CINCINNATI – (July 30, 2021) – Empower search marketing specialist Annette Echikunwoke is one of several athletes disqualified from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) following a testing protocol error by the African Federation of Nigeria (AFN).
Empower created an award-winning web series following Echikunwoke’s journey to the Olympics, titled Grind Before You Shine, sponsored her travel to the Nigerian Trials (which she won) and were rooting her on every step of the way with plans to watch her compete in hammer throw on Saturday, July 31 (Sunday, August 1 in Tokyo).
However, she was deemed ineligible to compete because the AFN did not meet the testing requirements defined by the AIU.
“On my 25th birthday, I was officially informed that I cannot compete at the Tokyo 2020ne Olympics due to the negligence of the federation I was set to compete for,” Echikunwoke said on Instagram. “I can’t even begin to explain how heartbroken I am. It honestly feels like a fever dream. To think of all the hours of throwing sessions, hundreds of hard lifts, all the moments when my body aches in pain and reminding myself ‘it’ll be worth it’, just to keep pushing on, sacrificing time with loved ones…. and all I’m left with is this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. This has been the most mentally and emotionally exhausting time of my life.”
Her peers at Empower were devastated when they heard the news and quickly rallied to support her – including chanting #LetAnnetteThrow around the office to sending personal messages of encouragement.
“We are all proud of Annette and have her back,” said Jim Price, CEO at Empower. “We admire her passion, grit and determination and know she’ll dust herself off and hit the field stronger than ever. We’ll continue to support her Olympic dreams,” Price said.
The title of Empower’s ‘Grind Before You Shine’ video series was inspired by a phrase Echikunwoke’s coach drilled into her as a college athlete: “You gotta grind before you shine.”
University of Cincinnati’s Head Track and Field Coach, Susan Seaton has been with Echikunwoke since the beginning. She trained her through an NCAA Championship in 2017 where Echikunwoke became UC’s first black NCAA champion in track and field and weight throwing.
“I am deeply disappointed and saddened to see all of these athletes deprived of their opportunity to shine at the biggest stage of their sport,” Seaton shared. “I hope this tragic event will finally effect change within the AFN and the Nigerian Olympic Committee, whose responsibility it is to have the athletes entered in appropriate testing protocols. Annette is and will remain one of the top women’s hammer throwers in the world and I am extremely proud of her and all she has accomplished.”
Nobody could have predicted this chapter of Echikunwoke’s Tokyo Olympics experience, but she shines just as bright off the field as she does on it. This is not her final chapter – just the beginning.
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