When Coppin State sprinters Joseph Amoah and Joseph Manu represent Ghana in the Olympics this summer, it will hardly be first time they will have teamed up.

Amoah and Manu have known each other for about eight years, dating back to when they were high school track teammates at Prempeh College in Kumasi, Ghana. The two also ran together at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi in 2015-16. Amoah then transferred to Coppin, where he has run for five years. Manu eventually followed suit, and he has run at Coppin for the past three years.

And now, the 24-year-old sprinters are set to compete in the Toyko Games, which are scheduled for July 23-Aug. 8 after being postponed last year due to COVID-19. Amoah will represent Ghana in the 100- and 200-meter events, and both will be part of Ghana’s 4×100-meter relay team. If their paths to the Olympics sound unlikely, don’t tell them that. They’ve been planning this for quite some time.

“It’s actually amazing. It’s nice. It’s like a dream come true,” Manu said. “We were actually talking about making the Olympics. … While we were talking about all this stuff, it was like two, three, four years to the Olympics and now the Olympics is this close to us and we’re actually about to get to [compete], it’s an amazing feeling. I’m living the dream and I’m still pinching myself.”

But it’s not as if Amoah (6-foot-1, 161 pounds) and Manu (5-9, 165) always thought they were going to be Olympic sprinters. They both grew up in Ghana preferring soccer and only started to take track seriously as sophomores in high school. How the two ended up at Coppin in the first place was a happy coincidence for all parties involved.

One of their track teammates at KNUST was Martin Owusu-Antwi, who had family living in Maryland. Owusu-Antwi was interested in coming to the area for college and landed at Coppin. Owusu-Antwi, who ran for the Eagles from 2016-2018, told Coppin head coach Carl Hicks about Amoah.

“Coach Hicks contacted me and told me about the school,” Amoah said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I like this school.’ Martin was a really close friend of mine, so I wanted to be where he was. When the coach spoke to me, I didn’t really think twice about it.”

Soon enough, Manu would join Amoah at Coppin, and they began to recognize their potential at the school with the help of sprints coach Jamie Wilson and strength and conditioning coaches Matt Walker and Chris Hays. Amoah said the training done at Coppin allows athletes to shine on a national — and international — stage even though the Eagles don’t have anywhere close to the resources of high-major programs.

Other programs have more scholarship money on hand, so the Eagles have to “skin a cat a different way,” according to Hicks, who mentioned that Coppin works to improve speed, endurance, strength and explosiveness in its runners.

“This has not been our first NCAA go-around and Olympic qualifying at Coppin State,” said Hicks, who coached 2016 U.S. Olympian Christina Epps at Coppin. “It’s just the fact that we have a little system in place that we’ve been using for a while that [is] successful when it comes to sprinting — anyone from a 400 on down.”

The proof is in the pudding. The first time Amoah ran the 100-meter dash for Coppin was at the Florida Relays in the spring of 2017. He ran it in 10.60 seconds. The first time he ran the 200-meter dash for the Eagles was at the Patriot Games earlier that same year. He ran it in 22.29 seconds.

Amoah’s personal records are now 10.00 seconds in the 100-meter dash, set at the 2021 Aggie Invitational in April, and 20.08 in the 200-meter dash, set at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships in June 2019. The latter is a Ghanaian record, while his 100-meter time is 0.03 off the record. (Usain Bolt, now retired, won the 100-meter dash finals at the Rio Games in 2016 in 9.81 seconds and the 200-meter finals in 19.78 seconds.)

Manu has personal records of 6.66 seconds in the 60-meter dash, set at the East Coast Invitational in February 2021, and 10.28 seconds in the 100-meter dash, set at the 2021 Aggie Invitational. He arrived at Coppin running those races in about 6.90 and 10.80 seconds, respectively.

For Manu, coming to Coppin was a game-changer.

“When I [came] here, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m actually in a D-I school. I’m actually running. I have to take this seriously,'” Manu said. “I used to play around back home, not taking it serious, so coming here to Coppin, you have to devote more time to your training program, your food, the gym, weight room and all this stuff. It has kind of opened a new phase for me. I’m now seeing track and field from a different perspective than I used to see it back home.”

Manu and Amoah’s work at Coppin has led them to Tokyo. Amoah became the first Ghanaian to qualify for the Tokyo Games in any sport when he ran the 200-meter dash in 20.20 seconds at the MEAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships in May 2019. He then qualified for the 100-meter dash in the Olympics at the NCAA Championships a month later, running the 100-meter in 10.01 seconds.

Amoah and Manu qualified for the 4×100 event in the Olympics during the World Relay Championships in Poland in early May. The other two runners on the team are Sean Safo-Antwi and Benjamin Azamati. The quartet completed its preliminary heat in 38.79 seconds, good enough to qualify for the World Relays final and a spot in the 4×100 event in Tokyo.

The four would have finished third in the finals with a time of 39.11 seconds, but Manu was ruled to have received the baton from Azamati beyond the exchange zone and Ghana was disqualified. Still, that didn’t impact the team’s standing for the Olympics.

Amoah is thrilled to be able to go to Toyko with his friend and teammate.

“We’re pretty much talking about it all the time,” Amoah said. “I tried to call him ‘Olympian’ even before he made the team for the [4×100]. I called him ‘Olympian,’ but the only reason I did that was to push him. … Going there with him I feel like is going to be wonderful. I have someone who I’m more familiar with, although I know all my Ghana teammates. But it’s definitely more with [Manu given that] we’re in the same school and we see each other every day at practice.”

Now, the pair’s long-held Olympic dream is a reality. Ghanaians will be watching closely when Amoah and Manu take to the track in Tokyo this summer, and both are embracing that responsibility.

“I’m not just going there to just run and be like, ‘I competed at the Olympics,'” Amoah said. “I want to go there to make a mark for my country and myself.”

“Medaling in any race I compete in,” Manu explained, “that’s my ultimate goal — to be on the podium.”

Update: Amoah announced he will not compete in the 100-meter dash in Tokyo, just the 200 and 4×100.

Photo Credits: Tim Rice/TagTheShooter

Issue 269: June/July 2021

Originally published June 16, 2021

Luke Jackson

See all posts by Luke Jackson. Follow Luke Jackson on Twitter at @luke_jackson10