In front of every camera and bouquet of microphones there has always been one constant — senior and team captain Morolake Akinosun.
“[Head coach Mario Sategna] said I was team captain, but I kind of stepped into the job at the same time,” Akinosun said. “The coaches write the workouts, but a team needs leaders going through the same things that they’re going through — running the same workouts, going to classes and running at meets.”
Akinosun, along with senior Courtney Okolo, wasn’t just given this position because she is a senior. She is now the back-to-back Big 12 champion in both the 100 and 200-meters. She is also one of two women to score in four events at the NCAA National Championships in consecutive years, with the other being former Olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Akinosun has also won gold medals outside of her collegiate career at the Pan-American games and junior world championships.
And now, she closes out her Longhorn career at the NCAA Outdoor Championships this week.
Akinosun is all over the track socializing before practice. The athletes are typically lacing up their spikes, changing their workout clothes and stepping on the track for warm-ups and stretches. But Akinosun goes at her own pace, making time for media talks, joining the warm-ups alongside her male and female teammates, while watching over the others starting their workouts. When it’s time for her practice, her focus shifts to herself.
“I was watching them do starts at practice,” Sategna said. “She likes to joke around with everyone, but as soon as she steps in those blocks, she’s a different athlete.”
After conference, track becomes more of an individual sport. While the women’s track team can make a run for a team national title, assistant coach Tonja Buford-Bailey is more focused on individual performances and working towards Akinosun’s future career.
“The NCAA championships is the best preparation for the olympic trials that any collegiate athlete can get,” Bailey said. “They aren’t running the golden league, but this is the time they can run against some of the best. We’ve been working on Morolake’s block starts because the finish of her race is good, but she hasn’t had enough competition this season to get her to the next level.”
Akinosun has spent her training lining up against freshman NCAA 60-meter indoor champion Teahna Daniels, along with some of the makes on the team. Nationals will be her last test before the Olympic Trials from July 1-10.
“It’s not that I don’t pay attention to my competition,” Akinosun said. “It’s just that I don’t want to discredit anyone or give anyone else too much credit because I believe in myself and my own race. Mishaps happen, so you never know who the final eight is going to be when you get there on Saturday.”
Sategna is heading to Rio de Janeiro this summer as a member of Team USA’s track and field coaching staff. While this week’s NCAA championships mark Akinosun’s last meet in burnt orange, she can still join Sategna and qualify for the Olympics.
“The chance for survival and success isn’t very high in sprinting,” Sategna said. “Morolake’s attention to detail and day-to-day healthy lifestyle shows that it’s not by chance she is in this position, but I’m excited to watch her continue on to the olympic trials as [one of] America’s top sprinters.”