Running track and field star Marilyn Okoro, whose right arm shows a tattoo “saved by Grace”, ran proudly for Great Britain.
GB ranked fifth in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, but in 2016, Russia and Russia IV were eliminated by the International Olympic Committee due to doping violations, which raised Okuru and her team to third.
“I can see your veins.”
But when you look at her career, Okoro probably reflects bronze and silver were not good enough. Come to think about it, maybe even the gold medal wasn’t good enough.
She also wants to start a broader conversation about issues surrounding women and body acceptance.
Okoro says she started feeling that she didn’t just have to compete on the track. She had to compete with people’s expectations and demands about what sport should look like.
According to Okuru, this look was skinny, slender and tall.
Okoro remembers a conversation I had with coach Charles Van Comeny, who has worked with the British Athletics team for several years, during the preparatory camp, “Oh, I can see your veins, and that means you’re in good shape.” At the European Championship 2010.
Okuru says that Van Komeni then asked her about her weight.
Okoro, who considered her ideal weight of sweat to be “proudly”, replied 60 kilograms.
Okoro says she weighs 15 kg more than other athletes she has rushed against, putting her above the traditional weight threshold standards on track and field.
According to Okuru, Van Comeney replied, “Oh, you must be so heavy!”
He added, “It would be unprofessional to turn a blind eye, but it is clear that appropriate words and the right tone should be used in dealing with the issue.”
After the tournament, Okoro says she started working with a dietitian and advised to follow a carbohydrate-free diet.
I just thought, “Okay, I just removed all the carbs, so I won’t have any energy” … you start to suspect yourself.
Van Komeni, speaking in particular on Okuru, said he did not want to have a public discussion with the track and field athlete. He continued: “If she had a problem with anything that I said or did not say, I expect her to talk to me, which she did not do.”
However, Van Comeney recalled one conversation with his former athlete as Okuru described “the hustle over not choosing her 800 meters” at the 2012 London Olympics, adding: “It was a very painful experience for her.”
Okuru remembers the conversation differently.
“In 2012, Charles and I exchanged choices, well, shouting at me at the training facility that embarrassed me.”
Okuru, 35, added: “It was two days before British experiments and the press got a comment because it affected my (weak) performance in the tournament and ran with the story.”
Okuru confirmed that she is not related to her weight on this occasion.
“It was more a matter of having to work his way and to dominate,” she said.
“Athletics is a complex sport.”
In the same year, Okoro lost its funding for British athletics under the British Lottery Program.
The British athletics company told CNN they would not comment on any individual decisions, but the funding allocations are made “for performance reasons”.
The criteria that define performance and financing decisions are published every year by the organization.
UK 2020 2020 UKAA Policy states: “We have to be realistic – Athletics is a complex sport with many diverse disciplines, so one size cannot fit all.”
Another section highlights that athletes need to meet individual performance thresholds and demonstrate “ongoing global medal potentials” to receive funding.
UKA follows the “win-win-win” data and analysis framework to assess an athlete’s ability to win medals.
According to the pioneering sports scientist Simon Brundish, these characteristics are created by historical performance data.
“There are real genetic advantages and genetic impediments to be an elite runner or runner that carries the elite,” Brundish, who has worked in international sports for 22 years, told CNN Sport.
“Van Komeni was probably right that Okoro was above the thresholds, but the problem is that these signs were wrong.”
“The data will be based on historical criteria. BMI, maybe even folds of skin. This is good for tennis, in the 1980s, when all women look similar. Then Serena appears. Suddenly” game requirements have changed. “
“It introduces the element of strength and velocity that was not there before. The price of the mentioned force is the muscles. The muscles gain weight. A similar thing happened with 800 meters and in all events of medium distances over the past ten years or so
“The shape of women, in particular, has changed due to changing demands. The strength and speed of the final 200m race has increased and hence the need for greater muscle mass.”
“No exit support”
She says the loss of funding has hit Okuru badly.
“My funding was cut very suddenly without any exit support or sponsorship for my wellbeing afterwards, which is very common for many athletes in the UK.
Okuru, who has funded her career since then, adds: “This, as with many international athletes, was the beginning of many psychological and physical obstacles I had to face.”
It is not uncommon for women to receive self-financing during their sporting lives. “Women have to be paid to play,” Toulshe Farsani, a certified strength and air conditioning coach, told CNN sports.
Physically, I look different …
Okuru moved to the United States before returning to the United Kingdom in 2017. Since then, she has lived in Wigan in northern England, more than 200 miles from her hometown, London.
Okuru is proud of her Nigerian heritage and looking back, she says her family background helped her deal with what she saw as unnecessary interest in her body shape.
“Physically, I look different, stronger and more muscular than many girls who raced. My Nigerian background … It was something I had to stick to,” she says passionately.
“It plays a big role in my achievements and the pursuit of success.”
If she feels strong about recognizing her Nigerian heritage, Okuru is just as enthusiastic about her body’s pride.
“We express ourselves, you know, muscles are doing powerful and exciting campaigns.”
According to Okuru, throughout her career while working with different coaches, some believe she has spent a lot of time in the gym, but the fact is that she often trains in the open air.
“I was different from what the UK coaches saw as an image and shape of a 800 meter runner,” Okuru said.
“These assumptions existed long before Charles [Van Commenee]”.
Okoro says her coaches focused on training the enemy and not enough on endurance.
It was only when she started suffering from injuries that Okoro began to wonder how she was trained.
“Does this coach really understand? And are they really for me?” It reflects. “I was mentally and physically exhausted.
“It was a real struggle to prove myself as one of the best 800 meters runners we have in this country and even in the world.”
The “ideal” athlete
These days all shapes and sizes are celebrated in lifestyle magazines, red carpets, cosmetic ads, and fashion labels.
But is this the case with sports?
“They are women first, and athletes second,” Dr. Emily Matheson, researcher at Appearance Research Center, told CNN Sport.
Dr. Matheson says that more attention is being paid to their body shape rather than their performance and that an “ideal” athlete is a term to describe a sleek body with minimal body fat, which is inspired by a more general Western view that thinness is equal to beauty.
Dr. says. Matheson believes that this may be largely due to “gender stereotypes”. “It is very common for body exposures from gender stereotypes to happen, more specifically, what it means to be feminine and male and how our bodies challenge the stereotype.”
She notes that there have been small transformations, such as positive body image movement and highlights that it was originally developed by black women trying to regain ownership of their bodies and use the word “fat”.
However, Dr. Matheson also argues that the positive movement of the body image has been “bleached,” and she said, “Ultimately, these campaigns can be at a shallow level.”
Okoro hopes to end her 20-year career with a gold medal at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics – but fights the expectations of body image just as important.
“I got one body, it was a great performance for me, so I needed to take care of it,” said Okuru, who was inspired by Serena Williams.
As a reviewer of Brundish, Williams was a key point in the conversation surrounding the body image. The major championship has been criticized 23 times for its shape and size. Two years ago, Williams published an online message to her mother sharing her struggles with expectations of people’s body image.
“No, I just work hard, and I was born with this body poking and proud of it.”
Williams says her daughter Olympia shares the same physique, and expresses in the message, “I don’t know how to respond if.” [her daughter] He must go through what I went through since I was fifteen years old and to this day. “
“We do not all look the same. We are winding, strong, muscular, tall, young, just to name a few, and every breath: We are women and proud!” Williams said.
Okuru was also inspired by mathematics in rugby and soccer.
“They are not your typical queens, but they care less about how they look, get dirty, and make some great shows.”
Okoro wants a new era of role model, or as you call them “real models.”