This is Deji Ogeyingbo’s interview with Rosemary Chukwuma, her early season fast sprints, and her future in the NCAA Indoors.
Rosemary Chukwuma: Perseverance and Patience put the Nigerian in Pole position to win the NCAA title in 2023
There isn’t one route to achieving success in life. Sport is a subset of it and it even gets put on a pedestal considering the randomness of what it takes for an athlete to achieve greatness or in this case, reach their target goal. Competition, injury, environment, and coaching are some of the factors that determine how good and quickly an athlete can attain the level of success the sport has set for him or her.
In athletics, the barometer is fairly simple. You win a race, and you become a champion. If you win consistently, you are on the path to greatness. You break a record, and you’ve reached the unchartered territory. There are grades and levels to it too. Some skip steps, others’ progression can be meteoric, while most are usually gradual.
Nigerian and Texas Tech Sprinter, Rosemary Chukwuma will most likely be categorized among the latter. She isn’t the special talent that has made the sprinting world hold its breath, but her progress has been of little drops becoming a mighty ocean. As they say, it’s the small steps that matter. But more importantly, in a sport like athletics in which sprinting deals with fine margin, sometimes, there is that element of luck needed.
Chukwuma had a fair dig at the Nigerian athletics scenery for about three years before her sojourn to the United States in late 2019. Her numbers were not sterling, but she was a stern and consistent competitor. Although she was still a youth athlete in 2018, she found a way of ruffling feathers in senior competitions.
Rosemary Chukwuma, 2022 Nigerian Champs, photo by Deji Ogeyingbo
The Texas Tech sophomore made her international bow for Nigeria at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, forming a part of the Nigerian quartet that included Tobi Amusan, Blessing Okagbare, and Joy Udo-Gabriel to win Bronze for her country. It was the start of big things to come.
It was almost as if Okagbare and Amusan took her under her wings as seen at the African Championships in Asaba in 2018 when they all combined to pick Gold for Nigerian in the women’s 4x100m. The signs were looking good for Chukwuma.
Perhaps it was her first two gold medals in the 100m and 200m at the African Youth Games in the summer of 2018 that put her in pole position to do great things. Surely, it was a stepping stone two months later at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires in which she ran a blistering wind-aided time of 11.17s in the 100m.
That win in Argentina served as a springboard for the following year in which her times in the 100m and 200m began to show signs of matching up with the senior athlete. Still, it was her patience and grind that pushed her to greater heights in 2019.
A glut of consistent results saw her lower her Personal Best in the 100m to 11.44 at the African U20 Championships in Abidjan as it inspired her to do a double for Nigeria by winning the 200m, too. It was a smooth year for her, one which saw her lose only two races in the 100m. Her mentality was beginning to show as she is beginning to reap the dividend for her steady rise.
It was in 2020 her sojourn to the US started. Chukwuma joined South Plains College for Junior school and from there, she was a reborn athlete. Her times were not off the roof with her indoor best over the 60m being 7.33s, but she did just about enough to keep her coaches wowed by her performances.
2021 was when the stars began to align for her. Her dominance on the Nigerian scenery began to reach peak level alongside Grace Nwokocha who was also in the NCAA circuit. Also, the numbers in her signature events began to reach professional standards.
Chukwuma headed to the Nigerian Olympic trials with so much confidence knowing full well that a spot in Tokyo beckons for her. As expected, Okagbare was the overwhelming favorite for the win, but Chukwuma placed second and was on the plane to the Japanese capital for her first Olympics. However, her joy was cut short as she wasn’t allowed to compete alongside nine other Nigerians as they didn’t have the required out-of-competition test.
2022 offered more prospects for Chukwuma and she lived up to the hype. She didn’t run crazy numbers for the most part, but the signs were good. A 22.33s Personal Best at the Big 12 conference in May, a 10.99s PB in the semifinal of the NCAA Division 1 championship, and a silver medal at the Nigerian Championships.
Her rise in the NCAA saw her come within whiskers of picking a medal in the final as he settled for fourth. Surely, it was her the right momentum heading into the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham as she ran the fastest leg to help Nigerian win the 4x100m Gold.
Chukwuma knows she has to prove her mettle this year, but it won’t come easy. Her display in the early stages of the indoor season already speaks volumes of what to expect this year. Now a Texas Tech sophomore, clocked a dazzling Personal Best and a then World Lead of 7.11s to win her semifinal of the 60m at the Texas Teck Corky Classic. She lowered it to 7.09s at the Texas Tech Open and Multi in the last of January.
In the 200m, Chukwuma produced yet another incredible feat and became the third African in history as she smashed her indoor lifetime best of 23.49s with a new 22.99s to win the 200m final at the Red Raider Open.
The season is just in its infancy and she’s churning out these outrageous numbers.
Granted, the season is still far ahead, but the signs are looking good for Chukwuma. Another stretch of good results will surely put her in pole position to justle for the NCAA title this year.