Deji Ogeyingbo wrote this piece on Favour Ashe, a fine new generation Nigerian athlete, who will be opening his indoor season at Auburn University this coming weekend.
Favour Ashe’s chance to blossom in the NCAA circuit after his impressive first season
They say the first time is always the hardest. Getting into a new country, bedding in well into one of the toughest running circuits, and breaking records are feats very few sprinters can boast of in their debut year. Not so much for Nigeria’s Favour Ashe. He was on a different level from his contemporaries in 2022, one would have thought he grew up in the United States.
Ashe whose track career dates back to 2018 when he was discovered by Making of Champions had a meteoric rise since then before he teamed up with the University of Tennessee in the winter of 2021.
The 20-year-Old didn’t take much time to bed in as in his first race as a Vol in the last weekend of January, Ashe posted the fourth-fastest 60m time in Tennessee’s history when he clocked 6.58 over the 60m at Clemson’s Bob Pollock Meet. Only former Vols Coleman, Leonard Scott, and Gatlin are ahead of Ashe in the all-time school standings then.
The performance was nothing short of astonishing as it was his first-time racing over the distance. At the time only 22 Africans had run faster in history. That display saw him named Southeastern Conference Male Freshman of the Week.
Two weeks later at Arkansas’ Tyson Invite, Ashe dropped a 6.52s in his preliminary run. This time, he broke the Tennessee freshman record previously held by Scott at 6.56, which he set in 1999. Ashe’s finish moved him up to third all-time in Tennessee history in the event, behind Scott’s 6.48 set in 2001 and Christian Coleman’s school-record run of 6.45 achieved in 2017.
Favour Ashe, 2022 African Athletics Championships, photo by Deji Ogeyingbo
It didn’t take long for him to improve that mark at the NCAA Indoor Championships, winning his heat in 6.51s and going on to place 3rd in the final with 6.55s.
This year, Ashe will be starting his indoor season with Auburn University having transferred from Tennessee. When he begins his indoor season for one of the South’s largest universities this month, all eyes will be fixed on him lowering his Personal Best of 6.51s he set last year.
Ashe currently stands shoulder-to-shoulder with African sprinting greats like Frankie Fredricks, and Davison Ezinwa with his current PB, while former African Record holder Olusoji Fasuba sits above him with his 6.49s time he ran in Stuttgart in 2007.
Perhaps Ashe will be looking to steal a march on his former coach Deji Aliu who holds the Nigerian indoor record in the event with 6.48s. The African record holder is Ghana’s Leonard Myles-Mill with 6.45s. Surely, these numbers aren’t one to blow Ashe away judging by the way he blended in last year as well as the added motivation to win the NCAA indoors this year.
Ashe’s outdoor season last year just amplifies how mature he is when he steps on the track despite him just being 20. This is a sprinter who won his first few meets in quick succession and posted a very quick windy 9.79s over 100m at the LSU Invitational in Baton Rouge, the fastest all-conditions time in the NCAA for the season and the fastest in Nigeria’s history.
He was on the verge of breaking the sub-10 seconds officially at the SEC Invitation when he ran 10.04 to take the win. Any other sprinter would have been satisfied with the way he blitzes past much older runners to claim victory. Not Ashe. The Nigerian knew he could offer more.
And that’s what stand’s him out. The quest to get better every time. Ashe already belies his contemporaries. You wouldn’t put him in the Usain Bolt bracket of special talent, but of all the athletes in the world his age, he ranks in the top three. Maybe a Letsile Tebogo outshines him, but they didn’t race each other at the World Championships in Oregon.
Also, very few African sprinters can lay claim to making the semi-final in the men’s 100m at the World championships on their debut. Ashe narrowly missed out on the final in Oregon by a hairs-breath. Prior to that, he had won Silver at the NCAA final, finishing behind Liberia’s Joseph Fahnbulleh.
Another bright spot in his stellar full season as a senior athlete was his 9.99s run at the Nigerian Championships. He became the third Nigerian to run inside 10s on home turf and the 12th overall in the country’s history.
If there is one regret, perhaps a lesson to be learned going into this season for Ashe is his penchant to throw in the towel pretty early when his race isn’t going according to plan. He didn’t need to break any sweat in his heat at the Commonwealth Games, but in the semis, Ashe seemed to pull the plug prematurely when the race wasn’t going in his favor.
Granted, the sprints leave very tiny room for mistakes, but it’s a flaw he needs to work on. Maybe his move to Auburn with spark an improvement in that part of his race. 2023 beckons for Ashe.