Feb. 20, 2009
It's July 6, 2008. University of Michigan junior Tiffany Ofili settles into her blocks in the first semifinal heat of the 100-meter hurdles at the 2008 United States Olympic Trials. The star-studded race features 2004 Olympic gold medalist Joanna Hayes, two-time World Champion Michelle Perry and two-time USA Outdoor Champion Virginia Powell.
The starter gun fires and 12.76 seconds later Ofili crosses the finish line fifth in her heat. All the young Wolverine has to do is beat the fourth-place time from the second heat to make finals. As the next wave of competitors crosses the finish line, Ofili looks up at the scoreboard and sees 12.76, her exact time, for the fourth-place competitor. Meet officials review the finishing photos and ultimately determine that Ofili's time was three one-thousandths of a second (.003) slower than Candice Davis' in heat No. 2.
"I was disappointed that I didn't make finals," Ofili said. "To race against athletes who have run all over the world was very encouraging. I have to keep moving forward. My time will come."
It's hard to argue with Ofili on that point. Her personal best time of 12.73 in the 100-meter hurdles would have placed eighth in the Beijing Olympics. She is a three-time NCAA Champion, Michigan's 60- and 100-meter hurdles record holder and was recently featured on Trackshark.com's 12 sprinters to watch for in 2009.
I was very flattered to be featured," Ofili said. "It is just another thing to keep me motivated."
Motivation has never been a problem for Ofili. Starting in first grade, the Ypsilanti, Mich., native would race her older brothers Frank and Alex (both Division-I football players) down their neighborhood street and win. Throughout her high school career, Ofili was a four-time state champion and produced state records in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles and the long jump.
She was named 2005 Miss Gatorade Michigan Track and Field, while in the same year captained her high school dance team and competed on the varsity cheer squad. Not to mention she was also the class salutatorian, class secretary and was selected to the National Honor Society.
It's no wonder Michigan came knocking on the Ofili door--especially since Ann Arbor is just a ten minute drive east to Ypsilanti.
"I chose Michigan not only because of the great track and field program, but its excellent academics," Ofili said.
Ofili has more than fulfilled her status as a student-athlete. The senior was named to CoSIDA second-team Academic All-District in 2008 and was a member of last season's Academic All-Big Ten team. Currently enrolled in the School of Pharmacy, Ofili has over three years left at Michigan.
When asked if she would compete professionally after her collegiate career and during her extra years of school, Ofili remarked, "Absolutely. I would love to be at the 2012 Olympics. I want to take my track career as far as it will go."
As for her final season in a Wolverine uniform, Ofili applies the same philosophy she does at the start of every track season.
"I want to improve upon last year and work even harder. No regrets," Ofili said. "I also want to have fun and not take the sport too seriously."
As Ofili looks to bring home her third straight NCAA Outdoor 100-meter hurdles title in June, she can't help but reflect on what her experiences in track and field have meant to her.
"I'm just grateful for the small blessings," Ofili said. "I run such a short race that something as small as a tenth of a second is huge to me."
Unfortunately for Ofili in the 2008 Olympic Trials, it wasn't a tenth of a second that made the difference--it was three milliseconds. But with three-and-a-half years to prepare, expect this emerging talent to not only be in the finals of the U.S. Trials but the finals of the 2012 London Olympics.