A fourth place finish in the high jump at the VHSL Class 2 outdoor track state championship meet a year ago was a fine finish, but hardly what Martinsville’s Nwachukwu Ugbomah-Otunuya wanted.
The Bulldogs’ senior has used the disappointment from that finish as motivation all season, and Saturday Ugbomah-Otunuya got his revenge, clearing 6-feet, 2-inches in the event for his first ever state championship.
This weekend felt like déjà vu for Ugbomah-Otunuya, known as Chewy around school. He was hoping the high jump competition would happen on Friday night, but just like a year ago, it was rained out and pushed to Saturday.
“It wasn’t even like I let my colleagues down, I let myself down,” he said.
“I remember last year thinking if I had a second chance... I would do it differently and it turns out it happened the exact same way it did last year. It was rained out, the first day was canceled. We went to eat at the exact same spot. Everything was happening the same way so I was like, ‘This is a sign that I have to do things differently.’”
The senior was hoping that the high jump would be his first event of the weekend, and a way to set the tone for all four of his events. It turned out that with the delay it was his third event, and came after grueling races in the 110 meter hurdles, where he finished third with a time of 15.56 seconds, and the 4x100 meter relay, where he was the first leg of the the team that also finished third.
“I came in from the start in 110, even though I came in third I felt really good,” he said. “I didn’t let it get me down, I just kept going through the day. And it just turned out to be a successful day.”
Saturday’s jump was three inches lower than his season best of 6-feet 5-inches, a number he was trying to go for this week. But after admitting his body was “a little torn” after his two events early Saturday morning, he knew he just needed to do whatever it took to win.
Ugbomah-Otunuya and two other competitors both cleared 6-2, and none of them cleared 6-4. The Bulldog was declared the winner because he had the fewest scratches of the three competitors.
“I wanted to trust the process as much as possible,” he said. “I didn’t want anything to distract me. Even the rain out I was like, ‘It was meant to happen this week so I’ve just got to use this for more preparation.’
“It was still like, ‘I didn’t come here for nothing,’ so I just pushed through and it just turned out I got what I needed.”
In addition to his state victory and two third place finishes, Ugbomah-Otunuya also finished fourth in the 300 meter hurdles, and event he considered skipping because it began about 15 minutes after he finished the high jump.
Despite the fatigue, he finished first in his heat and gained a fourth all-state finish for the day with a time of 42.33.
“At first I wasn’t going to run it because I was like, ‘I already accomplished my goal,’” he said. “And I was coming to sit down and my coach was like, ‘Why aren’t you running?’ and I didn’t have an excuse so it was like, ‘You don’t have an excuse and you came here to give it 120 percent,’ so I just had to go through and finish it out stronger.
“And I knew once I started the race, even though I hate the race, as soon as I started that competitiveness kicks in. So as soon as I came around that curve and I just knew I had to do just a little bit more I had to give since it was the last of my career.”
Cara Cooper is the sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach her at (276)638-8801 ext. 241.