Track and field: Sade Olatoye to close final chapter of storied Ohio State throwing career
Before she became one of Ohio State’s most decorated track and field stars and an aspiring Olympian, Sade Olatoye held basketball aspirations.
For most of her high school career at Dublin Coffman, she considered that her main sport and had scholarship offers from colleges that backed up her ambition. Throwing a shot put was largely an afterthought.
“Track was always the side sport for me,” Olatoye said, “just keep me busy, keep me active.”
An AAU basketball tournament in 2014 led to a change in perspective. While tangling for a rebound, her knee collided with another player's, leading to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
It was the summer before her senior year of high school, and the injury was severe enough that it prompted Olatoye to miss most of her final basketball season for the Shamrocks. But the period of recovery also afforded her time to reexamine her plans.
“That was kind of a turning point for me,” she said.
Looking at offers in both sports, she realized her best opportunities were not coming on the hardwood. Those in basketball came from Mid-American Conference schools, while higher-level Division I track programs saw her potential as a thrower.
Ohio State was then in pursuit. Since first catching a glimpse of Olatoye as a sophomore at the state championship meet, throws coach Ashley Kovacs remained in awe of her natural talent.
“She didn't really necessarily know how to throw very well,” Kovacs said. “She wasn't very technically developed, but she just went after it. There was something about the way that she carried herself that I really liked.”
Kovacs made Olatoye a priority on the recruiting trail, calling or texting her about every day for six months in an effort to sell her program and schedule a visit.
Other potential recruits committed elsewhere as Kovacs waited on her top target, remaining steadfast.
“She never said, ‘Don't call me, I’m not interested,’ ” Kovacs said. “So I’m just going to keep calling her and one way or another she’s going to commit somewhere else, tell me not to call or answer the phone.”
In November 2014, Olatoye returned Kovacs' call. It was by mistake, an inadvertent butt-dial. It was earlier than she had planned, but it started a conversation between them.
Soon enough, Olatoye was committed and on campus, a breakthrough moment for the program. Kovacs, then recently hired as an assistant, saw her as a transformational piece.
“It was a complete culture move,” Kovacs said. “She was going to establish a new standard for the group, and that’s exactly what it was like. The whole group kind of just stemmed from her.”
In the years since, Olatoye has left an imprint. Along with winning an NCAA indoor title in the weight throw in 2019, she has captured seven Big Ten titles, a record number for a Buckeye in the field events.
Her college career ends this week at the NCAA outdoor championships in Eugene, Oregon, where she will compete in the hammer throw and shot put and be joined by fellow OSU throws specialists Adelaide Aquilla and Divine Oladipo, who will participate in the discus and shot put.
Over the years, they have pushed each other toward their success.
“The culture that we've really cultivated is just having the elite attitude,” Olatoye said, “and knowing and having that confidence within yourself in the technique you are practicing daily.”
The summer of 2015 also laid the groundwork for Olatoye’s success at Ohio State, before she had ever competed collegiately. She added strength through the development of a weightlifting regimen after having never touched weights in high school.
“I couldn’t really even squat,” she said.
Olatoye also began developing proper throwing techniques for events and kept improving.
“Being new and really focusing in on track, that was really what propelled my career,” she said.
She won her first individual league titles as a sophomore in 2017, including an indoor shot put title and an outdoor weight throw title.
A competitive drive pushed her over the years as her focus on the sport intensified. Olatoye said she picked up a strong work ethic after watching her parents overcome challenges as immigrants from Nigeria to become business owners. They currently own and operate several McDonald’s in central Ohio.
“Seeing the work they put in, it didn’t go unnoticed,” she said.
When Olatoye takes part in the finals for the hammer and shot put Thursday, she said it will be bittersweet, her last time wearing an Ohio State uniform.
But she also maintains excitement for other pursuits on the horizon.
More immediately, she’ll aim to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics with Nigeria, and will head to the country for its qualification events within days after the NCAA championships end.
In the longer term, Olatoye, who has been pursuing a master’s degree in bioethics, is planning to apply to medical schools.
She’s had an interest in medicine since high school, when she took a trip to the Dominican Republic with the Community Service Alliance. They sought to improve the country’s public health infrastructure, and one of their projects was to build a water filtration system.
“I always loved helping people,” she said, “and I always loved giving back.”