part in the West Africa University Games and then the World University Games, where he hit a personal best of 10.32.

He matched this feat at the just-ended African Games in Morocco.

The boy who grew up in the agricultural hub of Akim Oda had become a man. So when Sean Safo-Antwi handed over the baton to him in the 4x100m, he knew the hopes of many Ghanaians were in safe hands.

The 4x100m team that won Ghana’s last gold at the 2003 African Games

Azamati’s run on the back strait was brilliant. For a young athlete who still had a lot to learn in the sport, he gave Nigeria’s Divine Oduduru – who has risen to become one of the fastest sprinters on the continent and was hitting times under 10 seconds this year at the National Collegiate Athletic Association championships ‒ a run he might not forget.

Safo-Antwi looked on as Azamati took off at his usual stride and kept going. To him, he had started the best way possible for Ghana and the onus now lay on the rest to do their bit. But at the back of his mind was his first Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, which ended in ignominy when he ran a miserable 10.45.

Sean Safo-Antwi is not the archetypal Ghanaian athlete. He did not run to the nearest vegetable stall to get stuff for his mother to make the evening meal, or run a long distance home from school. Nor did he have to do sprints at the bus station because the next bus wouldn’t be there for another hour.

He grew up in London as a bright boy who just wanted to run. The progression from there to opting to run for Ghana to finishing fifth in the men’s 100m to picking up gold in the relay tells a story of a determined man.

Calm amid the storm

The moments before a race are where the story lies. In that brief interlude, nuances are analysed, destinies are subtly moulded and body language takes on a particular significance. It was Safo-Antwi’s job, therefore, as the most experienced member of the team, to calm his mates’ nerves, and he did that to perfection.

Azamati handed over the baton to Martin Owusu-Antwi, who ran the curve. Like many of his peers when he was a student at Opoku Ware School, Owusu-Antwi wanted to play basketball. In fact, he was one of the school’s biggest basketball talents before he made the switch to athletics.

He had a stellar season in 2016, where he delivered a time of 20.75 in the 200m race (a personal best) at the Soga-Nana Memorial athletics meet in Cape Coast.

He was at the African University Games a year later, representing the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, and was a member of the team that won the relay gold. Also in that team was Joseph Paul Amoah, with whom Owusu-Antwi ran in the 4x100m at the African Games.

Owusu-Antwi has since relocated to the United States, where his upward climb in athletics has enjoyed a further boost.

Slickest of handovers

Owusu-Antwi’s baton handover to Amoah was smooth. Having run together at university level in Ghana, they knew nothing less was expected of them.

Amoah ran the home stretch like a mad dog, tearing the other teams on the track apart and spreading his arms wide at the end of it all in a gesture which said he had arrived.

With a time of 38.08, it was the first time in 16 years that Ghana had won a relay gold. Christian Nsiah, Eric Nkansah, Leo Miles-Myles and Gad Boakye had been the last group to do it.

Amoah had been in the 100m final earlier and failed to pick up a medal after finishing fourth, but his impressive run in the relay has unleashed a new buzz and got many people talking.

“I am the new sensation,” he boasted to journalists after one early race in Ghana. Fast-forward to 2019 and those words seem to be resonating with many fans of track and field. Amoah ran a time of 10.01 seconds in the 100m – arguably Ghana’s best time in the past ten years.

In addition to this, he has the 200m national record to his name, with a time of 20.08.

“Usain Bolt inspires me, he is my icon,” said Amoah in an interview at the African Games. “But I want to definitely do stuff more than what he did.
“I want to go out there and do better things than he did. Everyone knows how great he is to the sport but I think I have the potential to do more than what he did.”

Those are lofty aspirations many Ghanaian athletes wouldn’t dare dream of. Bolt’s are big shoes but the former Prempeh College boy is ready to fill them.

The next challenge has come quickly: he will be Ghana’s only individual athlete at the IAAF World Championships in Qatar, which open tomorrow, September 27.

“He has it in him,” says Erasmus Kwao, an experienced administrator with the Ghana Athletics Association. “He is young and can go very far. 
“The record for 100m he wants to smash is 9.58 and he has done 10.01. I think he has to take it step by step but I know he can do it.”

No bounds

Ghana ranks 13th in the relay race ahead of the World Championships, and is the best on the continent.

In Sean Safo-Antwi we have a leader, in Benjamin Azamati we have a young chap eager to impress, in Martin Owusu-Antwi we have a man whose determination knows no bounds and in Joseph Paul Amoah we have a star who wants the grandest stage on which to shine.

It will be fascinating to see how the building blocks come together for the country in the coming days.

Ghana, a sleeping giant in sprint, is waking up again. That should send shivers down the spine of many who have hogged the stage over the past two decades.


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