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Fasuba Battle for World Recognition

17 May 2008

By Ben Efe

Olusoji Fasuba wants to achieve world recognition by winning the 100m title at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. But the World Indoor champion said that a lack of support from home is a major obstacle.

It is a simple question that separates the myths from the maths about the world's fastest man.

Why is it 100 years since an African won the 100 metres at the Olympic Games? Olusoji Fasuba aims to make such talk redundant in Beijing this summer, but for now he restricts himself to a sad truth. "If I was European, I would be a million times better," he says.

The dominance of African athletes in other events has its genesis in an area stretching from Morocco to the Rift Valley, but not a single sprinter has entered the mainstream and become a global star. Fasuba, believes that he can change that, but acknowledges that the fastest man on earth may be undiscovered somewhere on the world's second-largest continent.

"There is so much talent in Africa, but we get no support," Fasuba said. "It is really tough for an African athlete. I get $3,000 to keep me going through the whole year and that does not go far. There are very few opportunities and that's why we have not had a champion.

"But they could make one very easily, I am telling you. You could take the young boys who have so much ability and promise them a square meal a day and you would have Olympic heroes."

Fasuba, 23, backs up this message by revealing that he did not see a proper athletics track until 2000. He won a relay bronze medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004, but did not have a coach. He finally got one by posting a plea for help on the message boards of the IAAF website. Despite this stumble towards professionalism, he ran 9.85sec in Doha in 2006. Ignoring drug cheats and their tainted times, only six men have run quicker.

However, Fasuba believes that this will be another breakthrough year. He has not come close to emulating his 9.85 mark, but it sums up his misfortune that four days after that run he was bitten by an insect and contracted a debilitating illness.

"I've had trouble peaking at the right times," he said.

" I have done lots of modifications technically and my strength is really improving," Fasuba said. "My aim is to be the best in the world, not just Africa. I grew up watching Carl Lewis and, on times, I am already better than him."

In the meantime, the African question lingers. African-American and Caribbean athletes have dominated the Olympics' blue-riband event since the days of Jesse Owens in the 1930s. In 2004, Francis Obikwelu won the silver medal for Portugal behind Justin Gatlin. Obikwelu was born in Nigeria, but moved to Portugal at 16. "I don't think he'd have got that medal if he'd stayed in Africa," Fasuba said.

Reggie Walker, a South African, won gold in 1908, but the only man to represent Africa on the podium since has been Frankie Fredericks, the Namibian, who won a scholarship to study in the United States and twice won Olympic silver over 100 metres.

For those who believe that Olympic glory is a matter of nature rather than nurture, it is significant that Fasuba's mother is Jamaican and a cousin of Don Quarrie, the 100metres silver medal-winner in 1976. Others believe that hunger and desire are all-conquering motivators, explaining why Chambers and Christine Ohuruogu could perform so well for Great Britain despite being cast out of the system and shorn of all funding. But why does the wait for an African champion go on?

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