Seven years after competing in the Olympic discus final, Croydon Harrier Lawrence Okoye is set to make his return to the sport in the London Stadium at tomorrow’s Anniversary Games televised international meeting.
Okoye quit track and field athletics in 2013 when offered a multi-million-dollar contract with the San Francisco 49ers in American football.
But Okoye’s journey from Croydon Arena to Candlestick Park saw him going down a sporting dead end.
He never got a minute of game time in the NFL. Married and then divorced, he was cut from the roster of one team for using the head coach’s parking space, and he eventually drifted out of the NFL big time and into Canadian football and then lower leagues. Okoye’s American adventure reached its nadir when he was arrested earlier this year while visiting an Alabama brothel.
Then, yesterday, as the organisers produced their start lists for London’s two-day Diamond League meeting taking place in the Olympic Stadium this weekend, among the track and field stars, there, too, was the name of Okoye.
Now 27, Okoye set the British record for the discus, 68.24metres, in that Olympic summer of 2012. But he comes into one of the biggest athletics meetings in the world with no previous form in the event this season, or indeed for any year since 2013.
His inclusion on the Diamond League meet start list for the discus, which is being staged tomorrow, came as a surprise to his own club, Croydon Harriers, and his former coach, John Hillier.
At 6ft 6in and nearly 22-stone, Okoye was always regarded as a raw talent in the discus, and was still a novice at the discipline when he made the Olympic final.
His previous sporting endeavours had been mainly on the rugby field, where as a scholarship boy at Whitgift he had been used as an intimidating winger in two Daily Mail Cup English schools final victories at Twickenham.
Given his lack of success in American football, Okoye may have timed his return to athletics well, with world championships in Doha coming up in September and the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year.
Certainly, if he can polish up his rusty discus technique, he could quickly find himself back on funding in British athletics.
But the timing of his return has also raised a couple of serious questions.
Under anti-doping rules, British athletes must be registered for out-of-competition tests for at least a year before they are allowed to compete internationally, and they must have passed three out-of-competition tests during that period if they have not been on the register previously. Okoye may have avoided those requirements because it is understood that UK Anti-Doping removed him from their register, rather than the athlete requesting it.
The circumstances surrounding his arrest and charge in Alabama in February are unclear, since initially he was understood to have been released on bail, the terms of which will have prohibited travel outside the state, never mind outside the United States. It has been suggested – though it has never been reported in Alabama – that the charges against Okoye were quietly dropped.
- How Inside Croydon predicted in 2013 the difficulties for Lawrence Okoye in becoming an NFL player: An open letter to Lawrence Okoye: NFL could be a dead-end
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