Courtney Okolo didn’t have particularly lofty expectations for her indoor campaign other than to set herself up for outdoors, where her heart has always been.
After an injury-plagued ’17 season, her only real goal on the boards was to stay healthy with a longterm aim of sharpening up for a bounce-back summer.
Then came the indoor PR of 51.16 in Albuquerque’s altitude at the USATF Champs that she wasn’t really expecting.
That led coach Tonja Buford-Bailey to say, “Courtney executed the race exactly as planned. We have been race modeling for the last 2 weeks and she put it together perfectly. Her poise shows how bright her future is in this sport.”
Then came the 50.55 gold medal performance in Birmingham, followed up with a 50.18 leg on the American Record 4×4.
Suddenly, Okolo—who turned 24 the next day—is reworking all those expectations. Two gold medals on the world stage will do that.
“In college there was more of a plan because you have the NCAA Indoors,” says Okolo, now in her second full year as a pro and still training in Austin with Buford-Bailey.
“I was surprised I was in this good shape so early. I felt progress faster, I was surprised I was able to PR. I was looking at the bigger picture, but seeing that time indoors, I didn’t know I was going to be this fast.
“That kind of opened my eyes.”
Beyond perfect execution of her races in each round that led to gold—she opened with a 51.54 in the heats and a 51.79 in the semis while comfortably running from the front each time—Okolo didn’t think she was at the point in her training to run that personal indoor best time, much less a personal best by half a second.
“We’re just getting started, there are so many things I have to work on,” she says. “I have to do more blocks, more technique things, just progressing. My goal is to be in full form by summer. I just didn’t think I was ready to go that fast that soon. There is so much still to do with my training.”
She’s looking at this non-championship outdoor season as a bit of a comeback tour after a strained quad set her back in her rookie full-pro year, when she didn’t break 50.
Okolo was healthy by the end of the season, but not in shape to have the kind of year she expected after her golden tenure at Texas that ended with a Bowerman Award in ’16 and indoor/outdoor double golds at the NCAAs in the 400 and 4×4.
That season had climaxed with an Olympic gold for leading off the U.S. 4×4 and she ended up No. 9 in the World Rankings in the 400.
Despite not being 100% physically, she upped that rating to No. 7 last year.
“Last year I was injured, now I want to redeem myself,” she says.
“I ran the 100 at Texas Relays and strained a quad. I was out 6 weeks. Now I’m healthy. That’s the biggest thing; I want to stay healthy after last year. So far it’s gone well.”
Okolo is going to open her outdoor campaign back at the Texas Relays as part of a 4×4 that will mark a season drilled in on the 1-lap race.
“I’ll probably do a couple of 200s, but my focus this year is all on the 400,” she says. “That’s where I’m putting everything.”
As for what kind of time she’s looking for, Okolo is coy, other than a recognition she’s prepared for something special.
Her outdoor best is the still-standing Collegiate Record of 49.71 from 2 years ago and she’s ready to put that in danger.
“I have some goals but I’m going to keep them to myself,” she says. “I think I’m set up for a good year provided I stay healthy.”
It’s already been a good year and it is just getting going.