IF HE DIDN’T CATCH YOUR ATTENTION when he won a sprint double with HSR times (6.57/20.48) at the New Balance Indoor Nationals, maybe Issam Asinga has it now. The senior at Florida’s Montverde Academy has continued on fire since action moved outdoors.
First came a 10.06w/20.57 double at the Florida State Relays. Six days later, he won at the Florida Relays in 10.10 (wind 1.0). Then he moved up to race against pros and collegians at the Hurricane Alumni Invitational, placing 2nd in the 100 with his 10.15 and coming back with a big 200 win in 20.11.
That furlong mark makes him No. 2 all-time behind the 20.09 HSR of one Noah Lyles. At 100, his 10.10 has him at No. 5. And the season, as they say, is quite young.
After we published this story Asinga dashed to the fastest all-conditions 100 in prep history — ahead of Lyles!
That Asinga would make a splash in the sport is perhaps not a surprise if his last name rings a bell in your noggin. His father, Tommy, was runner-up in the ’92 NCAA 800 for Eastern Michigan. A 1:46.74 performer, he competed in the ’88, ’92 and ’96 Olympics for Suriname. His mother, Ngozi Mwanamwambwa, twice sprinted in the Games for Zambia, and won the ’92 NCAA Div. III 200 for Principia.
The younger Asinga says he’s always been more inclined to the shorter races: “I think as a kid you always want to pick the shortest stuff. The 100 and 200. The events are fast; everybody wants to come and watch those. I wanted that. I kind of manifested that for myself and I was like, ‘I’m gonna do this sprint.’ You know? I feel it. It’s fun for me and I was able to make it work for myself.”
He started in age group track for the Jackrabbit Club when the family lived in Atlanta. Then when he was in second grade, the family moved to Zambia for about four years: “I was just playing soccer; I was doing all types of different sports there, but track wasn’t really that big over in Zambia.”
In ’17, the family moved back to the U.S. to live in the St. Louis area. “That’s when I started to get back into track a little bit,” he says. “Nothing too crazy… I’m not gonna lie, I was just running it because it was a sports credit in the spring.”
He missed the ’20 COVID year, then, he recounts, “Sophomore year is when things picked up.” He was competing for Principia High in St. Louis, and he shocked many with his Class 2 State Meet performance.
Coming in with PRs of 11.18, 22.98 and 50.52, he won all three events that day in 10.63, 21.64, and 48.17. “That’s when I knew, ‘Oh shoot, this is something I can do for real. And the rest is history now.”
As a junior, he defended his State titles in the 100 and 200, then produced his fastest clockings at the Great Southwest Classic in Albuquerque, winning a double in 10.44/20.76.
That’s also about the time that he started wondering what school would be the best fit for his senior year. He indicates he liked the academic side at Principia, but adds, “It wasn’t really set up for sports. I respected them a lot, my coaches, but it’s a smaller school and they required kids to do sports there. So I’d be on the track team and I’d have a bunch of people who were kind of forced to be there, and kids who weren’t passionate about the sport. I felt like that negatively impacted me. I wasn’t in an environment that was pushing me to be great.
“My coach was helping me, but at the same time, he couldn’t just focus on me. He had a bunch of kids to take care of and hope that they would be able to do good things too.”
Asinga’s eyes turned toward Montverde, a private college-prep school near Orlando. He explains, “I wanted to be in a position where I could have people who are like-minded and at the same level as me pushing me to be better, and a coach that has a shared vision.
“This is the perfect place for me. I have Micah [Larry], Zyaire [Nuriddin], Adaejah [Hodge], all those great names [all prominent on the national prep lists]. I get to line up with them every day. It’s cool to be able to see someone and say, ‘Oh shoot, that’s a 45.7 400 runner, that’s a 10.2 sprinter, that’s almost a 26-foot long jumper.
“It’s a great environment that instills greatness. Whether you want to or not, being surrounded by great people will make you better.”
At Montverde, Asinga is coached by Gerald Phiri, a 10.03 sprinter from Zambia who was 5th in the World Indoor 60 in ’14: “I have a lot of trust in him. It’s also awesome that he’s also from Zambia. So we share that. And he’s experienced it all. He was a professional athlete. We also have another coach here named Keston Bledman, who was a [’08] gold medalist in the 4×1 for Trinidad. So it’s like: greatness within our coaches, greatness within our athletes and greatness across the school.”
The formula seems to be paying off for the Texas A&M signee. Of the meet at Miami, he says, “Obviously it was a lot more pressure, it being my first race going against not high schoolers. It was a different mental preparation. Overall, it went smoothly, but I feel like I could’ve done a little better in the 100, so I go back and watch the video, and I can see I did not react as well as I wanted to out of the blocks, and I kind of got left.” His 10.15 left him well back of the 10.04 winner.
“I used that mistake to my advantage in the next race and I just got out. I knew I was going to run fast, but I didn’t know it wasgoing to be that fast this early, you know? I came off the curve, I was like, ‘I gotta keep going.’ Coach is yelling, ‘Elbows! Elbows!’ And I’m like, definitely a PR, maybe 20.3, 20.4. And when I saw 20.11, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to the World Champs.’
“It was an awesome and satisfying moment for sure. I’m being compared with all these other great names, but at this time of season, no one’s really done what’s going on right now.”
What’s next? “With each meet, each performance, the expectation gets higher and higher and the times get lower and lower. Now that I’ve hit that, we can celebrate it, but at the end of the day, it’s all about progression. So now we can set our eyes on sub-20. It’s obviously important to have big goals, but you don’t want to be time-chasing always.
“Me and my coach, we take it week by week. Depending on what I do, we can keep pushing the limits and getting better, keep setting new goals that are realistic and that we can achieve, so we can feel like we’re comfortable, but also feel like we’re pushing for something.”
And speaking of the World Championships, the question comes up, what team? “I have three citizenships,” he points out. “I have USA, Zambia and Suriname. I’m still going through the process of which country to represent, but I’m blessed to say I have three amazing options. Right now, it’s looking like it could be Suriname. I want to continue my dad’s legacy.”
His parting thought: “Stay tuned. We’re going for it all this year and we’re only in April. Expect big things.”