NBA employee takes leave of absence to train for 2016 Rio Olympics

COURTESY OF MARVELLOUS IHEUKWUMERE
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Usually when people first meet Marvellous Iheukwumere, the conversation is about her first name.

Or the topic turns to her job out of college working in the NBA league office.

But she’s taken a leave of absence from that job to train for the Olympics, where she is trying to qualify as a sprinter for Nigeria. Seth Rubinroit of NBCOlympics.com wrote a fantastic feature about her, her journey as a child from Nigeria to Texas, how she fell in love with the NBA, and her quest to make it to Rio. Here are just a few hightlights:

“Her name describes her perfectly,” said Mark Tatum, the NBA’s Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer. “She is a marvellous person in every single way.”

When she started high school at Liberal Arts and Sciences Academy in Austin, Iheukwumere focused on basketball. The track coach, LaBoris Bean, happened to be in the gym during basketball tryouts, and noticed that none of the other girls could keep up with Iheukwumere during the three-man weave passing drill. He encouraged her to run track when basketball season ended. She agreed, despite never having seen a track meet.

Tradition called for freshmen to run for the junior varsity squad. In her first meet, she received the baton in last place on the anchor leg of the 4x200m relay. Without much difficulty, she passed the seven other competitors and crossed the finish line first.nStunned, the older students demanded that Bean move Iheukwumere up to varsity. He did not need much convincing.

She went on to run in college at Columbia — despite being recruited by track powerhouse Arizona State, she opted for the better academic school — and while there worked in the NBA’s summer internship program. That evolved into a being part of the NBA Associate’s program, followed by a full-time job offer.

However, she is on a leave of absence to chase her Olympic dream — with the full blessing of the NBA.

She moved to Phoenix and ALTIS, an elite training center and home of several Olympic champions, including hurdler Aries Merritt and long jumper Greg Rutherford. Iheukwumere calls the facility, which features two theatres and an executive chef, “an athlete’s heaven.”

After a nearly two-year break from competition, Iheukwumere is still striving to match her top times from college. Her personal best in the 100m is 11.63 seconds, and 23.54 seconds in the 200m. In 2016, she said her season’s best is 11.73 seconds in the 100m and 23.60 seconds in the 200m….

To qualify to go to Rio, Iheukwumere needs to meet the Olympic standard in either the 100m (11.32 seconds) or 200m (23.20 seconds) by July 11. Two Nigerian women have already met the Olympic standard in each event, according to tilastopaja.org.

She also needs to finish in the top three at Nigeria’s Olympic Trials, July 7-9. She finished fifth in the 200m at 2014 Nigerian Nationals.

If she can make it, Adam Silver will have a good reason to watch a sport other than basketball in Rio.