Columbia rising junior Akua Obeng-Akrofi CC'18 is set to be part of the Ghanian 4x100m relay team at the Rio Olympics this month.
While she claims Lawrenceville, Georgia as her hometown, Obeng-Akrofi was born in Ghana along with her entire family. She earned the qualification after competing in the CAA Senior African Championships, after taking part in a couple of meets in Cape Coast, Ghana. In Rio, Ghana will pick four out of the five runners between Obeng-Akrofi, former Boston University sprinter Gemma Acheampong, Ghanian natives Beatrice Gyaman and Dorcas Gyimah, and UC-Irvine rising junior Persis William-Mensah.
"This is my first year running with the Ghana team, so going in I didn't know a majority of the team," Obeng-Akrofi said. "They welcomed me with open arms and I got the chance to build relationships with all of them. There is so much love on the team and I feel honored to be a part of it."
In total, Ghana will bring a 16-member contingent to Rio, with 11 of those qualifiers competing in track & field. In terms of rankings, Ghana has posted the 15th best time in the IIAF this season in the 4x100m relay.
"While it's always good to know where you're ranked and the competition that lies ahead, nothing is set in stone," Obeng-Akrofi said. "To me, being ranked 15th just means there's a lot of room to climb to get to the top."
Obeng-Akrofi had a breakout season for the Lions in 2016, qualifying for the NCAA East Prelims in the 400m. The psychology major became just the third Lion to finish that distance in under 54 seconds, posting the second fastest time in school history at 53.14 during the first round of the East Prelims. No stranger to success in the relay events, Obeng-Akrofi has her name on the school records in the 4x100m and 4x200m relays.
The junior-to-be expects that the experience gained in Rio will only help her when it comes to competing against the rest of the Ivy League and the NCAA.
"Track is a sport that is mostly mental and I think that being surrounded by and competing against the top professional athletes will definitely give me the experience I need to strengthen my mental approach," Obeng-Akrofi said. "When I run in meets for Columbia, I can think, 'I've done this before on an even larger scale' and just run my race."
Along with Obeng-Akrofi, three former Lions will be competing at the Rio 2016 Olympics — Isadora Cerullo CC'13 (rugby, Brazil), Katie Meili CC'13 (swimming, USA) and Nzingha Prescod CC'15 (fencing, USA). Obeng-Akrofi also makes it back-to-back Olympians for the Columbia Track & Field program, as sprinter Erison Hurtault CC'07 competed for Dominica in the 2012 London Games. Along with running the 400m dash, the 2007 grad was the flag bearer for Dominica.
Much like Hurtault, Obeng-Akrofi has become a standout in the 400m event, but will have to shorten her approach during the Olympics.
"The 400m is a more strategic race and even if you don't start out how you might have liked, you have the time and space to make up for it," Obeng-Akrofi said. "In the 100m, you have about 11 seconds to do your thing. It's over in the blink of an eye."
A version of this story originally appeared on the Columbia Athletics website.