Benjamin Azamati’s career is on the upward curve and moving at a pretty fast pace like the top sprinter that he is. Not many athletes reach international prominence that early in their careers, but the life of the 23-year-old native of Akim Oda appears to have been well scripted for sporting greatness.
Since his athletics talent was discovered as a student of PRESEC Legon through to the University of Ghana, where he blossomed and caught national attention, Azamati's athletics journey has been on the ascendency.
From the day he won the men’s 100 metres title at the 2018 GNPC Ghana’s Fastest Human talent hunt competition to winning back-to-back titles at the Ghana Universities Sports Association (GUSA) Games, Azamati has never looked back. He was part of Ghana’s sprint quartet that won the men’s 4x100m gold at the 2019 African Games in Rabat.
Only last month, Ghana’s rising star set a new national record of 9.97 seconds at the Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays in Austin, obliterating the existing mark 9.98 seconds set in 1999 by Leonard Myles-Mills record. It also broke the 38-year-old National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) Div. II record.
Days after his spectacular feat, the Marine Science undergrad of the West Texas A&M University opened up to the Daily Graphic’s MAURICE QUANSAH on his new achievement, participation in the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo and his prospects for the future.
Below are excerpts of the interview:
Daily Graphic (DG): What was the feeling like when you realised that you had not just won the race, but also broken a national record that had stood for 22 years?
Benjamin Azamati (BJ): After running and looking at the board to see a 9.99 seconds initially, I was happy because I had qualified for the Olympic Games, but I realised later that I’d broken the Ghanaian 100 metres record I felt great because it was something to be really proud about.
I felt good and was happy with myself, but I’m still thinking about the whole experience because I didn’t know I could come out there and run that fast. I knew also that the hard work I’ve been putting in had paid off.
DG: Did you go into the race with a plan to attack the national record, or you had other targets this season?
BA: It’s been the same routine for me; whatever I’ve done in the indoor season is the same thing I’ve carried into the outdoor season. And going into the race, we were looking at times to qualify for the Olympic Games [2021 Olympic Standard of 10.05 seconds].
I didn’t do anything extraordinary before the race; it’s been my normal routine since the beginning of the season.
DG: Now you've not only qualified for the Olympic Games but also broken Myles-Mills’ record set when you were just a toddler. Have you had the chance to speak to him since you set the new record?
BA: Yeah, I’ve heard from him after the race. He’s someone I’m in touch with and we speak very often. During the indoor season, I heard from him anytime I run, and he’s been someone I’ve been talking to all this while.
DG: Benjamin, your rise has been meteoric since you won the GNPC Ghana’s Fastest Human through your exploits at the GUSA Games, African Games in Rabat and at the Athletics World Championship in Doha Qatar. What has been the secret to your progress in the last few years?
BA: Yeah, the progress has been really fast and I thank God for that. I thank God that I’m really healthy and able to run all the time. A lot has to go into it, and seeing the progress shows the work I’m putting in.
The secret is basically me being determined and being focused on whatever that I’m doing which is helping me to perform. I’m focused on the track and on my academics too... that's how come I think everything is moving at a fast pace.
DG: Now that you’ve set a new national record of 9.97 seconds and have the world leading time, the fastest time this year so far, all eyes will be on you. Are you feeling the weight of expectation and pressure to succeed? How are you going to handle all these?
BA: I actually have the second fastest time in the world right now and these things put pressure on you but the pressure is for you to perform better. As I said, when I run and leave the track, I put everything behind me and focus on the next thing and that’s for me to get better each and every time that I run.
Yes, there are high expectations, but I still have to stick to my plan for me to do my best.
DG: The Olympic Games is every athlete’s dream, you’ve qualified for the Tokyo Olympics alongside Nadia Eke and Joseph Amoah. What are the plans leading up to the Olympic Games, and what should Ghana do to support you and your colleagues to put up a great performance in Tokyo?
BA: Preparations are underway, I should say. Training is to ensure that we are pretty much in shape to perform. But one thing I’ll plead with the government is that we have to go out there to run the 4x100m relay in Poland [to qualify for the Olympics] but because of the COVID-19 one of the guys couldn’t come down to renew his visa, so right now it’s a problem that I’ll plead with the government to help him so we can go to the World Relays in Poland [IAAF World Relays in Silesia from May 1 to May 2] to enable the relay team qualify for the Olympics.
DG: There have been a lot of other talented athletes on the horizon, including some of the athletes you run with in Ghana, such as Edwin Gadayi who won the recent Ghana’s Fastest Human competition. What should the state do to support them to get to the top like you’ve done?
BA: I believe most of the heads [local athletics federation] have been through the US system, or are familiar with how the system works, and I believe they can replicate that system in Ghana. I’m in no position to tell them what they should do because I believe they know best and know how the system is and whatever the athletes need to get to the top.
You don’t have to leave Ghana to the USA before you can run fast, just give them whatever they need like strength and conditioning coaches, and others.
I think it’s about time they put together in Ghana, a system that works like it works here and we’ll have a great pool of top athletes in Ghana.
DG: Your exploits at the University of Ghana earned you a scholarship to continue the academic work at West Texas A&M University. How are you managing your academic work alongside athletics?
BA: The system is flexible, they know you are an athlete and may not be around sometimes when you are away for a competition and so they accommodate both. For me, it’s pretty much easy managing the academics and the tracks.
DG: Is there any one particular person or persons, be it a coach or a number of coaches, or others who have had the biggest influence on your career in the last few years?
BA: Of course, there are people that have made an influence in my life or my athletics life, and I’d say that throughout my life at PRESEC were my PE masters —Mr Nat, Mr Gideon, Mr Kofi Dadson. From PRESEC to the University of Ghana I passed through people’s hands such as Coach Amuzu [Logosu], Coach Elorm Amenakpo at the university. Ending up here has been a blessing for me to have passed through their hands and they’ve played a big part in my rise and I really appreciate that.
DG: Finally, please tell us about your childhood background, when you caught national and international attention as an athlete.
BA: I was born in Akim Oda where I grew up and I used to play football, I came to PRESEC to study and still played football. But there was a transition at PRESEC where my PE masters encouraged me to switch to the tracks but not to stop the football anyway. I got to love the tracks more because it was an individual effort and that was where everything started.
I went to the University of Ghana and got to be under Coach Elorm Amenakpo here everything happened and people got to know me and I ended up here and able to run for people to notice.