Agnes Abu during the 800m final
Eight of the eleven Ghanaian athletes who started University in the US barely 8 weeks ago participated in the US Junior College National Championships in New York this past weekend.
Six of these young athletes who formed the nucleus of Ghana’s World Junior Championships team won seven gold medals and national titles, five silver medals, and one bronze medal at the prestigious JUCO Championships that ended on Saturday, 8th March.
Elizabeth Dadzie and Lydia Mato crowned it all by winning the Best Overall Field athlete and Best Overall Track Athlete awards, respectively. Sprint queen Janet Amponsah also put down a national indoor record of 23.81s, enroute to her blowout victory.
But, it all started on the first of the day of the two-day competition when long jump sensation Elizabeth Dadzie stunned US college athletics observers with a dramatic win in the Women's Pentathlon, despite sub-par performances in the first 2 of the 5 events.
After an average performance of 10.53m in the shot put (3rd event), she roared to the lead with a massive long jump (4th event) of 6.23m; a lifetime best for her, and the furthest distance by a Ghanaian since 2011. She capped off the pentathlon with a 2:30.68 800m run.
Hours after her splendid performance, Dadzie returned to the field to pick up silver in the individual long jump event. She missed the title by 2 centimeters (three-quarters of an inch). Despite a bruising first day, Dadzie came back on Saturday to also pick up a silver medal in the triple jump, where she was leading until the very last jump of the competition.
Meanwhile, Lydia Mato blitzed a quality field that included two Kenyans and an Ethiopian to win gold in the women’s 3000m and 5000m races respectively in the first day of the competition.
Mato secured her third individual award on the second day, after winning the women’s one mile event leaving seasoned US collegiate coaches to wonder whether what they were witnessing was for real; that is, the emergence of quality middle and long distance runners from Ghana with the potential for long term success in the US collegiate system and beyond. The latter wonderings were answered a few minutes later.
Agnes Abu won the women’s 800m, a tactically difficult race with competitors constantly jostling for leverage on the tight 200m indoor track. Abu again came back after a few hours to also claim the victory in the rarely run 1000 meters by one-hundredth of a second; classic photo finish.
Not be out done, Ghana’s sprint sensation Janet Amponsah put the exclamation point on the dominance of Ghanaian athletes.
Despite just having learned how to run on the tight and angled (banked) 200m indoor tracks, Amponsah gold in the women’s 200m race in a new national indoor record of 23.81secs after, having secured a silver medal in the 60m final, where she ran the same time as the winner, but lost out on the photo-finish. She claimed a third medal as part of the 4x400m silver medal team.
Amponsah’s time of 23.81 secs broke Monica Twum’s 13-year old record set as a student at Texas Christian University.
The competition also saw several strong performances from other Ghanaian athletes: Adelaide Nkrumah won a bronze medal in the women’s 600m race, while Daniel Gyasi picked up a silver medal as part of the men’s 4x400m team, after placing 8th in the flat 400m race.
Samson Azumah Laari just missed out on the medals when he came in fourth in the men’s 800m; he also placed 7th in the men’s 1000m run. New find, Stephanie Aidoo, was 6th in the 400m, and came back minutes later with a 200m double in which she placed 9th.
It must be noted that last year, at the outdoor JUCO Championship, John Ampomah won the title in the javelin, while Atsu Nyamadi won bronze in the men’s multi-event.
It will be recalled that the Ghana Athletics Association through its Education Trust Fund, facilitated and helped secure academic scholarships for these athletes in USA this past January.
The Ghana Athletics Association’s (GAA) Education Trust Fund was set up last year to help under-privileged and talented athletes achieve both academic and sports excellence.
For its part, GAA is asking Ghanaians to be patient as it continues to execute is long-term plan to return Ghana to global athletics competitiveness.
“The slow process of true development is typically not sexy but we are glad to share with Ghanaians these impressive interim results” says GAA president Prof. Dodoo. “It is still early days, and this is just a small step in the rebuilding process, but we are definitely most thankful to God for the early returns on this long journey.”
“We are also fortunate that the idea of our Educational Trust Fund has had the support of numerous individuals and companies, including the Maria Tsakos Foundation, Sea and Shore Company Ltd., Star Assurance, Tropical Cables and Conductors Ltd., Type Company Ltd., Ghana Commercial Bank, and UT Financial Services. Individuals who have been strongly behind us in this venture include Mr. K. D. Asante, Mrs J. Asante, Mr. T. Tsikata, Madam D. Eleazer, Mrs A. Ofori-Atta, Mrs. E. Tackie, among others. We are thankful for their keen interest in the educational lives of our athletes, as this is what secures their post-competition futures. The support has been overwhelming, including from anonymous donors.”
Dodoo also reiterated that what happened in New York was not by chance but the result of at least four years of hard work by dedicated individuals in Ghana and overseas.
This includes secondary school heads and sports officials who nurtured these athletes out of obscurity; Ghanaian coaches and officials who handled them at the junior national level; GAA Academic Trust Fund sponsors; Maria Tsakos Foundation and, support staff in the US.
He was effusive about the effort of his colleagues on the Association who have been passionate about creating these opportunities for the athletes.
“Our senior athletes have complained loudly about how the money available from government is not sufficient to motivate them; hopefully, the opportunity to improve their educational lives at the next level will help to motivate this next generation of athletes, because there is no bigger investment in the futures than that,” he said.
Prof. Dodoo concluded his comments by reiterating that, given a chance and the right environment our athletes will respond positively.
“We will continue to create these opportunities for our athletes to better themselves, because in so doing, we give them a level of training that at this moment of rebuilding we are unable to offer them here. Ghana will be the beneficiary of both their athletic and academic success.”