Trio of former UTEP track stars advance to Olympic semifinals

Olympics

Tobi Amusan, of Nigeria, runs in her heat of the women’s 400-meter hurdles at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 31, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

TOKYO, JAPAN (KTSM) – Three former UTEP track and field stars that won NCAA championships in their time in El Paso are on to the semifinals of their respective events at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Kenyan 800 meter stars Emmanuel Korir and Michael Saruni made their Olympic debuts, and Nigerian hurdler Tobi Amusan made her second Olympics appearance in the women’s 100m hurdles. All performed well in round one on Saturday morning in Tokyo (Friday night in the United States), easily advancing to the next round.

First, in the men’s 800 meters, Korir won heat 6 of the first round of competition in 1:45.33, a hundreth of a second better than Poland’s Mateusz Borkowski. The United States’ Bryce Hoppel, of Midland, Texas, finished third in the heat to qualify for the semifinals as well.

Korir currently possesses the second-fastest 800m time in the world in 2021 (1:43.04) and won the heat with a strong push in the final 50 meters of the race. He will run in heat 1 of the semifinals at 5:25 a.m. MT on Sunday.

Saruni also used a strong final push down the stretch to manage a second place finish in heat 4 of the first round of the 800m, putting together a time of 1:45.21, just behind first place finisher, Nijel Amos of Botswana (Amos has the fastest time in 2021).

The champion at the Kenyan Olympic Trials, Saruni’s finish to his heat means he’s also headed to the semifinals of the 800m in his first Olympics. He will race in heat 2 of the semifinals at 5:35 a.m. MT on Sunday in Tokyo.

The Kenyan duo are two of the favorites in a wide-open Olympic half-mile in Tokyo. According to Fan Duel, Korir has the second-best odds to win gold, while Saruni has the eighth-best odds at a first place finish. Both could easily make their way to the podium, and even win the event outright.

Korir and Saruni both won NCAA national championships at UTEP. Korir won both the indoor and outdoor 800m in 2017, while Saruni won the 2018 indoor national title.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian hurdler Tobi Amusan advanced to her second straight Olympic semifinals in the 100m hurdles, by virtue of winning her heat in 12.72 seconds, the fifth-fastest time in round one.

Amusan got out to a strong start and cruised to the finish line, looking comfortable the entire way. Currently ranked fourth in the world in the 100m hurdles, Amusan is also one of the favorites to hit the podium in Tokyo.

Amusan will run in heat 1 of the 100m hurdles semifinals on Sunday, Aug. 1 at 4:45 a.m. MT. She will be hoping to advance to the first Olympic final of her career.

Like Korir and Saruni, Amusan won an NCAA national championship when she was at UTEP. In 2017, she was first to the stripe in the 100m hurdles, handing her the title.

While Amusan and Saruni are focusing solely on one event in Tokyo, Korir will attempt a difficult double, as he runs in the first round of the men’s 400 meters on Sunday (Saturday night in the USA). With a personal best time of 44.21, Korir could be competitive in the event.

He will look to test current 400m world record holder and reigning Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk in heat 4 of the 400 in Tokyo. The race is slated to begin at 8:09 p.m. MT Saturday night.

Elsewhere on the track, incoming UTEP freshman Loubna Benhadja (Algeria) did not advance to the semifinals of the women’s 400m hurdles. Benhadja was last in her heat in 57.19 seconds.

It was thought that former UTEP star Blessing Okagbare (Nigeria) would challenge for a medal in the women’s 100 meters on Saturday, however, Okagbare was suspended from competition on Friday due to a positive drug test.

Former UTEP star Sean Bailey (Jamaica) is slated to run in the final of the mixed 4×400 relay on Saturday at 6:35 a.m. MT. Jamaica was third in qualifying on Friday, and Bailey will be the first Borderland athlete with a shot at a medal at the Tokyo Games.

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