The turning point in his young athletics career, he says, came at the West African University Games (WAUG) held at Nigeria’s port city of Port Harcourt in November 2018.
Being his first international competition, the 20 year old sprinter was excited and looking forward to learning a lot from the other athletes.
After finishing 7th in the 100m final with a time of 10.71 secs, the realisation suddenly dawned on him that he was as good as the other athletes.
He told me, coach, “When we get back to Ghana, kill me,” University of Ghana Legon’s (UG) athletics coach Elorm Amenakpor told me those were the exact words of Benjamin Kwaku Azamati on their way back from the West Africa University Games in a recent conversation with yours truly.
Asked when it dawned on him he had more to give in the sprints at the ongoing IAAF World Championships Doha 2019, Azamati said, “When I went to the West Africa University Games, which was the highest stage for me at that time of my athletics career, I saw what they (the other athletes) were doing in the competition was not extra ordinary. I told myself that with determination, I’m going to make it. And that was my breakthrough!
Together with his coach, they fashioned out a calendar to suit their pursuits in sports and the demanding academic calendar at the University of Ghana Legon where Azamati is a Bachelor of Science in Marine Science student.
“I became very frequent at training. I did more research on my own. The ones I did not understand, my coach explained them to me. I was open to my coach Elorm Amenakpor which really made him help me. It became easier combining academics and the sports. Basically, I became punctual and dedicated to training.”
The changes had an immediate impact on his track record.
From a national perspective, Azamati burst onto the scene at the 8th Mini Ghana University Sports Association (GUSA) games held at the University of Cape Coast on 11th January 2019(i.e. three days before his 21st birthday) where he caused a major upset with a spirited sprint of 10.61 secs to beat favourite Sarfo Ansah to win the 100m final.
He stole the show with a composed finish in a drama filled final which saw three athletes disqualified for false starts.
Having earlier clocked a life time best 10.60s (PB) in the heats, Azamati held his nerve to beat off competition from the defending champion, Sarfo Ansah, who finished second with a time of 10.67 secs.
“So my times began to improve. It got better and better and it has gotten me to World Championships now,” he said.
Indeed, his roll of honour tells quiet a story:
ROLL OF HONOUR:
Inter Halls in 2018 and 2019- 100m and 200m silver
Mini-Ghana Universities Sports Association Games (GUSA-100m and 4x100m silver 10.61s-January, 2019
African Universities Olympics Egypt- 100m 1st and 4x100m silver
April- UG-GAA Open Championships 100m-10.52s
Cape Coast Ghana’s Fastest Qualifier 10.50s
West African Universities- 10.71 Finalists-November
World Universities Games- 10.32s Semi finalists
West African Zone 2- Medley 100m 200m, 300m and 400m-
False start in 100m final
Burkina Faso Grand Prix 10.43s Gold
African Games 4x100m GOLD; PB equaling 10.32s (PB)
The African Games at Rabat, Morocco presented a different challenge altogether as he had to run as part of Ghana men’s 4x100m relay team and the individual 100m sprint. It also meant Azamati was now making national team bow at the highest level of sports in Africa.
The team was made up of the experienced trio of Sean Safo-Antwi, a former UK track star and a World Indoor 60m finalists in 2017, Joseph Paul Amoah, the national 200m record holder and Martin Owusu-Antwi, a member of the men’s 4x100m relay team at the 2016 African Championships and a former national 200m indoor national record holder. But Azamati says the team, including its coach Dr. Christian Nsiah, was very welcoming to him.
“Yeah, I was new but we got along very well after day one. We sat and talked and even had to decide where we station ourselves on the track .I mean, it’s a wonderful group. We really have fun together and above all we enjoy what we’re doing. I think that alone was a perfect welcome for me.”
As things panned out, Azamati run the back-straight as the men’s 4x100m relay won a surprise gold medal at the Rabat championships and qualified to the IAAF World Championships Doha 2019. On an individual basis, he achieved a personal best equaling 10.32(PB) at the African Games as he exited the men’s 100m semi finals.
At age 21, it is obviously a dream come true to compete at the biggest athletics meet in the world. For Azamati, Doha 2019 presents yet another interestingly opportunity to make the team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
“Yes! It was since I know that is also a route to get me to the Olympics,” he said adding that, “We hoping to get to the final which gets us automatic qualification to Tokyo. We get to the final and take it from there and look at getting into the medal zone. Also, we hope to break the national record as well.”
Born 14th January, 1998, Azamati’s early years saw him take to playing football as dock takes to water just as a typical Ghanaian born boy. Football is the passion of the nation.
“I have a very supportive family and very much into sports. My mommy was a 400m and 200m athlete and daddy played table tennis. So they have also got my back and still pushing me to the top,” he said.
His mother recounts how his son told her, “I am going to make you proud” when he was enrolled at the Presbyterian Boy Senior High School.
The Physical Education teachers at the school introduced him to athletics. They include Nathaniel Botchway, Gideon Appiah, Sir Raymond and Kofi Yesu.
He credits the sports masters at the Presbyterian Boy’s Senior High School, the University of Ghana, and his coach for his change in fortunes.
“Obviously, God is the first. I want to thank Nathaniel Botchway, Gideon Appiah, Sir Raymond and Mr. Kofi Yesu. These were my Physical Education teachers who introduced me to athletics. I’m really thankful for their lives
“We move on to my lovely Coach Elorm Amenakpor, the UG sports Directorate and its Director Dr. Bella Bello Bitugu, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, who gave me the opportunity to go to Nigeria to participate in the WAUG games where everything actually started.”
Azamati’s story is one that will inspire a lot of student-athletes in Ghana and elsewhere. It is possible to successfully combine the academics and sports to achieve ones aim in life as exemplified by Azamati. University sports appears to be the new frontier for developing athletes in Ghana.
Meanwhile, Azamati and the men’s 4x100m relay team will be in action at the IAAF World Championships Doha 2019 on Friday, 4th October, 2019 from 17:40 GMT. The women’s 4x100m relay will be first in action.