Orogot preaches patience but hungry for more
What you need to know:
Orogot’s star is rising since finishing fourth over the 200m final at the World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya two years ago. Now a year after settling in Tuscaloosa, he has posted the fastest 10 times by a Ugandan man over the 200m distance, including fifth-place finishes at the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Finals and a semi-final on his World Athletics Championships debut at the Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.
RISING STAR. In just a short time, Tarsis Orogot’s career has thrust up. The Ugandan sprinter has reaped fruits early on after opting to take on a four-year education-athletics scholarship at the University of Alabama in the USA. Orogot’s star is rising since finishing fourth over the 200m final at the World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya two years ago. Now a year after settling in Tuscaloosa, he has posted the fastest 10 times by a Ugandan man over the 200m distance, including fifth-place finishes at the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Finals and a semi-final on his World Athletics Championships debut at the Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. Our man on athletics Darren Allan Kyeyune had a chat with Orogot after his stellar start to 2023.
First, you recently posted the seventh all time fastest time over 200m indoor in NCAA history. 20.20 seconds at the Don Kirby Invitational in New Mexico early this month, how important was this and how did you do it?
It showed all the hard work I put in with my coach and teammates during the fall training was now paying off, and it can only give me the confidence to keep moving forward and preparing for the forthcoming outdoor season. And also, I have to be able to replicate these performances frequently and on the global stage. I just executed my and focused on being the best I could be at that moment.
You’ve now marked a year in the USA. Tell how has this journey been for you?
It’s been a great experience with ups and downs. I have had to adjust to the training, feeding and life routine but now all is getting better. Even for the injuries too, which the trainers and medical team have really helped get me back on the track quickly. I have been working with my life coach too a lot consistently and having my mind more focused into what is important and all those pieces are what are leading to the improvements in performance.
Let’s roll back the time. How did you land this lucrative offer?
I had been based in Kenya training under coach Dennis Mwanzo and Perpetual Mbutu. Initially, I didn’t look into the idea of going to the USA. I rather thought I would just train and go professional however, I run 10.35 seconds in the 100m which became the Ugandan national junior and senior record and that’s where my first breakthrough all came about when the University of Alabama through their head coach and assistant coach for track and field approached me and offered me a track and field scholarship. This was about three weeks to the World U20 Championships which were meant to be at Kasarani in Nairobi.
You finished fourth in the 200m final and also had the national records falls over both the 100m and 200m. How important was the 2021 World U20 Athletics Championships in Nairobi to your career?
The World U20 2021 will forever be very dear to me because they were my debut appearance for Uganda and they have built my confidence and experience on an international stage I can now only build on this experience to make me a better athlete. The biggest lesson I learnt from the championship was patience and belief that my time will come cause whenever I thought I had failed another opportunity presented itself, it is a big lesson I will carry henceforth in my career.
How much were you disappointed with fourth place in that 200m final won by Udodi Onwuzurike in Nairobi? What should have gone better?
At first, I was disappointed because I knew I would have done better but after looking back, I am grateful for my performance since even in that final I run the second fastest time by any Ugandan in history (then) so I believe it was the best I could do at that moment and I continue to look forward to better performances in the future.
Now in the USA, what changes have you had to undertake to fit into the school and athletics system?
I wouldn’t say there were many changes I had to make in order to fit in to the USA. The program for everyone was very welcoming and helpful though but there were things that I had to get used to. For one, the different types of food that are offered here in comparison to back at home. The meals I eat are slightly different and I am not able to cook some of the meals I used to eat at home because some of the ingredients aren’t available. Something else, I had to get used to training for indoor. When I got to the USA, I went straight into an indoor season which was different for me.
Let’s talk about school. You are student of kinesiology and here wondering, how have you managed to balance this with athletics?
Starting my undergraduate has been interesting and I am learning a lot. Sometimes, it can be difficult to manage my athletics program and my undergraduate, but I am able to manage my time well and complete homework assignments when we are traveling for our Meets. This allows me to focus on the Meet during the weekends and make sure I have all my schoolwork done ready for the week ahead.
Take me through a normal day for you. What do you usually do?
A normal day starts quite early for me because I have classes that start at 8am (5pm Kampala time). I wake up at about 6:45am and I get ready for class and eat something small, I then attend my class and if I have a break in between classes I head to the dining hall for a meal. Once I am done with classes I go for lunch and take a break. I then head to training by about 2-3pm where we train all afternoon. I then eat and go back home to start homework and then go to bed. My down time is usually spent watching ongoing events, highlights or a movie. Once or twice a week before Meets, I usually talk to my coach and life coach to prep for the race ahead.
How do you normally prepare on your race day? Take me through it…
Before a race, I make sure I sleep early the night before then I have early breakfast. When I get to the track I don’t do anything. I just meditate and think about why I am doing this for about 30 minutes or so then I listen to loud music usually dance hall music or my local favorite ‘Bad man from Kamwokya’ (by Bobi Wine) and then, I start my warm up gradually with guidance of my coach and in about one hour or so I will be ready for the race.
How different is sprints athletics in Uganda from what you’re experiencing in the USA?
It’s totally different, from preparation, nutrition and mental preparation but the training is the same in Uganda. We just have to add those other key components and we shall get as competitive because we already have the talent in place.
Do you feel you made the right choice to go to the USA?
Coming to the US has been an amazing experience for me. I am now in my second year of my undergraduate and have enjoyed being exposed to different people from all over the world. I have a lot learnt a lot along the way which has impacted me both as a person and an athlete. I do think moving to the US has contributed to that which I am thankful for.
What is the main challenge you have faced since moving to Alabama?
Hmm I would say change of food, luckily it doesn’t real get cold in Alabama so that’s a positive, balancing school and track is a challenge but the university has systems in place to help student-athletes. So though there are challenges there, equally remedies for them which mitigates their effects on me.
Who is the toughest opponent you have faced over the past one year? And why that one?
Mm…I have faced and raced all the best sprinters in the world any you could think of. I have raced them at some point. I have been in races where very fast times have been run so I can’t point out my toughest opponent because they so many great sprinters I have gone against. Hopefully in the future I will be there toughest opponent.
How did you get into athletics?
I used to play a lot of rugby 7s in high school at St. Lawrence Schools and colleges that was my interest but one day in high school during a sports day which used to be in first term, the sports teacher needed a boy for the 100m and that’s how he selected me. I just went to fill up the lane but ended up winning the race with 11.35 hand time and from then my interest kept growing and I slowly diverted into track and field.
And then, how did you end up as a sprinter and not a middle or long-distance runner?
I naturally found the sprints easier because I hate running for a long time plus my mum used to run the 400m and the people I looked up to like Usain Bolt, Noah Lyles were all sprinters. That’s how I ended up in the sprints.
Do you have any family members who used to do sports or athletics at a top level? And if yes, how did they inspire you?
Actually my family hasn’t had anyone take on sports professionally, they just participated at the school level but from the stories I had, my mum was a decent 400m and 200m sprinter same as most of my sisters. However, my younger siblings are now on course to pursue the same path of track and field. So right now, I am motivated to inspire my younger siblings to take up the sport as well and work hard.
How did you end up with the nickname ‘Gonya’?
Gonya comes from one of my biggest role models local Michael Wokorach, the former Ugandan rugby 15s and 7s captain. He coached me in St. Lawrence High School. And him being an OB as well inspired me to achieve great things, just like him so my teammates used to call me Gonya because of how I used to tackle, just like him. So it stuck with me, I now put that aggressiveness on the track.
Sprinters from Uganda have good history but they are currently few that scale the heights. Why do think it is so?
In the past yes, Uganda has had world class sprinters like (Davis) Kamoga, John Akii-Bua, Moses Mila but even with the success they brought, no visible infrastructure has been put in place to have other athletes emulate them and the fact that the sprints are very technical and expensive, this has played a big role in the poor performance in the sprints events in the country. Without finances and exposure, one may not reach their full potential.
You’ve been through the furnace. What do you think a sprinter in Uganda must do to scale even greater heights?
I feel it’s really tough for the sprinters in Uganda because all odds are against them. I have siblings training in Uganda and even with my support, I still find it very hard getting them prepared because of the lack of basic things like training grounds, certified physiotherapists, which makes it really difficult to be at the competitive level. With the renovation of the Namboole Stadium, probably things could get better but for now I believe they should keep training and hoping for the best.
What is your plan for 2023 and how are you working to achieve it?
My 2023 plan remains the same just like ever since I started track and field and that is to be the best I can be. I look forward to remaining healthy, living right. I also look forward to getting more races in my second event that is the 100m. It has been over a year since I ran a 100m race so I look forward to get a couple of those in. I look forward to becoming more competitive both at the NCAA level and on the world stage. I believe with hard work all this are possible. 2023 is more of a good opportunity to prepare myself for the Olympic year as I aim to be competitive on the global stage.
You were meant to compete at the Commonwealth Games. How come this didn’t happen for you in Birmingham, England last year?
Yeah, I was supposed to but my travel visa didn’t get to me on time so I couldn’t make it on time for the championship.
How big an experience was it for you to compete at the Oregon World Championships in Eugene last July?
It was a great experience I got to live one of my long term dreams. It only showed how much work I have to put in to be competitive and it’s a template we are using this season in preparation to keep achieving great things and it is evident in my performances, confidence and mental preparation.
What would you like to do differently at the upcoming Budapest World Athletics Championships in comparison to what you put up in Oregon?
I hope to just be more competitive, execution of my races is so key as well as confidence in myself. I expect to use my past experience as a positive indicator of what I am supposed to do in those situations.
Along the way, what lessons have you learnt in the sport?
I have learnt a lot of lessons but the most important being patience. To be a successful athlete you have to be patient and know your time will come and this has also translated into a big life lesson as well because to set up anything in life one has to be patient be it education, business, agriculture in order to be successful.
You are still a student in the USA system. When do you plan to become fully professional?
That is not even in my thoughts. Right now, I am focused on running as fast as I can and graduating from the university. After that, God will pave the way for my next phase, I am grateful for the opportunity I have now and I can’t take it for granted. I still haven’t done anything significant in the collegiate system till then. I still have a lot of unfinished business here.
Where would you want your sprint career to be by the time your scholarship with Alabama is done?
By the time am done with my career at Alabama, I hope to hold all the sprint records at the school, I also hope to win all major titles in the NCAA as well as on the international scene, I hope to medal on the world stage. In short, I am confident Alabama is going to be a solid foundation for my pro career I just have to continue putting in the work.
OROGOT AT A GLANCE
Full Name: Tarsis Gracious Orogot
Date of birth: November 24, 2002
Major events: 100m and 200m
Outdoor Personal bests: 10.35 seconds (100m) and 20.32 (200m)
Coach: Blaine Wiley
Major Honours: Uganda 100m and 200m Junior and Senior National Records, World U20 200m Finalist (4th place), 200m NCAA Trophy (5th place)
Twitter Handle: @tarsis_de_gonya
Instagram Handle: @tarsis_de_gonya
Favourite sprinter / idol: Noah Lyles (USA)
Favourite Meal: Rice and chicken
Favourite Colour: Black
Favourite Holiday destination: Las Vegas, USA
Current phone type: Samsung S10 Plus
Wine or whisky: None
OROGOT INDOOR IN 2023 (200M)
Jan 28, 2023: Bob Pollock Invitational (4th, 20.71)
Feb 13, 2023: Don Kirby Elite Meet (1st, 20.20)
OROGOT INDOOR IN 2022 (200M)
Feb 5, 2022: Charlie Thomas Invitational (7th, 21.36)
Feb 12, 2022: Tyson Invitational (2nd, 21.39)
Feb 25, 2022: SEC Indoor Championships (3rd, 21.07)
OROGOT OUTDOOR IN 2022 (200M)
Apr 15, 2022: Tom Jones Memorial Invitational (3rd, 20.39)
Apr 30, 2022: LSU Invitational (1st, 20.15)
May 12, 2022: Southeastern Conference Champs (Heat 4, 3rd, 20.61)
May 14, 2022 Southeastern Conference Champs (Final, 6th, 20.54)
May 25, 2022: NCAA East Preliminary Round (Round 6, 1st, 20.27)
May 27, 2022: NCAA East Preliminary Round (Heat 1, 3rd, 20.55)
Jun 8, 2022: NCAA Div. I Outdoor Champs (Semi Heat 3, 4th, 20.32)
Jun 10, 2022: NCAA Div. I Outdoor Champs (Final, 5th, 20.48)
Jul 18, 2022: Oregon World Champs (Heat 4, 3rd, 20.44)
Jul 19, 2022: Oregon World Champs (Semi Heat 2, 5th, 20.35)
FASTEST TIMES BY UGANDAN SPRINTERS
100M (BEST BY ATHLETE)
10.35 seconds: Tarsis Orogot (Jul 1, 2021)
10.38 seconds: Benson Okot (Feb 4, 2022)
10.43 seconds: Pius Adome (May 11, 2019)
10.48 seconds: Moses Mila Mayat (Mar 27, 1998)
10.49 seconds: Moses Musonge (Aug 8, 1987)
200M (BEST BY ATHLETE)
20.32 seconds by Tarsis Orogot (Jun 8, 2022)
20.63 seconds by Moses Mila Mayat (Mar 27, 1998)
20.81 seconds by Pius Adome (Jun 4, 2017)
20.92 seconds by Ali Ngaimoko (Jul 14, 2011)
21.04 seconds by Emmanuel Tugumisirize (Apr 19, 2014)
UGANDAN MALE SPRINTERS AT WORLDS
Helsinki 1983: Moses Kyeswa (400m, 7th Semi-Final Heat 2), Mike Okot (6th, Quarterfinal Heat 1)
Tokyo 1991: Joel Otim (6th, 100m Heat 3 & 7th, 400m Heat 2)
Stuttgart 1993: Francis Ogola (DQ, 400m Quarterfinal Heat 1)
Gothenburg 1995: Davis Kamoga (8th, 400m Semi-final Heat 1), Francis Ogola (5th, 400m Quarterfinal Heat 1)
Athens 1997: Davis Kamoga (400m, Bronze)
Eugene 2022: Tarsis Orogot (200m, 5th Semi-Final Heat 2)