Junior Chimerem Okoroji took the baton as the anchor of the 4x100-meter relay team and did what she does best — sprinted.
When she crossed the finish line at the Bulls Invitational in Tampa, Fla., the clock read 45.29 seconds, the third best relay time in Gophers history.
But she wasn’t done.
Okoroji also recorded a career-best time in the 200-meter at the same meet, finishing the race in a swift 24.26 seconds.
“I feel really good right now going into the rest of the season, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” she said. “It is still really nice to get things off on the right foot.”
Okoroji, an Eau Claire, Wis., native, has always been fast, but has typically competed in shorter distance sprints throughout her career.
She started her career at Minnesota running primarily in the 60-meter during the indoor track season and either the 100-meter or 4x100-meter in the outdoor season. However, over the course of her career she has gradually increased her distance as a runner.
With this increase, many would expect a decrease in production, but Okoroji has continued to perform.
This season already looks promising after Okoroji’s showing in the first outdoor meet of the season in Florida, and head coach Matt Bingle said her training has given her the opportunity to contend in both the 100- and 200-meter this outdoor season.
“She’s a great leader for this team and has really developed this year,” Bingle said. “Her training has gone a lot better this season and her speed and endurance have increased. She’s developed and gotten more mature and stronger as well.”
Although her training has played a pivotal role in her growth as an athlete, Okoroji said a lot of her success this season has hinged on establishing the right frame of mind entering each race.
“I’ve always thought of myself more as a really short distance sprinter, but as the years have gone on I have been more mentally prepared for running longer sprints,” Okoroji said. “I think that is where most of my improvements come from — having the mentality that I can still be a sprinter and keep up my speeds at longer distances.”
In her junior season, Okoroji said she is trying to pay more attention to the little details within each race.
“I think I’m more aware of the things that I’m doing wrong and I’m really working towards fixing them,” Okoroji said. “It’s more of a conscious effort now. Instead of trying too hard to do it, now I’m just letting everything work itself out.”
Okoroji said she realized the team has underperformed in prior seasons, but that this year the general feeling is different.
“Our group right now is more aware of what needs to get done and we’re more committed to getting it done this year,” she said. “We know that the past few years haven’t been as great as we wanted them to, and we’re really trying to turn that around this year.”