Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: In 2 years, Carrollton Newman Smith runner Courtney Okolo has become nation's fastest in 400 meters
CARROLLTON — When Courtney Okolo lined up for her first 400-meter race two years ago, she wasn’t sure what to expect. Okolo was a freshman, and she had only run the 100 in middle school.
“I thought I wouldn’t like the 400,” the Carrollton Newman Smith junior said, “but it wasn’t that bad.”
And it would get a lot better. Okolo finished second in that first race, but last year, she finished second to none in the Class 4A state final. Even more impressive, Okolo’s 400 time of 53.93 seconds at the TCU Invitational in March is this year’s best high school time in the nation.
First race to first in the nation in just two years. How does that happen?
“Talent and character,” Newman Smith coach James Busby said.
Oh yeah, and she hates to lose. If anyone is fast enough to challenge Okolo in the final 100 meters, she has a higher gear than everyone else.
“I have to win,” she said with a smile. “I’m not a competitive person with everything, just the things that I care about.”
Running is one of those things, and it shows. Last week, Okolo won the 4A Region II 400 title by nearly two seconds. She also won the 800 and finished the meet by anchoring Newman Smith’s champion 4x400 relay.
Okolo did it all in a little more than two hours.
“I wasn’t physically that tired, but mentally, I just wanted a break,” Okolo said. “Everything was just going so fast. I wanted everything to slow down.”
Everything usually looks slow around Okolo, who has also run the 200 this year. She probably could’ve qualified for state in that event, too, but four events in one evening would be difficult. Okolo said she might try to qualify in the 200 next year, but on Friday, her goal is to win the 400 and the 4x400 relay.
A win in the 800 would also be great, but Okolo hasn’t run it as much, and not against the state’s top competition.
“The 800 is really different,” she said. “At first, I didn’t know how to run it, but I’m getting used to it.”
She’ll run the 800 at 6:20 p.m., the 400 is scheduled for 7:45 and the 4x400 starts at 9:05. That’s not a lot of time to rest between races, but Okolo recovers quickly. Okolo is confident, but her coaches emphasize that nothing is a given, even in the 400.
“It won’t be easy,” Busby said. “We’ve told her that she’s going to have to make it happen.”
Okolo knows that. She’s been disappointed in her 400 starts lately, she said, and Friday she needs to “get out hard in the first 200.”
After that, Okolo will be hard to beat. And that’s what Busby expected back before Okolo ran in her first high school meet.
“After just a few days of practice,” he said, “I knew she was going to be great. She really cannot stand to lose.”