Joseph Fahnbulleh: Liberia’s First-Ever Olympic Finalist
Day 11 of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be recorded as a historic day in Liberia’s Olympics history.
After Liberians celebrated the participation of Emmanuel Matadi who pulled out of the competition due to injury, and lone female representative, Ebony Morrison, who set a national record in the women’s 100m hurdles despite missing out on the final, Joseph Fahnbulleh gave Liberians more reasons to “enjoy Liberians being at the world stage” as stated by Matadi.
Fahnbulleh, 19, made August 3, a historic day by qualifying for the final of the men’s 200m, making him Liberia’s first-ever Olympic finalist.
The world number 20 sprinter in the 200m, qualified for the final by finishing second in the third semifinal behind Canada’s Aaron Brown. Both Fahnbulleh and Brown jointly clocked 19.99 seconds, but Brown has the advantage based on his reaction time (0.151). Fahnbulleh had a reaction time of 0.140.
Fahnbulleh overtook reigning world champion Noah Lyles, who looked like a certain winner midway through the race. Lyles, an American sprinter, also made the final, based on his time.
Recognized by the International Olympic Committee in 1955, Liberia has never had a finalist in any event at the Olympics. The West African nation has sent athletes to every Summer Olympic Games held since 1956 with the exception of 1968, 1976, 1980 and 1992.
Fahnbulleh’s performance on Tuesday did not only make history of becoming Liberia’s first-ever Olympics finalist, but also equaled his personal best, national record in the men’s 200m outdoor event; breaking Akeem Sirleaf’s 200m record (20.37) at the 2019 MEAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, United States, and sealed his qualification to the 2022 World Athletics Championship.
Earlier on Tuesday, the 19-year-old became the second Liberian sprinter to qualify for the men’s 200m semi-final by finishing second in heat five in 20.46 seconds.
Not many could imagine that the 2021 NCAA Outdoor National Champion would have achieved such a milestone during his first run at the Olympics.
Fahnbulleh qualified for the Tokyo Olympics after meeting the Qualifying Time in the 200 (20.24 seconds) in his first outdoor meet of the season before going on to win the NCAA Outdoor national title in June with winning time of 19.91 seconds -- a career-best performance and 10th-fastest in his college’s history.
More than Just His Name
Ahead of Wednesday’s final, Fahnbulleh has realized that he has a bigger task to accomplish not just for himself or his country Liberia, but the entire African continent.
The Liberian flag bearer will be the only African competing in the men’s 200m final at the Olympic Stadium.
“I’m representing more than just my name; it’s bigger than me,” Fahnbulleh posted on his Instagram handle.
Six other African sprinters, including Africa’s current fastest 200m sprinter Divine Oduduru of Nigeria, missed out on the final.
Oduduru was the first one to miss out, finishing 9th overall in 20.16. Shaun Maswanganyi of South Africa tied his 2nd best ever with 20.18 for 10th, while Sibusiso Matsenjwa broke Eswatini's national record a second time in two days, with a new lifetime best of 20.22 for 11th overall.
The last time an African was in the men’s 200m final was at the 2012 London Games.
South Africa’s Anaso Jobodwana sprinted into the 200m final after he ran a new personal best of 20.27 seconds. He finished as the least in the final after clocking 20.69 seconds.