6 June 2018

Gambia: Story of a Multi-Talented Teenage Girl

Combining task of being a national team football captain and a top level athlete is a treat hard to come by in one individual. However, Ola Buwaro is not only a living proof of that but goes about it with almost relative ease.

For a girl of her age, it's beyond fascination how she balances domestic and international football with being a 200 and 400m track specialist, representing Gambia at the very pinnacle of athletics.

Prior to bursting on the scenes, no one has managed such a feat.

Coming off Muslim Senior Secondary School's production line, an institution revered for producing national sprinters, Ola's slow climb to stardom spans back from her primary school moments, going into Latrikuna Yiringanya Lower Basic.

Fielding for her Alma mata's athletics and football teams respectively, it wasn't long before Gambia Athletics Association (GAA) snatched her. Her stay with Red Scorpions -champions of Gambia women's football premier league this season- made it all easier.

Spotting her sprinting potentials, GAA coaches spread their nets and it didn't take them hours of discussions to persuade a football-loving Buwaro to give running a go. Getting her replicating stunning runs in the field to the track was the athletics coaches' preoccupation. Result of her test on the tracks for the first time wasn't any a disenchantment. She strode around with the gaiety of an experienced star and boomed with lightening pace only akin with a champion -in her case a future.

Talking her to dump football for running the GAA knows would have been a no-go area at that embryonic stage. So, taking a great delight out of a new sport she's accelerating in, Ola was accorded the space to blossom all she wants.

Then came her first international athletics appearance. Having convinced gaffers enough with her timings, Buwaro earned chance to cut it at the Ecowas championship in 2016. Such gains were followed by subsequent participations in numerous other tourneys.

Then last year, she had many gobsmacked, clinching gold in the women's 200m Junior African Championship in Algeria at the Lalla-Setti Stadium, making her a continental champion at age 16.

Amusing, is her exuberance and audacity to believe. More thrilling was her inclusion in Gambia's Commonwealth team headed for Australia.

Swapping football boots for running cleats, her football background, even if known to dozens, wasn't accorded much relevance by the media home and abroad.

One could only but wonder what would have been two-time World champion Jamaica's Elaine Thompson's reaction at thought of being told her competitor on lane 4 of the 200m race is in fact a footballer and captain of a national U-17 team.

As fate would have it, the 16-year-old couldn't go past the first round of the women's100 and 200 meters in Gold Coast in Australia's Queensland but managed a brave 12.11 and 24.66 timings respectively.

A Life-changing Decision

It's note-worthy highlighting, despite Gina Bass reaching the semis of the 100 and 200m women's categories, Gambia's Commonwealth team returned home without financial incentive from the government. GAA chipped into give tokens to participating athletes on what could only be meticulously described as attempt at lessening government's otherwise over two decade cold-shoulder treatment towards athletes and the athletics association.

Barely weeks after landing from the Commonwealth, sweeping changes began occurring in the teenager's life. One she perhaps dreaded most but knew will finally come to making -choosing between football and athletics.

Photo: Buwaro after storming to gold to be Africa's champion in the 200m

Buwara has been sandwiched in this situation for presumably the longest of times. It followed after receiving a letter from the country's athletics governing entity giving her ultimatum to decide whether to pick football or athletics.

The GAA, Foroyaa Sport understands, copied the letter to the National Sports Council.

Done last week and coming to light only last Saturday, GAA's robust approach on ensuring Buwaro makes a career-changing decision is burned out of desire to enable her concentrate on one sport.

The toll of taking on a double sport could bear effects on the body and, in the long run, hinder performance considering the immense concentration involved, according to the athletics association's secretary general Arthur Jackson.

'In as much as she wants to serve the nation in both capacities, I think she has more to offer in athletics. She has a brighter future in athletics than in football based on the fact that she is currently the African junior champion in the 200m race,' he said.

'I think it best for her to choose athletics and work towards consolidating the gains she has made. She did not hesitate to make a choice. She also states that she has made that achievement in athletics and wants to do more,' Arthur says.

For the Muslim High School graduate, the GAA decision was a prompt one though, she admits to initially having plans of hanging up her boots at conclusion of this campaign after playing for the Queen Scorpions.

Photo: a change at last Ola attending a press conference as the U-17 national team captain

'They (Gambia Athletics Association) wrote me a letter that I should decide now, now. It's not because of the letter I'm choosing athletics as I had planned to stop football after this season with my club Red Scorpions,' the star, also voted the GTBank-sponsored Principal's Cup best player, says.

She continued: 'I'm good in both football and athletics. Most people think I was doing both for fun not realising that I was doing it because I was gifted with it by God. Some even accuse me of doing both disciplines for money. I was reminded in the letter that I'm an African Junior Champion and that is also one reason why I decided to choose athletics because I have to defend my titles after Ramadan in Ghana.'

On how she's preparing for the finals in Accra, Ola who arrived from Senegal on Sunday, responded: 'My coach took me to train with a Senegalese athletics club. Upon arrival, I found they've long done the 200m finals so I ventured in the 100m and came first.'

Senegal uses electronic timing which rates her as 11:09 seconds when converted to standard timing - a significant rise from the 12.11 she raked up in the Commonwealth Games.

This trajectory, if the aforesaid figures are any to go by, means her competitors bracing up for more wowing.

Epitome of a multi-talented teenage girl, Ola is a sample of a breed rare to find.

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