Having the dream of featuring at an Olympic event is a feature of many athletes’ stories. Getting to one is a feat.
Achieving it at 21 is a tremendous achievement for many but Joy Udoh-Gabriel is one of the few who though prepared to give it all she can muster; not making it to Tokyo in August 2021 will not be the end of her story.
It would have been so different because the University of Lagos 300L student of Education & Christian Religious Studies was quite the reluctant athlete. Her journey into the world of athletics is the other side of how many other athletes began theirs.
She told PREMIUM TIMES, “Though I was the fastest girl in my school, I was not inclined to becoming an athlete. They made many calls to me and all were ignored. At the back of my head, I didn’t want to embark on something that would end up with me looking like a man.”
That was 2015, as a student at Christ International College in Ikorodu, a suburb of Lagos.
After ignoring calls to take part in a Top Sprinter competition that was held in different states, a call to Joy’s mum ensured her participation in the Benin-City edition. “In Benin, I competed and won the 100m. Thereafter all the winners in the various states gathered in Lagos and Joy did not win-she came fourth.
“I came to Lagos, and I did not win it. I met people that had undergone serious training. This was the first time I was face to face with the whole athletics thing. I didn’t know I had to train in a specific way-I didn’t know.
“I didn’t feel bad as at then because I didn’t know what the sport was all about. I didn’t know you had to go through procedures to become really good. That was where it all started. In 2016, I joined Making of Champions (MoC) and since then it’s been good news all the way.”
According to the MoC website, “Udoh-Gabriel’s first competition as a MoC athlete was the 2016 National Junior Champs where she won her heat and she also competed at her first National Senior Trials that year. Her impressive form saw her become a beneficiary of MoC’s Student-Athlete Scholarship under the sponsorship of an Oil & Gas Company, ARCO Group. In 2017, she went on to win Silver in the 100m/200m at the AFN/MoC National U-20 Champs later that month.”
She told Premium Times that the beginning of accepting athletics as a career was difficult and the training at MoC was also very difficult. “It was very difficult for me at the beginning-I will not lie,” Joy said.
“I was new to everything. It was a lot. I didn’t know they go through those kinds of things to become really successful. No junk foods [like ice-cream] and all. The training was so difficult because I was new to it. Sometimes when I go home, I tell my mum; I am in pains-my body aches from what I did at the gym and she is like, ‘are you sure that you won’t stop this thing’ and I would say, ‘I can’t stop because I have already gotten myself into it’.”
She continued to progress and in 2018; she made the Nigeria Commonwealth team.
Joy recalled, “Initially, that was not the plan. I was to make the World Junior Championships team, but my coach [Dele Aliu] said we could try it out and see. Anything can happen. And when I went for the trials, I came third.”
With that, Joy was on the plane to Gold Coast, Queensland in Australia.
With just months to the rescheduled 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Joy needs to make the mark of at least 11.15s to qualify for the 100m event. The qualification period will end on June 29, 2021.
You can listen to the very interesting conversation with Joy Udoh-Gabriel.
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