KINGSTON, R.I. – All that separates Ashhad Agyapong from the 2012 Summer Olympics is .01 seconds.
One-100th of one second. It takes the average human being three times as long to blink. To say that Agyapong is close to achieving his dream is a vast understatement.
Last week, the former Rhode Island track star won the 200-meter title at the Ghana National Championship meet. From June 27 through July 1, he'll represent Ghana at the African Athletics Championship being held in Porto Novo, Benin, a western African nation bordering the Atlantic Ocean.
Agyapong's fastest time of the year in the 200 is 20.66 seconds. The Olympic Standard "B" time is 20.65. A few weeks ago, he ran a time of 20.38 seconds at the National Training Center Last Chance Meet in Florida, but the wind was blowing slightly harder than the allowable amount, negating the time as an Olympic qualifier.
For Agyapong, a dual citizen of the United States and Ghana, this is his second attempt at qualifying for the Olympics. In 2008, he was ranked in the top 50 in the world, but missed out on the Beijing Games.
"I desire to compete at the highest level of the sport. My first year out of college I ran very well and I was vying to run for Ghana at the Beijing Olympics, but that fell through," Agyapong said. "I wasn't too upset as I had a great season that year, but I slightly took it for granted. It's been a tough road back to this point. But being able to compete in the World Athletics Championships last season gave me that extra push to really make the most of this season and try to position myself as one of the elite sprinters in the world."
A 16-time Atlantic 10 champion and nine-time New England champion during his career at Rhode Island, Agyapong was the first URI track athlete to quailify for the NCAA Championship in two events when he did so in the 100 and 200 in 2007. He actually has two shots at becoming an Olympian this summer. In addition to the 200, he is a member of the Ghana 4x100 team, which is currently ranked No. 17 in the world. The top 16 relay teams qualify. The team is hoping to run a time of 38.6 seconds or faster at the African Championships, which should put them in position to make it.
"It would mean a lot to represent my country at the Olympics. I am a dual citizen of United States and Ghana but I chose to represent my father's native country of Ghana last year at the World Championships, and hopefully this year at the Olympic games," Agyapong said. "In the past, Ghana has had a rich sprint tradition, but recently they have sort of fallen into the shadows. However, over the past few years, with some changes in officials, they are making a push to revive track and field in Ghana. I hope to help in carrying that torch forward."
An assistant coach for the men's track and field team at the College of New Jersey, Agyapong balances his time between coaching and competition. He trains with New Jersey-based AMK International with coach Justin Lindsey.
"I am extremely passionate about my coaching career," Agyapong said. "The coaching aspect is another factor that has motivated my drive to reach this Olympic dream. I am always striving to improve myself as a coach, I have a solid coaching education background and I'm always to building upon it. Combining that with the experiences of competing from amateurism to the pinnacle of this sport will only add to what I am capable of offering the student-athletes I coach."
After the African Athletics Championship, he'll head back to Ghana to prepare for the RLG Grand Prix meet in Kumasi, Ghana on July 6. Should he qualify for the Olympics, Agyapong will travel from Ghana the following day to Plymouth, U.K. for Ghana's Olympic Training Camp leading up to the Olympic games.
While he is running for Ghana, Agyapong said he keeps Rhode Island close to his heart any time he competes.
"URI is a big part of who I am. I take pride in representing Rhody when I compete domestically and abroad," he said. "My coaches at the time – John Copeland and Derek Yush – helped shape me into the individual I am today. Words can't express how thankful I am for that."