Texas' Morolake Akinosun placed 12th in the 200 meters semifinals at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Saturday. (RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Top sprinter Morolake Akinosun is a Texas treasure

Posted May 25th, 2016

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Story highlights
  • Akinosun is the reigning three-time Big 12 100-meter and 200-meter champion, is a relays star, and has her sights set on the NCAA outdoor championships.
  • She's one of only two women (UCLA's Jackie Joyner-Kersee) to point in four events at two straight NCAA championships.
  • Akinosun is a native Nigerian, and her last name translates to "This is mine to treasure."

Morolake Akinosun is the most famous athlete on the Texas campus.

Or should be.

She’s not the quarterback for Charlie Strong’s football team. Or Isaiah Taylor’s successor at point guard. She’s not Big 12 tennis player of the year Breaunna Addison.

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She’s all of that and more.

The vivacious, 22-year-old sprinter on the Texas women’s track team with a light-up-a-room smile has her eye on history, starting Thursday in Lawrence, Kan, at the NCAA West Regional. As the reigning three-time Big 12 100-meter and 200-meter champion and relays star, she is poised to advance to the NCAA championships in Eugene, Ore., in June where she has a chance to become the first female to ever score points in four different events in three consecutive national championship meets.

Only one other woman has duplicated Akinosun’s back-to-back feat. That’d be UCLA’s Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who was only named the greatest female athlete of the last century by “Sports Illustrated for Women” after winning six Olympic medals, three of them gold. Yeah, that Joyner-Kersee.

And Morolake (pronounced Mor-le-kay) is in the conversation.

“She’s one of the best track and field athletes ever. Regardless of gender,” Akinosun said of Joyner-Kersee. “To achieve something she never achieved really means my hard work has paid off.”

Morolake Akinosun runs with the baton during the second leg of the 4x100 meter relay at the NCAA Division I Track and Field West Preliminary round held at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas on May 30, 2015. (Thao Nguyen/FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Morolake Akinosun runs with the baton during the second leg of the 4×100 meter relay at the NCAA Division I Track and Field West Preliminary round held at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas on May 30, 2015. (Thao Nguyen/FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

She’s worked hard long before she transferred from Illinois, following coach Tonja Buford-Bailey to Austin. She’s the most grounded, balanced athlete on campus. Just a typical exercise science major with a minor in biomechanics and a 3.42 GPA and a devoted daughter of pastors from the Chicago area.

You want balanced? She took a survey for a psychology class that defined introverts and extroverts. Out of a 1-100 range, she scored a 52. UT track coach Mario Sategna raves about her attention to detail. Buford-Bailey loves her intelligence. And speed.

“She’s naturally fast,” Buford-Bailey said. “She doesn’t have the greatest starts on earth, but she can hold and maintain her top speed for a long time. And she never stresses herself out.”

Akinosun’s the complete package. Studious, outgoing, she’s a native Nigerian whose first name means “this is mine to treasure.” And boy do her coaches treasure her.

But she’s fun, too. Just check out her decorated fingernails.

This week she had them painted with tiny black polka dots mixed with light blue ones. An ardent LeBron James fan who owns four of his jerseys and a poster and watches every NBA playoff game, she’s considering the Cavaliers’ wine and navy blue colors for the NCAAs. She almost went with neon yellow this week, but changed her mind, something she rarely does.

She’s got a clear vision for her future, whether it’s gunning for a title alongside Courtney Okolo as maybe the best Texas tandem ever or plotting out her graduation next December or her career in working with athletic amputees who require prosthetics.

“It’d be my way of giving back,” said Akinosun, who has considered the job path since she met some ParaOlympians in Toronto at the Pan Am Games. “I can’t imagine what that’d be like.”

Such a career might have to wait because she’s bound and determined to qualify for this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. She fell in love with the Olympics when she first watched them in earnest in the summer of 2008 where another Longhorn, Sanya Richards, took home a gold and a bronze from Beijing. She was thrilled just to hold the Olympic bronze medal that Buford-Bailey won in the hurdles in the ‘96 Games. Does she want that experience?

“Absolutely,” she said. “I think I have a good chance.”

“She continues to get better and better with her strength level,” Sategna said. “She’s a gamer. She’s not going in there looking for second place.”

That’s especially true because, for all her medals, she’s never won an individual NCAA title. She finished second in the 100 by a eyeblink to Oregon’s Jenna Prindini, who turned pro last summer. She lost by .01 of a second, her second straight runner-up finish after falling to Alabama’s Remona Burchell the year before. Both times, she got over it immediately. After all, she still had the 200 and a 1600 relay to run.

At Oregon, she could run in eight races over a span of just two days. That’s a remarkable feat, even for someone as supremely conditioned as Akinosun. She hasn’t forgotten. Even if she had, she’s reminded every morning when she sees on her mirror inspirational quotes penned in red marker.

One warns against procrastination. The other reads: “You do not wake up today to be mediocre.”

She never has.

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