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April 20, 2009 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 2009-04-20

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4B - April 20, 2009


The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

OFILI: Leader and best in a Southern-dominated sport
From page 1B

Henry said it's human nature for
an athlete to pace herself based on
how other people are running, so it
should come as no surprise that he
likes Ofili to run alone.
"It's like acar being on the high-
way," he said. "If that car is around
a bunch of other cars going 55, the
fastest it will go is 60. But if Tiffa-
ny's on the highway by herself, she
can go about 80."
Ofili's motor has been running
faster than anyone else's for a while
now. After arriving at Michigan
in the fall of 2005, the freshman
promptly broke school records in
both the60- and 100-meter hurdles.
She currently holds the nation's fast-
est collegiate time in the 100-meter
hurdles (12.88) and hasn't lost in her
signature event, the high hurdles, in
almost a year.
The Ypsilanti native has clocked
such ridiculously fast times in her
four-year career that Henry often
has to come up with new ways to
push her in practices.
When her pharmacy school
schedule - 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on
Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays
and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tues-
days and Wednesdays - allows her
to practice with her teammates,
Henry routinely puts his star ath-
lete at a disadvantage. He recently
started Ofili 10 metersbehind one of
her teammates in a 200-meter dash
to challenge her. She still managed
a tie.
Though her times have always set
her apart - she first broke Michi-
gan's indoor and outdoor hurdles
records as a freshman - the most
noteworthy thing about Ofili's
accomplishments is that they've
come in the cold-weather state of
Since 1982, when the hurdles
became an official event for the
women's national championships,
just Ofili and two others have won
national titles for Midwestern
schools. That-Ofili has four champi-
onships is unheard of - in the Mid-
west or otherwise.
While she finds Michigan's cold
ously considered competing in the
South. Part of that had to do with
limited recruitment from there. She
also wanted to stay close to family
and study pharmacy.
Ofili takes pride in breaking
the stereotype that runners from
the North can't run as fast as their
southern counterparts.
"A lo ef athletes think that just

because they go to a certain school
that has a certain name that they'll
automatically do well," said Ofili,
who had practiced inside that day
because of April snow. "There's
more to it than that."
The 21-year-old has a wide range
of interests, most of which aren't
tied to athletics. She seemingly con-
trols her concern for sports like a
light switch. If she, her teammates
or her family aren't involved in a
sporting event, Ofili probably won't
take notice of it.
When one considers her family's
extensive sports history, it becomes
a bit easier to understand.
Her brother Alex, now 26, played
football at Michigan. Her oldest
brother, Frank, now 27, played foot-
ball at Toledo. Her 14-year-old sister
Cindy, who Tiffany lovingly calls
"Joobie Boodie," is a high school
freshman who plays basketball, vol-
leyball and just beganrunningtrack.
Ofili's father and uncles all ran track
in college, too.
"She'd rather be at home than go
to Michigan football games on Sat-
urday," said teammate Geena Gall,
who's roomed with Ofili all four
years. "She doesn't even buy sea-
son tickets or anything. She'll only
go to the games if we have a (track)
Ofili said she has nothing against
sports - they just aren't high on her
list of priorities.
"IfI had a choice between watch-
ing 'House' and watching a basket-
ball game, I'd watch 'House,'" she
That she enjoys the medical
TV drama is no shocker, given her
interest in medicine. After three
years as an undergrad inthe College
of Literature, Science and the Arts,
Ofili applied to and gained admis-
sion from the College of Pharmacy
last year. She's currently finishing
her firstyear in the program.
Pharmacy is among the four
things - God, family and track
being the other three - she con-
siders most important. She cares
about pharmacy so much that she
plans to earn her degree in 2012,
just months before that year's Sum-
mer Olympics, in which Ofili hopes
to compete.
Though striking that balance
sounds nearly impossible, those
closest to her say she'll be able to
accomplish both.

Ofili has derived some of her big-
gest loves from her parents. Her
interest in education can be tied to
her mom, who teaches first grad-
ers in Detroit. Her desire to go into
medicine comes from her Nigerian
father, who is a retired eye doctor.
The track star said her most-
prized attribute -her faith in God -
stems from her mother. Ofili attends
Sunday church services every week,
calling the routine something she
""never compromises."
She frequently discussed her
faith with her mother, Lillian, after
one of her teammates, Joi Smith,
died from a quick-spreading cancer
in Nov. 2007.
"That shook her up a lot," Lil-
lian said. "She talked about Jai a
lot. I just told her to stay prayerful
because you never know what may
happen in life."
Ofili heeded her mother's advice.
Shortly after her teammate's death
sophomore year, she made a vow to
run each race like it was her last.
"Joi's passing really made me dig
deeper and explore what's impor-
tant in life," Ofili said. "It's really
easy to get caught up in what's hap-
pening every day and not appreciate
things as much as you should. What
happened with Joi made me look at
things differently."
In the three years that have
passed since Smith's death, Ofili has
become the nation's top collegiate
At times, using the word "domi-
nant" to describe her performances
would be an understatement. She's
reset her own records in the 60-
and 100-meter hurdles 12 times
(she shattered the 60-meter hurdles
mark three times in a four-week
span her sophomore year). Ofili
claimed her first national title as
a sophomore and has won her last
four NCAA championship meets.
She'll be the hands-down favorite
when she vies for a fifth consecutive
hurdles crown in June.
But she's still got more to prove.
Her dominance alone hasn't gar-
nered the attention of the trackcom-
munity - let alone her classmates at
Michigan - yet.
Asked why Ofili still competes
in relative obscurity, Henry cited
"If she were at a USC or a Texas,
she would be on the covers of track
magazinesbynow," said Henry,add-
ing that the lack of attention doesn't


Senior Tiffany Ofili practices with teammates by givingthem a tO-meter head start - she still wins.

bother Ofili. "Even most people in
our athletic department don't know
about her."
Ofili was close to changing all
that last year. She narrowly missed
qualifyingfor the U.S.Olympic Trial
Finals in the 100-meter hurdles, the
competition that determines which
American runners will go to the
Olympics. The race, in which the top
eight finishers advance, saw Ofili
come up just shy of the final spot.
Her finish, .004 seconds behind
the eighth-place finisher, was so
close that officials had to calculate

her time out to the thousandths (the
process is almost always done by
the hundredths). Only then did Ofili
find out that she'd placed ninth and
not eighth.
She called the process "bitter-
sweet," saying she was honored to
run against the best in the world,
but disappointed to finish so close
without earning an invitation to the
"It's definitely motivation for the
next time," she said.
Because of her youth - she was
the youngest of the top nine finish-
ers - andhercollegiatesuccess,Ofili
is expected to be a force to contend
with in the 2012 Olympic Trials. In
an effort to meet that expectation,
she plans to continue training on

campus with Henry after this year,
much like former Michigan swim-
ming coach Bob Bowman trained
Michael Phelps before the 2008
Olympics. Ofili expects her regi-
men to stay consistent while she's in,,
pharmacy school.
"Not having the block 'M' on my
chest will be the only difference,"
she said.
That and the fact that people will
know exactly who she is - at least
if she accomplishes what her coach
thinks she can.
"Ithink she'llhbreak the American
world record someday," Henry said.
"When? I don't know. But as long as
she keeps the drive and fire that she
has now, I think she will do it."


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