By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer
Olympian, world champion and current Baylor Bear, freshman sprinter Imaobong Uko has done it all and just turned 18 on Sunday. Uko was called upon to compete for Nigeria in the mixed 4×400-meter in the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which she followed with a win in the World Athletics Under-20 Championships in September.
Despite her squad not qualifying for the finals in her event, they managed to set a new African record in the event. Uko said the experience helped her develop as a runner and a person.
“Going to the Olympics was not easy; It was a big struggle, but it was a really great experience for me,” Uko said. “It was the best thing that has happened to me since I started running. It felt good, I was able to compete with the top athletes.”
She said she had heard a lot of good things about Baylor and knew of it’s academic stature, influencing her decision in wanting to further her studies and career. Despite having never run indoor, Uko said the experience she gained in the Olympics has boosted her self-confidence.
“If I’m able to be in the Olympics, college meets shouldn’t be a problem,” Uko said. “Being at the Olympics really gave me the confidence that I can compete anywhere with anyone.”
Head coach Michael Ford said it has been a joy for him to have Uko on the team. He said she is focused when she needs to be, while lighthearted at the right times, and her confidence is contagious.
“I call her a quiet assassin,” Ford said. “She’s just got that demeanor where she’s locked in at the meet, but she also has a big funny side to her. She has a lot of self-confidence and I think that’s helped some of the other girls on the team since she’s been there. Knowing that you ran at the highest stage, the Olympics, the World Championships, things like that, I think that helps motivate other young ladies on our team.”
The freshman said her transition to college life has been difficult coming from Nigeria, but her teammates have embraced her and made things easier for her. Specifically, she said other Bears from out of the country have helped her settle in.
“All the other international students are really great,” Uko said. “They’re helping me a lot, they have been showing me around and showing me everything that I need to do.”
Uko ran well in her last outing at the Texas Tech Shootout in Lubbock, setting a new personal best with her second-place finish in the women’s 400-meter at a time of 53.07 seconds. She was also part of the 4×400 team that took home gold. With the Big 12 Indoor Championship coming up this weekend, Uko said she wants to qualify for nationals, but is also focused on furthering her education just as much.
“My goal right now is to make sure my studies at Baylor are not in vain,” Uko said. “I hope that my career and my education go to the next level.”