Tuesday, July 31, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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If not for basketball, Clark High grad and Nigerian track star Uhunoma Osazuwa might never have made it to the 2012 London Olympics.
As a freshman entering Clark from Hyde Park, Osazuwa wasn’t sure whether she wanted to continue playing basketball, but a friend encouraged her to try out. Osazuwa made the team.
“At the end of the season, most of my teammates were going out for the track team, so I decided to myself since I had always wanted to run,” Osazuwa said in an email interview.
That was the beginning. London isn’t necessarily the finish line, but it’s hard to top your first Olympic Games, especially when you weren’t expecting to be there.
Osazuwa ended up competing in basketball, track and field, and volleyball at Clark before graduating in 2006. She was looking for a college on the East Coast, and although many fit her guidelines for size and academic standing, only one — Syracuse — paired that with the athletic opportunity she was looking for.
“Coach (Enoch) Borozinski was the only coach I was talking to who had wanted me to try the heptathlon, which is exactly what I had in mind, as well,” Osazuwa said.
The heptathlon, which starts on Friday at 2 a.m. Las Vegas time, is a collection of seven events that results in the best judge of a woman’s overall athletic ability — men compete in the decathlon (10) — that you’ll find at these Olympics. It’s scored on a weighted scale based on results in each of the events.
While most competitors work for years to become great at one sport or event, a heptathlete has to spend that time becoming really good, if not great, in a variety of events that require different sets of skills.
There’s the 100-meter hurdles, long jump, high jump, shot put, 200, 800 and javelin throw. Speed and athleticism are valued in each event, but the races require different techniques. Shot put adds a strength component that is not usually expected of someone who also competes in the high jump.
The heptathlon first interested Osazuwa at Clark when she couldn’t decide in which event she most wanted to compete.
“I was indecisive as to what I really wanted to be my specialty and found out that by doing the heptathlon, I could do high jump, long jump and the 200, which were my favorite events at the time,” she said.
Borozinski, then an assistant coach at Syracuse, saw Osazuwa’s potential and won her over by encouraging her to continue in the heptathlon. Borozinski won a national championship in the decathlon at UNR and left Syracuse in 2010 to become an assistant at UNLV. When they were both at Syracuse, Borozinski was the first person to ever tell Osazuwa that she had the potential to compete in the Olympics. But it wasn’t until she went to Michigan in 2010 that the idea started to feel real.
Osazuwa went to Ann Arbor, Mich., for pharmacy school, but there was a lingering feeling that she had unfinished business on the track. So she dedicated her life to trying to quench that desire.
“I've dreamt about competing at the Olympics every single day since I made that decision,” Osazuwa said. “… At Michigan we talk about the Olympics so much, and being around and training with world-class athletes has truly been a great influence for me because I've been able to see what it takes to reach that level and constantly stay motivated. When people believe in your talent, it's hard not to want to live up to what they tell you have the ability to do.”
Once she put in the work, the decision of which country to try to compete for was not difficult for Osazuwa. She still considers Las Vegas home, but Osazuwa is Nigerian, and she felt it was important to honor that part of her heritage.
When she’s not competing, Osazuwa said she was looking forward to going to a lot of the other events, especially basketball and volleyball, and spending time with her family. And when she’s on the track, Osazuwa said she has an idea of what to expect because she consulted several former Olympians. Plus, she can always think back to the Clark freshman basketball team and reaffirm how lucky she is to be here.
“It's easy to get nervous and tense up a bit during competition,” Osazuwa said, “but at this point, you've put so much into training that the best thing you can do is relax, enjoy and let everything happen.”