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Leaving Her Mark

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Olympic sprinter Courtney Okolo is on track to win more gold.

By Gretchen M. Sanders

The gun pops and Courtney Okolo springs from the starting blocks in the women’s 4×400-meter relay at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. It’s the biggest track-and-field event the sleek and muscular sprinter has ever seen. At 22, she handles the leadoff leg with impressive composure. Minutes later, the gold medal belongs to her.

Long before her Olympic victory, Okolo turned heads as a standout runner for the University of Texas, winning multiple NCAA Championship titles in the women’s 400-meter and 4×400-meter relay. Last year, she won both events at the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships, had an undefeated senior season and became the first female collegian to run 400 meters in less than 50 seconds. Those stunts earned her the Bowerman Award, essentially the Heisman Trophy of collegiate track and field and the highest individual honor given in the sport.

A look at Okolo’s past predicts more gold in her future. In the individual 400-meter outdoors, Okolo owns the first, second, sixth and 10th best times in collegiate history. She also has the third-fastest collegiate 400-meter indoor time on the books. Many of the fastest indoor and outdoor 4×400-meter collegiate relays ever run had her name on the roster. At graduation last spring, Okolo clearly had much more to celebrate than earning her kinesiology degree.

Turning pro after college has given Okolo a new focus.

“My main goal now is to make the World Championship team,” she says with a shy smile.

She will do just that if she runs well at trials in June. With World Championships starting later this summer in London, a global stage once again awaits this running phenom.

Here’s how Courtney Okolo stays on track to set records. 

THE A.M.

“My eyes open around 7 in the morning, but I always double check my phone to get the exact time. I never set an alarm
because we don’t start training until about 10 a.m. I also read a devotional every morning on my phone. My faith is important to me.”

THE WORKOUT:

“We train five days a week. With set seasons in track and field, there are times when we work very hard, followed by periods of rest. We just started our outdoor season, and it seems like I’m at the track all day right now. We begin training midmorning with maintenance work, doing stretches and using machines to warm up our muscles. Then we spend about one and a half hours working out on the track with our coach. After that, I go to the weight room. It’s like a full-time job. I’m tired when I get home.”

THE DIET:

“My mom is a nurse, and she raised us to eat right. I can’t prepare a meal without putting a veggie on my plate. I try to have some kind of protein for breakfast, like maybe some yogurt with fruit, and for lunch I eat whatever I can find around the field house. I drink a full bottle of water before practice, and I’ll finish at least three more throughout the day. I don’t drink soda or alcohol, but I do eat fried food, even though it makes me feel guilty, and I love kettle corn.”

THE GEAR:

“Nike sponsors me, so I run in their Lunars. Nike also sends me a lot of colorful clothing, but I’m not colorful. I prefer to wear Army green, and I like my outfits to match. I usually start a training session wearing tights to keep my legs warm, but I take them off as I get into the meat of my workout. By the end of it, I’m down to a sports bra and spandex shorts. I listen to music during warm-up, and I always wear my cross necklace, which my mother gave me for Christmas one year. I wore it when I ran in the Olympics, so I guess it’s my good-luck charm.”

THE MOTIVATION:

“I’m very competitive, and I’m especially competitive with myself. I don’t need anyone else to make me go faster. I always want to win. I don’t even think about giving up. I also enjoy training hard, so I see it as a good challenge. Plus, I just like to run.”

THE MINDSET:

“I want to live past my potential. I want to go past whatever goals I set for myself. Wherever I think I’ll end up in a year, I want to go past that point. And if someone is faster than me, then I just say, ‘Well, I haven’t gotten there yet, but I will, eventually.’ ”

THE P.M.:

“I take an Epsom salt bath every night before bed. We’re in the middle of a training season right now, and my body is starting to feel it. I also have these NormaTec compression boots that I put on for about 20 minutes each night to help my legs recover. I like to wear them while I eat popcorn and watch a few episodes of Bob’s Burgers. Lights out at 11:30 p.m.”

HER PLAYLIST

Diamonds Dancing by Drake
Too Deep for the Intro by J. Cole
Humble by Kendrick Lamar
Mask Off by Future
Destiny by Tina Campbell
Voices in My Head by Big Sean
Slipper by Migos
Me, Myself and I by Beyoncé
Solo by Future
Impossible by Travis Scott

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