Foot surgery slowed Noah Akwu enough that the Middle Tennessee State sprinter just missed his second straight strip to the NCAA Championships.
His dream of racing on an international stage, however, wasn’t put on hold.
As the London Olympics begin on Friday, Akwu joins former Blue Raiders teammate Stanley Gbagbeke on the Nigerian national team. Akwu, a rising senior, was one of two Nigerians to qualify for the 200-meter dash, recording a time of 20.54.
“He made it by one one-hundredth,” MTSU coach Dean Hayes said. “He was right on that edge but he got in and that’s what counts.”
Akwu was the Sun Belt Conference Trackman of the Year in 2011, when he placed sixth in the 200-meter dash and became MTSU’s 85th All-American. He underwent foot surgery in the offseason and slowly recovered during the 2012 campaign. Even so, he still won the Sun Belt championship in the 200 for the second straight season.
“He gets after it,” Hayes said. “He likes to win and he’ll give a good effort all the time. That’s just what you want in a person.”
Gbagbeke, a 2010 grad, will compete in the long jump. As a senior at MTSU, he won the long jump at conference meet and Penn Relays before finishing second at the NCAA Championships for the second straight year.
“He is very competitive in big meets,” Hayes said. “He loved the NCAA [Championships]. I guess that’s why he got second twice. In something like the Olympics, hopefully he’ll get a big jump in. It’s always fun and always makes you proud being able to represent your country. It gives you a different outlook on your country.”
The Nigerian duo mark the 16th and 17th Olympians in MTSU track and field history. They’re the first since the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. when current MTSU part-time assistant coach Andrew Owusu competed for Ghana. Owusu, a three-time Olympian is an assistant coach for Ghana this year.
The University of Tennessee will also be well represented as 14 current or former Vols partake in the Olympic Games.
Former women’s basketball standouts Tamika Catchings and Candace Parker hope to lead the U.S. to a fifth straight gold medal. Gold medalist sprinter Justin Gatlin, who served a four-year ban for doping, headlines five UT products who are competing in track and field events. Also making the trip are American sprinters Tianna Madison, Aries Merritt and Dee Dee Trotter.
Decathlete Jangy Addy represents Liberia and sophomore sprinter Jamol James of Trinidad and Tobago is the only current UT athlete at the Olympics.
Marie Eve-Nault and Rhian Wilkinson represent Canada on the women’s soccer team while Hannah Wilkinson will take the pitch for New Zealand. In the pool will be swimmers Octavio Alesi (Venezuela) and Barry Murphy (Ireland). In addition, Hassaan Stamps will serve as a track coach for Saudi Arabia.