GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As he stood waiting for his turn in front of the camera last week, Joseph Fahnbulleh, a US based Liberian had a Liberian flag draped across his shoulders.
Fahnbulleh was at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with other members of the UF track contingent headed to the Tokyo Games for a photo shoot. It was another moment during Fahnbulleh’s summer that he won’t forget.
“First time going overseas, too,” he said. “That’s going to be really cool. And I’ve always wanted to go to Japan. I like the culture over there, I like the style.”
Fahnbulleh’s parents are from Liberia, a country on the West Coast of Africa. They immigrated to the Minneapolis area, where Fahnbulleh became a track standout at Hopkins High School. While he grew up in Minnesota, he is competing for Liberia in the Olympics, one of five members of the country’s Olympic track team.
Fahnbulleh wonders how his life might be different if he hadn’t decided to take up Gators coach Mike Holloway’s offer to come to Florida.
“I did not think I would be here,” Fahnbulleh said.”Coach Holloway said ‘come here and I’ll make you great.’ And here is where I am.”
Currently ranked 20th in the world, Fahnbulleh will return to campus and classes in the fall. But for now, he is preparing for his first run in the Olympics.
And he’ll do it in style, as reported by the New York Times, while carrying a Liberian flag.
Fahnbulleh, Joe and mother (July 2019) Gators sprinter Joseph Fahnbulleh and his mother, Charlotte, after Fahnbulleh was named National High School Coaches’ Association boys athlete of the year in 2019 at Hopkins (Minn.) High. (Photo: John Sherman/Courtesy of HometownSource.com)
SPORT: Track & Field
EVENT: Men’s 200-meter dash
HOW HE QUALIFIED: Fahnbulleh met the Olympic Qualifying Time in the 200 (20.24 seconds) in his first outdoor meet of the season, but when he won the NCAA Outdoor national title in June with winning time of 19.91 seconds –a career-best performance and 10th-fastest in collegiate history — he gained speed and momentum heading into the Tokyo Games.
UF CAREER: He blossed as a third-year sophomore in 2021, finishing third in the 200 at the NCAA Indoor Finals and second at the Southeastern Conference Indoor Championships. During the outdoor season, Fahbulleh continued to improve, peaking with his performance on June 11 at the NCAA Finals. He came from behind to edge Terrance Laird of LSU for the national title with his 19.91 narrowly off the school record held by John Capel (19.87), set at the 1999 NCAA Championships. Fahnbullen made his collegiate debut in January 2020.
NEED TO KNOW: The 19-year-old Fahnbulleh grew up in Minnesota and is considered the top prep sprinter in that state’s history. He owns the state record in the 100- and 200-meter dash.
QUOTE OF NOTE: “It means a lot. This is my first time ever running for Liberia. I feel like there’s a lot of pressure, but I know there’s a lot of people supporting me, too. I just want to go out there and do my best, run my heart out every race, every round.”