Anyika Onuora

World, Olympic and European medallist

Anyika Onuora made her Olympic debut in 2008 as part of the wider 4x100m relay squad but had to wait another long 4 years before making it on to the race track having narrowly missed out on final team selection in Beijing. At London 2012 Anyika competed in the Olympic stadium in both the 100m and 200m individual events. Three years later in 2015 Anyika made the decision to change race discipline to take on the longer, gruelling sprint endurance of 400 metres. This change proved to be a successful one for Anyika and just one year later at the Rio Olympics she received her Olympic Bronze medal along with her teammates in the 4×4 relay.

Leading up to 2016 Anyika enjoyed relay success at the World Championships, again picking up a Bronze whilst also winning relay Gold at the European championships and individual 400 metre bronze. But although her medal collection was growing it was not all plain sailing for Anyika.

Anyika not only had to work hard physically to become an elite athlete worthy of world and Olympic medals but she also had to push herself mentally to reach the top. Growing up Anyika had struggled with body confidence issues both at school and within the athletics environment. Being labelled as ‘fat’ Anyika became conscious that she was not the same as everyone else. Her powerful, athletic, strong build was not seen as normal and attending a majority white school made her feel even more conscious of her own body shape. It took huge resilience to persevere with her athletics career and suppress her confidence issues.

Several years later Anyika had to face an entirely different challenge. At a time when Anyika was starting to fly high in her career, all came to a shuddering halt and the possibility of never walking again, never running again, never competing again, let alone make the Olympics squad was to become reality. In October 2015 Anyika travelled to Nigeria and unfortunately contracted the disease Malaria. At a time when she should have been ramping up her winter training Anyika was, instead, extremely ill for several weeks. If her diagnosis had come just a few hours later the outcome could have been worse for her; a lot worse. She was told by her consultant that she was lucky to be alive. The time spent in hospital was extremely tough and there were days when Anyika wondered if she would make it out but after experiencing extreme fevers Anyika started to build her strength; quite literally step by step. She first learnt how to walk again then started to run and eventually got back to the training track. 10 months after contracting the disease Anyika was stood on the Olympic podium.

Anyika only told a couple of her GB squad team mates about her illness, she did not want to use it as any kind of weakness. In contrast her experience has taught her quite how much strength she does have.

Anyika’s story is one of perseverance, whether that is dealing with body confidence issues, fighting harder following non-selection or working hard to get back to fitness after a life-threatening illness. An eloquent and engaging speaker with a story that will inspire many to dig deep and understand that there is always more strength in our tank than we first think.

In November 2019 Anyika announced her retirement from athletics after a 20-year involvement in the sport.


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