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Track and Field’s Oluwadara to Compete at NCAA Championship Today

Terrier holds BU’s indoor and outdoor triple jump records

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Last season, Boston University track and field’s David Oluwadara (ENG’17, Questrom’18) thought he had just broken a then-32-year-old outdoor triple jump record while competing at the Texas Relays. His 16.19-meter jump first registered as a legal jump, but was later overturned as a wind-aided jump.

When Oluwadara did finally break the University’s outdoor record this year at the Auburn Tiger Track Classic in April, it was under unexpected circumstances. Having nursed a hamstring injury all season, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound triple jumper had planned to try a half-approach—running half the distance on his lead into the jump—but at the last minute decided he would chance a full approach. It worked.

“[The goal was to] go back to Boston being able to walk,” Oluwadara says. “I was able to go back to Boston walking but also with the record on my first jump.”

When Oluwadara enters the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championship, which begins today in Eugene, Oregon, it will be an emotional moment. Last year, his mother, Adeola, had told her son that if he advanced to the 2017 NCAA Outdoor Championship, she planned to travel to see him compete. But he didn’t make the cut. This past December, Adeola died of cancer. Before her death, her son promised her that he would make the 2018 championship. When he jumps this weekend, he says he’ll be doing so to honor her memory.

Growing up in nearby Newton, Mass., Oluwadara gravitated to music, not sports. An accomplished pianist, drummer, and singer, his family sent him to classes at the New England Conservatory on Saturdays. “No one did sports in the house,” Oluwadara says.

But as a student at Newton North High School, he joined the basketball team and became a power forward. It was during his junior year, when Oluwadara went up for a dunk while playing basketball outdoors, that he caught the attention of Jim Blackburn, Newton North’s track and field coach. Blackburn approached him and asked if he had ever done track and field. When Oluwadara said no, Blackburn replied: “You should consider jumping.”

“I told him I would,” Oluwadara says, “but I didn’t.” But word spread quickly that Blackburn had talked to him about becoming a jumper for the program. When outdoor track and field tryouts took place that spring, two of Oluwadara’s friends on the track and field team grabbed him by his arms and literally dragged him to the tryouts, he says. He soon found he loved jumping.

Oluwadara during a competition

Oluwadara owns both of BU’s indoor and outdoor triple jump records. Photo courtesy of BU Athletics

Without a dedicated jumping coach in high school, Oluwadara wasn’t good enough to be recruited by colleges. But after arriving at BU, he reached out to Robyne Johnson, director of BU’s track and field and cross-country programs.

“We often give kids opportunities if they’re coming to BU,” Johnson says. “Oftentimes in high school, you don’t have the coaching, or you have a distance coach coaching jumping. They don’t have the opportunity to have done better, so they’re not recruited, but that doesn’t mean they’re not capable.”

While Oluwadara lacked proper technique, Johnson says she quickly recognized that he had potential. “I thought to myself, ‘I think this kid could really do something,’” Johnson says, “and I was correct.”

Once on the track and field team, Oluwadara’s technique improved rapidly. By sophomore season, he had been named the Patriot League Male Indoor Track Athlete of the Year and made his NCAA East Preliminaries debut during the outdoor season.

“To come from basically just being out there to being one of the best guys in the country, if not the world, is pretty amazing,” says five-year teammate Justin Flynn (CGS’16, Questrom’18).

From there, Oluwadara went on a spree, earning one record after another. As a junior, he broke the then-31-year-old BU triple jump indoor record with a mark of 16.06 meters, only to break it again as a senior (16.07 meters). That same year, he was named a Second Team All-American after his performance in the NCAA Indoor Championship and won the Mickey Cochrane Award, given annually to the top BU male athlete.

Now, after finishing seventh in the triple jump at the NCAA East Regionals with a leap of 16 meters, Oluwadara is seeking to capture his first NCAA Championship title.

Oluwadara after winning gold in the triple jump

Oluwadara won gold in the triple jump and the long jump at the 2018 Patriot League Championships last month. Photo courtesy of BU Athletics

“I got to the hotel room after everything, and I just lied down on the ground,” Oluwadara says, recalling his performance at the Regionals two weeks ago. “I was crying, and I was just thanking God, like, ‘Thank you that this can actually happen.’”

“He doesn’t really speak much about how he feels,” his sister Dami says. “It was just hard for him to come to terms with what happened (with my mom). I think that was the first time I’ve seen him actually cry.”

Both his teammates and coaches are confident that he’ll do well this weekend. “Whether it be on the track or off, there’s not really anything that can happen that can throw off David. He’s someone that isn’t easily shaken,” Flynn says. “He’s never going to give up or be deterred at any point. It goes back to faith for him all the time: I think that it really enables him to have the most steadfast, diligent, and unwavering mentality.”

Johnson says that as long as Oluwadara performs as well as he did to get to the championship, he will be successful. His goal is to leave Oregon having become a First Team All-American.

Following the NCAA Championship, Oluwadara says his next goal is to represent Nigeria in the 2020 Summer Olympics. “It’s definitely something I can do,” he says.

David Oluwadara competes at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Championship at 5:40 pm, today, Friday, June 8, at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, 1580 E. 15th Ave., Eugene, Oregon. 

Jonathan Chang can be reached at jchang19@bu.edu.

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