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Black Stars of the track back to life

Ghana's golden talent ready to roll again at World Athletics Champs

Rose Amoanimaa Yeboah, 17, won Gold at the 2019 All Africa Games

Rose Amoanimaa Yeboah climbed up the podium. Eyes up, looking to the skies with a sort of bewilderment and disbelief for what she had achieved. Ghana’s high jumper, aged 17, had just won gold at the Africa Games for finishing a height of 1.84m.

Soon, the Ghana national anthem began ringing through the bells of live trumpets and through the well connected sound system at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat. Finally, after a modest soupcon of success at the Games, it was Ghana’s moment.

Fifteen hours later, the men’s relay team were in the dressing rooms 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. I was nervous. We knew the Nigerians were better on paper but believed we had a special crop to beat them this time.” The youngest sprinter in the relay team, Benjamin Azamati mentioned in an interview.

PRESEC’S FINEST

Azamati is currently the fastest man in the country. His rise to join the team was phenomenal. He began at the Presbytarian 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 teams. He knew it was a path to greatness but, like former British/World champion, Linford Christie, he did not see running as something to take very seriously. In the 2017/2018 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 the World University Games where he hit a personal best of 10.32. He matched this feat at the just-ended Africa games in Morocco. The boy who grew up in the agricultural hub of Akim Oda had become a man.

[From Left to Right] Martin Owusu-Antwi, Sean Safo-Antwi, Joseph Paul Amoah and Benjamin Azamati
So when Sean Safo Antwi handed over the baton to him, he knew the hopes of many Ghanaians were in safe hands. Azamati’s run on the back straight was brilliant. For a young athlete who still has a lot to learn in the sport, he gave Nigeria’s Divine Ududuro – who has risen to become one of the fastest on the continent and hitting a time under 10 seconds this year at the National Collegiate Athletics 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 possible way 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 that 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 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 then on 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 is where the story lies. In the brief interlude, nuances are analysed, destinies are subtly moulded and body language takes on a personal significance. It is 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 Africa 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 he ran in the 4x100m at the African Games. Antwi has since relocated to the States where his upward climb in the sport has enjoyed a further boost.

SLICKIEST OF HANDOVERS.

Owusu Antwi’s baton handover to Joseph Paul Amoah was smooth. Having ran together at the University level in Ghana, they knew nothing less was expected of them.

Amoah ran the homestretch 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.

Ghana’s 4X100m Men’s team at the 2003 All Africa Games

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

“Usain Bolt inspires me, he is my icon,” Amoah in an interview at the African Games.

“But I want to definitely do stuff more than what he did,” Joseph Paul said in an interview at the Africa Games.

“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 boy says he 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 on Friday, 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 who is eager to impress, in Martin Owusu Antwi, we have 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 spines of many who have hogged the stage over that past two decades.

By Yaw Ofosu Larbi|3news.com|Ghana

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