Ukabam focused on Olympic qualifying

By Gus Bode

Every time SIU senior thrower Amarachi Ukabam throws a weighted object, it’s bound to break more than the plane of the ground it lands on. With each Ukabam toss, heave or launch, a record is likely to break and a championship is likely to be won.

But that’s old news.

Now, she has a different focus – qualifying for the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing in the shot put. It may be a tall order, but SIU throws coach John Smith says Ukabam has already achieved all she can at the collegiate level. So when the track season starts on Friday, Ukabam will have a new distance to eclipse.


“(Her) main goal is to get Olympic A-standard right now, which is 64 feet, 8 inches in the shot,” Smith said.

“She’s a year or two away from having a real shot at the U.S. Olympic team. That’s where I want her focused. What she does collegially will be gravy,” he said.

In her one year as a Saluki after transferring from Ohio State, Ukabam has had nothing but success, breaking about every all-time record she could. Ukabam set new standards for the all-time discus, 20-pound weight and indoor and outdoor shot puts by breaking all of the school records. In the process, she claimed the Missouri Valley Conference championship in all of the aforementioned events. On her way to crowns in all those events, Ukabam smashed all-time MVC records.

Ukabam also qualified for the Olympic trials in the shot put and finished eighth. The top three represent the United States in the Olympics.

Ukabam’s list of things to do is dwarfed by the list of thing she’s done.

“Pretty much collegially, the only thing missing from her resume is an NCAA title,” Smith said. “She’s pretty much done everything else.”

Ukabam isn’t content with emulating last year’s performances. She wants more out of herself. More strength. More speed. More distance.


Earning all-American honors and countless indoor and outdoor championships isn’t enough.

“I want to go as far as I can this year,” Ukabam said. “I’m not going to stop; I’m not going to give up. I’m going to take every meet like it’s a big challenge and work hard and go as far as I can.”

At this point, that distance seems to only be about three or feet. That’s the distance separating Ukabam from the elusive A-standard, which Smith said is the only thing that matters in the shot put after college. Even though Saluki throwers haven’t begun training outside, Ukabam said she has already surpassed her distance in the shot put from last year and is inching closer to the new standard.

“I’ve already thrown a lot better, and I haven’t peaked out,” Ukabam said. “We’re still training hard, and I’ve thrown better than last year already, so I know by that I am (getting closer).”

Defying conventional throwing wisdom, Ukabam didn’t attribute her improvements to a summer of bulking up. Instead, her main focus was slimming down. By eating right and daily trips to the sultry makeshift weight room under McAndrew Stadium, Ukabam shed about 40 pounds.

With adequate power, balance and technique, true speed was the only facet missing from Ukabam’s arsenal. Dropping pounds proved to be the best way to add distance.

“She did what she had to do to get better,” Smith said. “And that was losing the weight, and she did it. That was up to her.”

At the same time Ukabam lost weight, she made sure to strengthen her muscles to sustain the power in her toss. The scary part, at least for the opposition, is Ukabam has finally refined one of the key components necessary to succeed in throwing events.

“Last year, I couldn’t control my speed,” Ukabam said. “I had to do various things to accommodate for that. Now, I can control it, and that’s a positive for me.”

With a more explosive approach, there’s no telling what stones Ukabam will turn. The one thing she can zero in on, though, is 64-8 and the Olympics. There isn’t too much else to shoot for.

“It’s a matter of how much she gets after it,” Smith said. “It’s up to her now.”

Reporter Jordan Wilson can be reached at [email protected]