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NOWHERE TO RUN: After LeMoyne-Owen disbands track team, African student keeps Olympic hopes alive

by Shambreon Richardson, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Gérard Kobéané is a sprinter from Burkina Faso, Africa who ran the 100 to 200 meter in the 2012 Olympics in London. And he hopes to compete in Toyko in 2020.

He also hoped to compete for LeMoyne-Owen College, where the biology major was awarded a track scholarship. But LOC’s track program closed in April 2018, leaving the track star with Olympic dreams and nowhere to run – for now, at least.

“I ran for LOC only one semester and they closed the track team down,” said Kobéané, 31. “When things didn’t work out here, I said it’s time for me to run for my country again.

“I have to keep running,” he said. “Since then, (competing in) the Olympics is one of the biggest things I’ve ever achieved in my life and I’m excited for 2020.”

A transfer from Southwest Tennessee Community College on a full scholarship, Kobéané was one of 20 students recruited by then-LOC track coach Bruce Johnson. But Kobeane’s Olympic dreams began in West Africa.

“One day, me and my aunt were watching the Olympics,” he recalled. “I looked at her and told her, ‘I will (run) in 2012!’ She looked at me, smiling, and asked if I knew how to get to there.

“I said ‘Auntie,  I believe. I have faith. That is all I need to make it,’” Kobeane said.

Kobéané was offered track scholarships at several African institutions but ultimately landed at Institute de Formation en Administration des Affaires (IFAA), a business school in Senegal, where he majored in transport and logistics. 

Kobéané competed against runners in Italy, Lebanon, half of the African continent and the United States. He became noticeable when he received gold medals making the national record of a 4 by 100 meter in Portland, Ore. Amazed by his talent and accomplishments, his coach encouraged him to train for the 2012 London Olympics.

‘I chose LOC because it feels like the family and I want to graduate from here. I wish I could’ve run for LOC, but God has a plan. My only hope for the 2020 Olympics is to win a gold medal.’
— Gérard Kobéané

Committed to training three hours a day, seven days a week, his hard work paid off when Kobéané was invited to the 2012  Olympics in London.

“I am the best athlete in my country and the first to make it to the Olympics,” he said. “To be selected by your country and make the standard is a great feeling.”

Kobéané trained alongside Usain Bolt, Allyson Felix, Tyrone Gay, Justin Gatlin and more. Running against the fastest people in the world, Kobéané ran as fast as he could, but finished in 43rd place in the first round and was disqualified.

“It was a tough competition but I had a great experience and opportunity to train and run against these great people,” he said.

Kobéané’s personal coach posted a profile on a website that connects international athletes with colleges. Add in other connections the coach had in Memphis and Kobeane found himself at Southwest That’s where he caught the eye of LOC’s Johnson.

“(Coach Johnson) met with my personal coach,” he said. “My personal coach told Coach Johnson about me and he would always see me training and practicing.”

Kobéané received a full scholarship to LeMoyne-Owen, and would go on to run seven track meets for LOC. But just four months later, Johnson was terminated and the track team was disbanded. And while LOC’s athletic department made good on his track scholarship, it still left him with no school to compete for.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Kobéané, who learned the news while back home in Burkina Faso. “I was about to cry because I put all my faith and work in trying to win nationals and state for LeMoyne-Owen.”

Now, with support from family back home and new family in Memphis, Kobéané is training for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. He trains on the Central High School and Memphis Rox tracks three hours for seven days a week.

“Support comes from my Memphis family, which is my coach,” he said. “I chose LOC because it feels like the family and I want to graduate from here. I wish I could’ve run for LOC, but God has a plan.

“Now I’m ready and training very hard for Tokyo,” he continued. “My only hope for the 2020 Olympics is to win a gold medal.”

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