We spoke to Ezinne Okparaebo, Norwegian record holder over 100 metres! We discuss her love for track | 3 Olympics | Living in Norway | Faith in Christ.
Where does your love for athletics and the track come from?
It came when I was a bit older, track wasn’t always a passion of mine. My talent was discovered in a school activity day when I was around ten-eleven. A couple of years after that I started with track and field but no one in my family had done it before, I was the first one. I guessed I’ve always had talent but wasn’t the kind of person who trained the most, and there was a time, around fifteen-years-old, when I quit track because I didn’t have the inner passion or joy. I wanted to do other things and felt a bit insecure so I quit, however when I was seventeen I started up again and that’s when I became the best in my country.
And you moved from Nigeria to Norway when you were young. . .so would you say you are a Nigerian athlete living in Norway or a Norwegian athlete with Nigerian heritage?
I feel like I’m both and that I represent both. Of course my heritage and my roots are from Nigeria but Norway has become a home. That’s a good question but I think that I am both!
Did you ever think you’d reach the heights in your career that you have?
No it was a huge surprise to me, honestly. Yes I was talented but I wasn’t the best in my age-group, there were always people who were better than me. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be a three-time Olympian and reach this high that I have in athletics. If I decide to go into something I go all out and do it to the best of my abilities but I guess there was always a doubt. But through results your confidence gets strengthened and I’ve just kept going from there.
As you just mentioned, you’ve represented Norway at 3 Olympic Games, which one stands out the most in your memory?
They are so different, when I was twenty, that was my first Olympic games and it was also my first senior championship. So that was a really fun experience and everything was new. I was a bit star-struck when I was there with some of the athletes that I had seen before, now being in the same event as them. It was really huge for me and there was no expectation at all, I was just coming to Beijing to learn. I got a national record and just had fun!
In London, I was twenty-four and thought that now I have to do it, I got another national record there and was the best European at that time. My personal best remains from there, so it was also a really good experience because I was in great shape.
Rio wasn’t that good for me, so they are all so different but I guess experience-wise, my first Olympic games, although I was young, was just such a huge deal for me.
So does the pressure increase each time you appear at the Olympics?
Of course, the pressure gets higher because the older you get the more experienced you are. But I always see myself as someone who can handle it quite well. London was the beast for me and I had high pressure there as well. I think there is a reason for everything that happens and it just wasn’t my time in Rio, it was disappointing but at the same time I’m not going to give up because of that.
You’re the Norwegian record holder, fastest woman, it’s a great title. Was that always the ultimate goal for you?
Honestly, even when I was younger, I was thinking beyond Norway. Of course it’s great to have that title but I always think beyond the borders. I think that’s why I’ve been the best for the twelve years.
Ezinne, looking forward we’re at the front end of 2018, what goals, what aims do you have in place for competing this year?
I’m going for the World Indoors and the Europeans in Berlin. Right now I am actually coaching myself and have been since autumn 2017, it’s going really well. I had a good opener and I just had to trust in myself, I do have a faith and I know that there is a reason for everything that happens. I might not see why something is happening but I just have to keep my faith, follow my heart and know that everything works out for good. I need to trust God, have a positive attitude and I feel like when you take ownership of your own development it’s a fun process.
Let’s chat about your personal faith, why does Jesus mean so much to you and hold such value in your life?
It does because I didn’t used to be that outspoken about it, I feel that if you say you are a Christian, in Nigeria that’s fine because everyone has a faith more or less, but here I think people see you in a certain way. As I’ve grown older, I don’t care as much anymore because my faith is a huge part of me and it’s something that I’m proud of. It’s also something I have with me, it’s my safety and my rock. No matter what happens I know that I have a bigger power, I have God with me, nothing is impossible for him. So if I put my trust and all of my burdens on God I know that it will be fine.
Was there a certain point in your life when your faith became real to you?
That’s a part of our culture but sometimes it can just become religious. There was a point at which it had to become personal for me and when I was growing up, it was just what we do, we go to church on Sundays. I took a personal choice to have a relationship with God and I think that is so much stronger than just something you do because your family do. It really doesn’t matter which church I go to, what matter is the relationship that I have and the intensity.
Does having a faith change the way you view your athletics, it terms of mentally and motivation?
My faith gives me confidence, it gives me calmness when I’m about to race because I don’t put all my identity into running, it’s a gift that I have and I would like to honour God with that gift. I want to do it with my best ability but at the same time it’s not all that I am, so I try to have fun with it and that’s it.
How easy is it to ‘have fun with your faith’ in a country like Norway, in the western world?
I think that the best way I can help people to see the greatness of God is by being a light, just being myself and having a strong character. By the way that I live and not always by what I say, I think that’s the best example but I’m not afraid of speaking about faith. I think it’s really interesting to talk about that, I love to talk about topics that are not so ordinary, I welcome that and if I see that someone is open to it then of course I will talk to them about it. It’s all about the situation and people’s intentions.