Liberia’s Joseph Fahnbulleh says Africa is ready to challenge America’s dominance on the sprint circuit.
The 21-year-old was born in Minnesota in the United States but elected to race for the country his mother left because of political turmoil when she was 12.
South Africa’s Luxolo Adams will line up alongside Fahnbulleh in the 200m at August’s World Athletics Championships, while another South African, Akani Simbine, and Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala will be among those challenging for the 100m title.
“For a while, it’s been the the Americans. There’s a shift to the African side – I like that,” Fahnbulleh told the BBC World Service podcast The Warm Up Track.
“We are taking it by storm, but slowly. We’re not overwhelming, but you see more and more [African athletes] every year. I feel good about it.”
For Fahnbulleh, a fifth-place finish in the 200m at the Tokyo Olympics was followed by fourth at the World Championships in Oregon last July, where Adams also lined up in the final.
Is a medal finish now on the cards at next month’s World Championships in the Hungarian capital Budapest?
“I’m not really putting that pressure on myself,” Fahnbulleh said. “I will just go out there and compete, whether I get first, second or third.
“Every round I’m aiming to win but yes, the next logical step is third.”
Family issues and mental battles
Fahnbulleh won the 100m and 200m National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) titles in 2022, dominating at the highest level of American national college competitions, which are regarded as a step to the professional circuit.
An injury at the end of his academic career delayed that progress – a period which Fahnbulleh says threatened everything.
“The first (NCAA) wasn’t really a surprise to me and my coach because we talked about it from the jump,” he said.
“The last two, if you know the story and you follow what has been happened to the athlete, were really special.
“At that time, it was family issues and a lot of mental battles because when you get injured in track and field, it’s not like you can come back four or five games later.
“It’s not like in the NBA where you can play with an injury – they’ll play through a broken finger. In track and field, everything works in unison.
“Knowing the story about what happened leading up to the two NCAAs, and then what I did, it was a special time.”
Fahnbulleh has yet to visit Liberia but says he has had contact with President George Weah and Weah’s son Timothy, who now represents the United States as a footballer.
The Tokyo Olympics represented Fahnbulleh’s first trip outside the US, and his appearance there prompted recognition from President Weah, who has switched from his highly successful career in football to serve in politics.
“He reached out to my coach, trying to plan something, but there was just so much buzz that I just wanted to go back home afterwards,” Fahnbulleh said.
“But I talk to Tim a lot. So whenever Tim goes, I’ll probably go over there as well. Tim is cool. If we had a [successful] soccer team, I believe Tim would play for [Liberia] as well, but each person does what’s best for them and their own life.
“I’m waiting on time off from my mum’s side so she can come with me. She is a hospice nurse so she doesn’t really get that much time off. When she has time off, then I will go.”
Next month’s World Championships in Budapest will take place between 19-27 August.