Rob Oller | Sweet-spirited Olympic sprinter from Worthington crushed by adopted country

Rob Oller
The Columbus Dispatch
Former Ohio State star Maggie Barrie trained and qualified for the 400-meter run at the Tokyo Olympics but had to compete in the 100 because of what she called an administrative mistake.

In that split-second of speed when feet do not touch the track, a sprinter’s shoes seem to grow wings and carry the runner through the air.

Angels in spikes. Or in the case of Maggie Barrie, an angel delivering spikes. Too bad the past few weeks have hurt like hell. 

In an unfortunate mistake typifying a messed up Tokyo Olympics, Barrie says that Sierra Leone — the West African nation the Ohio State and Worthington Kilbourne graduate is representing in Tokyo — failed to properly enter her in the event for which she qualified. Instead of running the 400 meters, her specialty, Barrie was entered in the 100 meters, a race she had not trained for until about 2½ weeks ago. All because, as she explained in several social media posts, Sierra Leone government officials missed the entry deadline.

More:Postponement of 2020 Olympics puts dreams on pause for former and current Ohio State athletes

“Due to negligence outside of my control I was mistakenly not entered in the 400 meters for this year’s Olympics,” Barrie wrote. “I will be running the 100 meters instead despite all of my 400m accolades. Given 3 weeks to train for the 100 meters after years of running the 400 meters was no easy task. But with the strength of God and my family anything is possible.”

A “bad situation” with Sierra Leone

Barrie told me last week she had experienced a “bad situation” with Sierra Leone officials, but that after personally contacting the Olympic director of operations, “everything is sorted out now.”

Ugh. Apparently not. Instead of competing Monday in the 400, Barrie ran Thursday night in the 100, advancing out of the preliminaries but failing to qualify out of the first round to the semifinals. 

“I have cried so many tears over this situation and suffered so much pain and backlash,” she wrote on social media. “All I ever wanted to do was represent this country (Sierra Leone) and do my best. But instead this incompetence is what I get.”

The shame of it is that Sierra Leone took so much from an Olympic athlete who has given so much to her adopted country.  

Barrie, 25, believes in giving back by paying forward. She visited Sierra Leone earlier this year to donate dozens of spikes and athletic shoes to young track and field athletes who needed them. 

More:Rob Oller | Fast and not so furious: Ohio State sprinters feel blessed to be Tokyo-bound

“After I had visited about two or three years ago to see my grandma, I saw a lack of the resources that my own team had,” said Barrie, who owns the Ohio State record in the 400 meters (51.36). “They didn’t have proper block equipment or shoes. I’ve been blessed enough that my parents could come to this country and provide for me. I wanted the kids to have the same opportunities.”

Maggie Barrie's shoe drive

Barrie began collecting new and barely-used shoes from friends and teammates to hand deliver to Sierra Leone, where her parents were born before emigrating to the United States. They settled in Manchester, New Hampshire, before Barrie was born, then moved to Columbus when their daughter was a high school sophomore. 

 “I get a lot of spikes I end up not using. Maybe they’re the wrong size or don’t feel right or weren’t exactly what I needed for my body,” she said. “I know a lot of other college athletes experience the same thing, so I talked to a lot of friends and acquaintances and began collecting them.”

Ohio State:Buckeyes shot putter Adelaide Aquilla falls short in qualifying round at Tokyo Olympics

As word of her missional goal got out, shoes of every athletic stripe began showing up at Barrie’s doorstep.  

“It started small,” she said. By the time she began handing out 75 pairs of donated shoes, the kids’ smiles were huge. “They’re so happy.”

So was Barrie, until Sierra Leone botched her entry. It hurts all the more because she thought she stood a chance of making the team for the United States. Choosing to represent Sierra Leone was a difficult decision, but she felt it was the right one, because she has such a soft heart for her parents’ birthplace.

More:Former Buckeye rower takes Bronze at the Tokyo Olympics

Her positivity second only to her humanity

Fortunately, the sprinter seems like someone who can pick up the pieces and move on without looking back in despair. Her positivity is second only to her humanity. This is a woman who for her capstone project at Ohio State created a virtual reality application called “In Your Skin,” which allowed users to “try on” a different race, ethnicity and economic standing. 

“A lot of people don’t understand certain demographics or what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes,” she said of the 2018 project. “It was empathy enhancing, maybe.”

Barrie deserves our sympathy and empathy. Olympians train years for that one moment in that one specific event. Their event. But Sierra Leone took that away. Damn those devils. This angel deserved better. 

roller@dispatch.com

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