"The Biggest Hurdle in Sydney" - 2000 Olympics
Sports Illustrated article - Rick Reilly
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The TV blazers this week will get out their Emmy voices and tell you how these Olympics are all about hopes and dreams. But what if your hopes and dreams are lying in the Sydney morgue?
What if your name is Glory Alozie, and you're 22, and you're the second best woman 100-meter hurdler in the world, and you come to September all speed and smiles and wedding plans? What if, a week before the Sydney Games open, your teammate, your fiance, your life steps out from behind a bus into the grill of a speeding car and changes all your dresses from white to black?
He was going out for snacks for everybody.
Nigerian sprinter Hyginus Ananyo Anugo, 22, was the kind of guy who rang most doorbells with his elbow, his arms were so full. "He was always bringing us presents," says teammate Joan Ekah, who shared an apartment with Hyginus and Glory in Valencia, Spain, where they all trained.
"He would come home from meets with bags full of presents. He'd say, "This blouse is perfect for you, Glory, and these shoes for you, Joan."
"Life is sweet when you're young, fast and you've already won your Glory. They were to get hitched maybe in January.
But first came Sydney and hopes and dreams. A Nigerian runner has never won a gold medal, but Glory was going to change all that. She'd been on the heels of American hurdler Gail Devers all year, and with Dever's knack for Chevy Chase-ing at the Olympics, who knew?
As for Hyginus, he was one of eight men still in training for Nigeria's 4 x 400 relay team. A few weeks together in Sydney at the greatest meet in the world with a wedding waiting out there, just past the tape? How much better can it get?
Except then the Nigerian Olympic Committee decided only six relay runners would make the trip to Sydney. Hyginus happened to be No. 7. Glory asked members of the committee if he could be flown to Sydney anyway, to support her, and they agreed. He wouldn't be allowed to live in the athletes' village, so he would bunk with her coach in a dorm room in southwest Sydney. He would train with the team after all and see his fiancee through the race of her life.
So, on Sept. 7, at about 9p.m., right after his nightly prayers, Hyginus, a devout Christian, jumped up off his knees and ran to a nearby 7-Eleven. Coming back, a bus slowed to let him cross the street, and he waved and ran. Maybe he forgot how everyone drives on the left in Australia instead of on the right, like at home. Maybe he never saw the car that would make him a resident of a far more silent village.
Glory was a mess, of course. She wanted to go back to Spain and cry under their bedspread until the Athens Games. She wanted to sleep, die, pray, anything but run.
"She couldn't be left in a room alone," says her friend, 1984 bronze 4 x 400 relay medalist Innocent Egbunike, Glory couldn't bear to march in the opening ceremonies.
And run in the Games? This wasn't a time for games.
What could there be in a race to make her whole again? Still, her friends begged her. Her coaches whispered to her. Her agent. Her family. You are so close now. She couldn't sleep.
Would Hyginus be alive if she hadn't stepped in?
Back in Nigeria, Hyginus's father hadn't been told about his son's death. He'd suffered a stroke two weeks before, and his family worried the news would finish him. Wouldn't Glory's running draw a lot of attention and force their hand?
She's so small, only 5'1" in spikes, 115 pounds, with a tiny voice and big, chocolate-coin eyes. She must have looked down that row of hurdles and wondered how she could possibly lift her heart over them. "It took lots and lots of prayer and talk,," says Ekah, but four days after the accident, there Glory was, sitting on the team bus, waiting to go to practice, holding her Bible.
She's back at speed, looking strong, until her legs stop and that little voice tries to talk about it. Then she just swallows and walks away.
"She decided she will race for God's glory," say Egbunike.
"She will give it her all. If she wins, she'll dedicate it to her Hyginus, whom she loved so much." The media will blather on about Olympic courage and strength, but they can't know what Glory will require this week. They don't really know about hurdles. And they can't imagine what it will be to line up in the race of your life, suddenly running unattached.
Update on story - Glory won the bronze medal and dedicated it to her former fiancee Hyginus Ananyo Anugo
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