Morolake Akinson is a two time relay 4x100m gold medalist, and last winter, won the U.S. indoor championships. Stuart Weir wrote this piece on Morolake before and after she sustained a season ending achilles injury.
We wish Morolake a speedy recovery. This story, as Stuart notes is a fascinating biography of one of our countries’ finest sprinters.
This article was meant to discuss whether Morolake Akinosun, the reigning US Indoor 60m champion, could retain her title this weekend (16-18 February) in Albuquerque. Sadly she tore her achilles at a meet 3 weeks ago and may not compete at all this season. Nonetheless, Morelake is an interesting athlete and well worthy of a feature in RunBlogRun.
Let’s get the name out of the way first. It is Nigerian from the Uriba tribe and language and means “This is mine to treasure”. She was born in Nigeria but came to the US when she was about three years old. She describes the importance of her Nigerian heritage as “huge” and accepts that stadium announcers will also always stumble over her name: “It happens all the time. I have been getting it my entire life”.
As a collegiate athlete she is a 13 time Big 12 Champion, a two time Big Ten Champion and a 13 time All American. She came fourth in the US trials 100m in 2016. After being NCAA champion in 2014 and 2015, she was only fourth in 2016. Thus she went into the trials with no one expecting much from her but she had a different mindset: “No one was paying much attention to me. But from what I had seen myself do in practice, the faith that I and my coach had, I knew I could do it. So I had a lot of faith in myself, going into the trials”. English Gardner won with Tianna Bartoletta second and Tori Bowie third. Akinosun was fourth in 10.95, enough to make the 2016 Olympic relay team. “The three girls ahead of me ran 10.7s”, she said “and I ran a PR but I was on the team and I was ecstatic to be there. I was in a great place and I was not upset at all. I just appreciated being in the meet”.
The 2016 Rio Olympic women’s sprint relay was a bizarre event. In the semi-final a Brazilian athlete bumped Allyson Felix knocking the baton out of her hand. She picked it up and gave it to English Gardner while a bemused Akinosun watched. She recalls: “After standing there for a while and then thinking, ‘Oh English is not coming round the bend’, I started to walk off the track. Then I looked to my left again and I saw English coming. So I got back in my lane. Of course she wasn’t running full speed and we just finessed the baton”.
USA was disqualified and then re-instated, running a time-trial on their own to secure a place in the final, what Akinosun called: “a glorified practice. It was just us but the entire world was watching”. US was in the final but Akinosun was not – with Tori Bowie being brought in to replace her. Akinosun’s reaction was honest – and gracious: “It was a disappointment but prior to even getting to Rio I knew that was a possibility. Tori ran amazing. She was top three in US and did she get the silver or bronze in the 100 and the other one in the 200 in Rio. So she absolutely deserved to be on that anchor leg. It was disappointing but I was still part of the relay team and got a gold medal as well”.
In the 2017 US trials she was fourth again – and not ecstatic this time – as Tori Bowie finished first followed by Deajah Stevens and Ariana Washington with Akinosun 0.02 seconds behind. “In 2016 I was so happy with fourth place”, she explained, “but in 2017 I hated it. In 2017 when I saw that fourth place and my heart sank. I did not want fourth place. Fourth was not good enough. I went into the race with a lot more confidence. Taking my last four races before the final, I won in Jamaica, I won at Pre, I won the prelim and I won my semi. I was in a great place and I felt like I could run. So I did come out of the race disappointed, fourth place was like it sucked at that moment”.
London 2017 was a good experience, as she recalls: “I thought London was great. The crowd was amazing. I was out there before the prelim, setting my marks and the whole crowd started singing Sweet Carolina and I was laughing and smiling and I was supposed to be focussed for a race. The crowds were amazing how they cheered for everyone – for GB a little louder which is understandable. It was an amazing environment, well run, well put together, well organized. It was great”. And she got to run heats and the final, collecting another relay gold medal – and getting it in the stadium this time.
Akinosun recalls her 2017 US Indoor 60 meters title, which she won in 7.08 from Dezerea Bryant in Albuquerque: “It was a great race for me especially as the race before in the preliminaries wasn’t so great; but the final was amazing for me, a PR by almost a tenth of a second I think. Something like that. It was huge. I had a great start and I finished well. It was great to see everything I had been working towards really coming together in that moment. It was like I may be new on the scene but I can run just like anyone else”.
Despite the win, it is not her favorite distance: “I do but I don’t enjoy the 60 meters distance. I like it being indoors because there is no weather factor – no wind, no rain. Everything is the same. Indoors we all run the same 60 meters in the same conditions”.
She has spent the winter: “out there dying to get a strong base. I usually do my base training with Ashley Spencer and Courtney Okolo. That’s what I have always done preparing for the 4 by 400 even though I don’t run it any more”.
She describes training as “a lot of variation. Some days I’ll do starts and races that are only 10 meters, other days 250 and 300s. Gym work depends on time of year. In the fall I tend to lift more and heavier because I am not competing and it doesn’t matter if you are sore next day. You just have to get through it. When competition starts the time in the weights room comes down and the weights get lighter but we try to keep the speed up. I try to balance my days out. The days I am doing explosive things on the track, I do explosive things in the gym and lift weights. If I have longer runs I try not to go to the weights room because it is counteractive because you are not doing the same things”.
When I asked her about her starts, she helpfully told me: “When it’s good it’s really good but when it isn’t, it isn’t” adding “you can’t do something you know how to too many times. The more you practice it, you start to over-think it. I think my best thing right now is becoming more consistent because I will have some great starts. In the London Diamond League last year I had one of my best starts but if you call that race back and do it again it might not be as great. I would say ‘Yes, I am very capable of being a great starter’ but I need to work on my consistency at being a great starter”.
In training, they break the race down, but, she explained: “I try not to focus on that kind of approach during the race. The 100 meters is so short that if you are thinking too much you will mess yourself up. You think at practice. You think until it becomes natural and you are no longer thinking about what you have to do. You just do it”.
Before the injury she told me about her hopes for 2018: “I love the sport and that is why most of it are doing it. Yes, there’s medals and yes there’s money but 99% of us are in this because we really do love track and field. I want to take 2018 and enjoy the sport. There is no pressure. There is no team to make so there is no pressure to run fast at a particular time. That is why I am going to run some 200s and maybe some 400s and see what I can do and have fun”.
Athletes are always vulnerable and her plans for 2018 have evaporated. The injury is a great shame but she will be back.