BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Ackera Nugent always had talent and mental toughness, but just needed the proper outlet to challenge herself.
So when stipulations at Excelsior High School mandated blending extra-curricular activity with academics, she turned to her number one asset, speed.
Over time, it led to hurdling and as her love for the obstacle event deepened, so did the preparation and performances that have now earned her global recognition as the bronze medal winner in the women’s 100m hurdles at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games.
“I feel great. I don’t regret it; I really don’t. I hope further on in the future I’ll be one of the best hurdlers,” Nugent rejoiced among a cacophony of feelings.
Most evident was the pain that had gripped her towards the latter part of the 100m hurdles event, following a mishap.
However, nothing was going to stop Nugent winning a medal, which was decided through a combination of times in the Stage One heat and the de facto final, Stage Two heat, with the eight fastest qualifiers.
Nugent (26.41) finished second in the ‘final’ with the second-fastest time, a wind-aided (2.80mps) 12.96 seconds. But combined with her Stage One clocking of 13.45 seconds — after slowing considerably over the last two hurdles with a big lead on her rivals — she placed third overall, missing silver by one-hundredth of a second.
American Grace Stark (26.14) won with combined times of her Stage One PB (personal best) , 13.31 and 12.83 seconds (wind-aided), while Australian Sophie White (26.40), 13.39 and 13.01, got silver.
“I’m not very pleased with myself, but at the end of the day I have to be grateful based on [the fact that] I went out there to get a personal best on a sprained ankle,” she admitted following the ‘final’, after eclipsing her previous best, 13.18 seconds. “But it’s all worth it because Jamaica was depending on me and I wasn’t gonna give up halfway just because of my ankle.”
Truth be told, pain has never felt so sweet for Nugent.
“It’s a bad strain. I was lucky I didn’t have my foot broken, but I’ll be fine,” she admitted.
In a sense it appears the athlete felt duty-bound to deliver a worthy performance, having given the reply in a Vote of thanks at the Athletes’ Village to Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) President Christopher Samuda’s battle cry, on the eve of their Games outing.
Samuda said: “Our context is victory for country, and more importantly victory for self — belief in self, belief in your potential, belief in your ability. We already have the raw material. Most of you have gone to Champs, if not all of you, and have competed in national events on the way here, so you have the pedigree already. It’s in you already.
“You just have to express it now and when you express it, express it with a sense of humility by shaking the other person’s hand. Always express goodwill … for at the end of the day all of us are human. We may not win the gold medal as victors, [but you’re] victors in life, victors just by being here,” inspired Samuda.
Head coach of the Jamaica team, David Riley reflected on Nugent’s winning mentality.
“Part of being an athlete is being tough, and at this level when you train for this competition this is where you need to show your toughness. So Ackera demonstrated that and her best effort is what we always want from our athletes, and she did an awesome job under the circumstances,” he noted.
Riley is also head of Excelsior High’s track and field programme, but he quickly assigns credit to Douglas Williams and Michael Forrest for Nugent’s advances, because “they’re the ones who interface and develop her on a daily basis”.
Still, he is fully aware of her capabilities.
“Ackera has a wide range — Ackera sprints and Ackera hurdles, and whenever you put both together you’ll have a great talent,” observed Riley. “We tend to, many times, take our athletes with a lot of track speed and not do the hurdles. What we’ve done is put her over the hurdles where her speed is and it manifests in a bronze medal at the Youth Olympic Games.”
Fusing speed with event has also worked wonderfully for Nugent, due to its character fit.
“It’s not sheer talent. I have a passion towards the event that I compete in [so] that it becomes an extra-curricular activity at school. I got gravitated to this and now I’m dedicated to it,” explains Nugent.
“Basically, it was Danielle Williams; she inspired me to start hurdling. At a young age, the age of 16, she started to hurdle and it inspired me,” she continued, noting mentorship of Jamaica’s 100m World Championship gold medalist. “I like hurdle because I see it as an event where you can take out your anger instead of taking it out on other persons. You take it out on the hurdles because you have to be aggressive, your technique has to be very tight.”
Aggression is certainly not lacking, and with an ever-improving technique, the very confident and expressive Nugent has set her eyes on the world stage.
“This is a big opportunity, whereby I’ve proven myself that I’m worth more than I actually expect of myself, as well as every disappointment becomes an appointment,” she expressed, latterly referencing not being available for the medal ceremony as she had been receiving treatment in a nearby medical facility for the injury she suffered.
“Not collecting my medal wasn’t a big deal because I was more concerned to see if it was a bad ankle injury and I would have to sit out next season when I want to dominate myself,” said Nugent. “… It’s fine, because at the end of the day I’ll have greater medal presentations.”