Former NFL player Okoye wins Commonwealth discus silver
|Hosts: Birmingham Dates: From July 28 to August 8|
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England’s Lawrence Okoye, who left athletics for American football after London 2012, won his first senior medal with Commonwealth discus silver.
Okoye, 30, returned to the puck in 2019 after his NFL career stalled.
He did not make the final at last year’s Tokyo Olympics or the 2022 World Championships, but a throw of 64.99m saw him finish on the podium behind Australia’s Matthew Denny in Birmingham.
Teammate Andrew Pozzi fell over the line as he won bronze in the 110m hurdles.
Jamaican Olympic champion Hansle Parchment had pulled out of the race with an injury earlier in the evening, opening the door for England’s Pozzi and compatriot Joshua Zeller.
Jamaica’s Rasheed Broadbell of Parchment took the top game and gold in 13.08 seconds, his time equaling the Commonwealth record set by Wales’ Colin Jackson in 1990.
But from lane eight Pozzi ran a determined race to claim a medal behind Barbados’ Shane Brathwaite.
Fourth-place finisher Zeller was two-hundredths off Pozzi’s time of 13.37 seconds.
“I drove to the line and almost got there,” Pozzi said.
“I was desperate to get there.
“That medal was necessary. People probably don’t understand the weight that the last few years have had on the athletes.”
Pozzi moved to Italy to train with legendary Cuban coach Santiago Antunez only to find himself restricted and isolated by the Covid pandemic and the complications of Britain’s new relationship with the European Union.
It also meant an often long-distance relationship with partner and fellow athlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who has trained in France and the United States in recent years.
Since Antunez moved to Colombia earlier this year, Pozzi has returned to the UK to find new form and direction.
Okoye gets the discus medal
Okoye was one of the stars of London 2012, reaching the Olympic final and finishing the year with the fifth furthest throw of the season.
However, the 20-year-old had other options. Instead of pursuing athletics, top-level rugby union or a law degree at Oxford University, he signed a deal with the NFL team, the San Francisco 49ers.
He was traded to the Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins, never making an appearance in a competitive game, before returning to the Athletics.
“It’s a huge breakthrough for me. I’ve doubted myself quite a bit, so to do this means a lot,” Okoye said.
“Since I’ve been back, I’ve done a lot of training and warm-ups, but I haven’t made it in the competitions.
“Today was a big step forward and hopefully at the Europeans, and going forward to Paris, I can really unlock my potential.”
Okoye’s personal best remains a 68.24m effort from May 2012, and has previously said he believes he can throw over 70m, a distance that would have won gold at the Tokyo Olympics as well as Birmingham.
Kinghorn and Wightman revel in the Birmingham atmosphere
Scotland’s Sammi Kinghorn felt the love from the south of the border crowd as she tried to roar home in the T53/54 1500m.
However, the 26-year-old was unable to overhaul Australian marathon champion Madison de Rozario, eventually finishing with bronze.
“I just tried to kick and obviously I got a bit burnt on the home straight and got caught, but a medal for Scotland, it’s a dream come true,” he said.
“This crowd! Most of them are probably English, but they are getting absolutely behind the home nations.
“As I started to accelerate I could feel the crowd getting louder and louder and I thought ‘wow, let’s do this’.”
Earlier in the day, compatriot and world 1500m champion Jake Wightman enjoyed a similar experience as he won his heat to enter Saturday’s final.
His father and trainer Geoff, who commented in the stadium about Wightman’s win in Eugene, was once again at the helm.
Wightman said hearing his father introduce him as world champion drove home the scale of the past month’s achievements.
“It was special, it was a confidence boost if you get announced like that. That’s as far as it goes,” he said.
“It was nice to walk around earlier with a lot of people coming up to me and saying ‘well done’.”