Courtesy of Cornell Athletics

Junior Tobe Attah and other members of the track and field team competed in the IC4A's over the weekend.

March 8, 2016

Stories from an Athlete: Tobe Attah’s Quest to Break a Cornell Track and Field Record

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After the grueling loss against our rival team Princeton at the 2016 Indoor Ivy League Heptagonal Championships, the men’s track and field team was distraught to say the least.
We were the definitive favorites to reclaim our championship title, but Princeton did not care about any predictions. The Tigers’ primary goal was to beat the guy with a ‘C’ on his chest, and this mentality carried throughout their entire team.

Princeton even got the best of me in my own race. During the prelims of the 400m dash on Saturday, I managed to smoothly break the Barton Hall record in 48.13 seconds. I was confident I was going to have similar success the following day on finals, but confidence only took me so far.

Princeton managed to edge me out by a miniscule 0.03 seconds to take the 400m HEPS Championship title in my favorite event. To technically make things worse, our race was so competitive that we both ran under 48 seconds, meaning he now claims the Barton Hall record.

To this day, we are the only two people to run a 400m dash that fast on this flat track. Luckily I am only a junior, so I have another year to take back this milestone on my home track.

Aside from all the drama collegiate sports brought to my life that weekend, I still had a slew of schoolwork to deal with. I made sure to knock out quick assignments before the HEPS even commenced, but group projects and newer assignments were on the rise.

As hectic as my schedule can be, I have somehow made it a chaotic simplicity. Instead of taking the next weekend off to rest from our conference championships, I decided to venture out east for the 2016 IC4A-ECAC Indoor Championships in Boston. This would be the last indoor competition of my junior season, and I knew I was not done breaking records.
I wanted to go for the all-time indoor 400m dash record for Cornell.

Travelling five plus hours to run around a track in under 47.04 seconds was all I had to do.

Going into the meet, I was No. 5 all time with a 47.99. It may not seem like much, but dropping almost an entire second on your 400m dash personal best is no easy task.

During the Saturday prelims, I ran a clean 47.44 seconds to place second in my heat. I was still .4 seconds away from putting myself on top of Cornell’s record books, but I knew I still had more money in the bank for finals the following day.

My mind was stirring for the next 24 hours. I was one race away from attaining my goal and putting away my indoor season on the best note possible. This, along with a midterm, presentation and take-home exam I had coming up the following week was more than enough to drive me up the wall.

Unfortunately, my hotel’s internet service was buggy and unreliable, so using simple sites like Blackboard to access my learning materials was borderline unfeasible. Evidently, I had no choice but to solely focus on preparing my body for the fastest race of my career.

On Sunday, the IC4A championships atmosphere was exceptional. I felt proud to be the only Ivy League athlete representing the 400m dash at one of the largest track meets in the Northeast. I ended up in the first heat of two, determined to drop the hammer.

The race itself was a neck-and-neck battle between me and a Hampton University athlete. He led the charge to the 200m mark in just over 22 seconds, with me following right behind. With 150m left to go, my body slowly but surely built up lactic acid from going out so fast in the beginning. I can honestly say if it weren’t for my coach’s enthusiasm, the race would have ended differently.

“Stay with him! Stay with him,” head coach Adrian Durant shouted from the infield. Strangely enough, that was the only exclamation I could hear among the huge crowd. It made me think about all the work I put in for that very moment, all the long hours I travelled to be there, all within a few milliseconds.

The adrenaline finally kicked in, and I stood right on Hampton’s tail on the last curve and took over with about 55m left in the race. After leaning over the finish line to win my heat, I immediately looked at the results board to see if I ran under 47.04 seconds.

I ended up finishing my indoor season with a huge PR of 47.21 seconds. It was .17 seconds off of the all-time record, but I was proud of myself nonetheless. I used to dislike indoor track due to the tight turns and more congested style of racing. Proving to myself that I can run personal bests indoor only indicates to me that I am more than ready to head outdoor.

In addition, I solidified myself in the Cornell record books as the No. 2 indoor 400m dash competitor of all time. I am right behind Bruno Hortelano-Roig ’14, currently the national record holder in the 200m dash for Spain.

All this means is I have one more indoor season of my collegiate career. I would not be surprised if I found myself in a race next year with the sole intention to break Bruno’s record.

Above all, I had a plethora of accomplishments this indoor season. Despite the extra hours I spent travelling, training and staying on top of my academics, it was definitely worth the ride. Not only did I improve immensely as an athlete, but I got to watch my teammates see similar success.

But the adventure is not close to being done. The Cornell track and field team will head out west to California to kick off the outdoor season in a few weeks.

From what I have seen, we are anxious to continue our developing success story and keep breaking the limits we set ourselves too.