TEXAS TECH’S Divine Oduduru has had many special days on the track, and he certainly put himself in position to have another at the late-April Michael Johnson Invitational, but he confessed what happened next he didn’t see coming. That’s actually not a big statement. The sprinter deliberately keeps himself in a state of mind that leads to stunned bliss. “I surprised myself,” he says of one of collegiate sprinting’s greatest days ever, which saw him produce a pair of yearly world leads. “I don’t think something good is going to happen. That way, I’m happy when I do do it.”
What he did in Waco in less than an hour certainly qualifies as “something good.” First, Ejowvokoghene Divine Oduduru became the ninth Nigerian and first Red Raider to break the magic 10-second barrier in the 100 with a 9.94 that made him No. 10 in collegiate history. Then he came back 45 minutes later in his “better” race, the 200, and ran a 19.76, the second-fastest in collegiate history behind Walter Dix’s 19.69 from ’07. The wind reading on each of Oduduru’s races was an almost imperceptible 0.8.
“It was the most impressive thing I’ve seen as a coach,” says Texas Tech coach Wes Kittley, who has been coaching for three and a half decades. “It was special,” echoes event coach Calvin Robertson, who incidentally coached the previous great Nigerian sprinter, Blessing Okagbare, when she was at UTEP.
“It was great, I was very excited,” Oduduru says. “I prepared for this moment, I worked for this. My coaches have always been telling me that I have to get into the moment where I can feel everything.” As for his coaches, they felt the moment was coming. “I didn’t know he was going to go that fast in a double, but I knew he was ready to go sub-10,” Robertson says. “After he ran that sub-10, his confidence shot through the roof. The 200 had been his best race, and after he ran that 9.94, I knew his 200 was going to be pretty good.”
The 200 usually is. Oduduru is the defending national champion both indoors and outdoors in that race, and back in ’14 in Eugene he became the World Junior gold medalist. On the other hand, the junior has never scored in an NCAA 100 and he figures to change that this year. “My goal is to get to Nationals, do something good,” he says. “I’m praying to go I can defend my title in the 200 and get something out of the 100. That would be a great feeling.” (continues below)
Though the Collegiate Record in the 200 is obviously right in front of Oduduru, coach Robinson says that’s not something he’s circling, explaining, “Time is never the goal. The goal is to win the NCAAs. Do that, the times will take care of themselves.”
First up will be recovering, then consolidating those fast times. When a sprinter throws out a marker like Oduduru did, sometimes it does things to the body that can lead to a short-term regression. That, though, may not be the case with Oduduru. “Once you run something like that, the key is to try to maintain it, stay consistent,” Robinson says. “Right now he’s resting up. But he wasn’t even sore. The thing is, he didn’t do something he wasn’t ready to do. Usually when somebody blows out a time like that, they weren’t quite ready. He was ready to put up that performance.”
It was brewing. Though Oduduru had that World U20 title under his belt, he felt his first real brush with greatness came in the Rio 200 when as a 19-year-old he was paired against his idol, Usain Bolt, in the heats. He ended up running with Bolt the whole way, finishing 2nd with a PR 20.34 to Bolt’s 20.28. His mindset changed. “It showed me that I can do anything I want if I focus and work hard,” Oduduru says. “It changed my mentality, it taught me I will get where I am going. I have to make sure I am in the right environment, the right situation, and I can do some good things.”
He felt he kept himself in the right situation when he went to Lubbock. “Being with a great coach has helped me very much,” he says. One area where that’s showed up has been shoring up what used to be the weakest part of his races, something that probably played a role in him not placing in the NCAA 100 last year.
“We’ve worked on his start a lot since he got here, we’d been working that part of the race and it’s made a big difference over the last year and a half,” Robinson says. “He had one of the worst starts, now he has one of the better starts.” That’s starting to add up to something special for a runner who has found himself in the right environment, the right situation ◻︎.