He had told himself he was going to accomplish one thing in the next 100 meters, and only two of his teammates had an idea of what was about to happen. Sike Azu-Irondi had history to make and a legacy to cement — a mission kept secret from coaches, family, and friends.
He had told hurdler Myles McDonald two months ago, and during breakfast, the day of, fellow sprinter Lee Duncan asked him what he thought he could run in his debut.
Duncan’s reaction to Azu-Irondi’s response was: “You’re gonna break the record? Today?”
In the moments leading up to the 100m final at the All-UC Meet on March 4, Sike was anxious for his first race of the year after his sophomore season with the UCSB track and field team was ruined by a nasty bout with ankle tendonitis.
“I gotta get on. I gotta go and run my ass off,” he told himself as he set into the starting blocks.
BANG! The gunshot sounded and the junior pushed off the line, less aggressively than Sprint Assistant Coach Travis Ander-son or Azu-Irondi himself had hoped, but after 15 meters, it was time to put on a show. He was going to show why quitting a Division I football career was worth becoming the fastest man to ever grace Pauley Track. He was going to show the world his speed.
Raised in San Fernando by Ihuaku and Sike Azu-Irondi, whom the eldest son describes as very strict, Sike Jr.’s parents instilled in their son a sense of discipline, respect for authority and gratitude for everything he’s been able to accomplish.
The sprinter lived a normal childhood in the valley doorbell-ditching neighbors and playing hide-and-seek with friends and his two younger siblings, brother Obi and sister Adaobi, before switching to Halo and Grand Theft Auto for entertainment as they grew older.
Out of high school, the eldest Azu-Irondi was recruited to play D-I football at Nevada after just one year of playing the sport, as he excelled in WR/DB positions for North Hollywood High School. His athleticism was evident even then, with a recorded 10.68 100m time in his senior year track season as well as his 35-plus-inch vertical leap.
“It was tough and a big learning curve,” Azu-Irondi admitted. “It was good, though; I made some cool friends and learned a lot. As a little freshman coming in and playing football at a D-I university, it was tough but it was fun.”
Azu-Irondi floundered in the transition to college football, though, as he redshirted his first year before transferring to his hometown community college, College of the Canyons, to live closer to his family and try to get back to a four-year university as soon as possible.
“At College of the Canyons I was doing my best to get out with a scholarship, but things weren’t working out, but I was still fast, you know?” Azu-Irondi laughed. “So during track season, I did what I could and did my own recruiting.”
After three back-and-forths with Coach Anderson, a former sprinter at Oregon, the prospective Canyon transfer was left wondering about his future and searched everywhere for a new track home. Finally, in the summer of 2015, Azu-Irondi sent an email asking if UCSB was still interested, and his new coach responded saying that he’d be a Gaucho in the fall.
An ankle injury kept him sidelined for the vast majority of his first year in Santa Barbara, but Azu-Irondi chugged through this rough patch, biding his time for a historic return.
“When I kicked it on around the 15-meter mark, I made up for it,” Azu-Irondi recalled of his historic dash at UC San Diego two weeks ago. “My turnover came in, not as fast as Coach has seen me or I had wanted it, but once I turned it on, I stayed strong even though I was a little tense after having to catch up from the slow start.”
“It was a solid race. I’d say like a seven out of 10.”
Azu-Irondi speaks so humbly of his 100m time, but when 10.55s flashed on the scoreboard next to his name, the San Fernando native solidified his place in the UCSB record books as the fastest man in school history — just barely beating Sandy Combs’s 30-year-old record of 10.56s.
Perhaps he prefers to keep a low profile while he sends waves nationwide during his first D-I track season. But as every great runner knows, it takes a bit of arrogance to succeed on the track, and even Azu-Irondi, after enough prodding, confidently declared his goal for the season, which is as grand a goal as a college sprinter can have.
“I’m gonna be in the World Championships in London. I have to hit a 10.12 to get to the trials and then go from there. I don’t want to jinx it, but I could see myself doing some crazy things. Especially with the help of Coach Anderson, I’m gonna get there for sure.”
A bold benchmark to set for oneself, undoubtedly, but everything about Azu-Irondi is bold. He walks around the track with his chest out and a massive smile on his face and proceeds to leave the audience stunned with his smooth stride and blazing speed. His confidence can be seen in his step, but it is partnered with a hard-working, humble upbringing that clearly has the sprinter prepped for great success.
Azu-Irondi is just getting started, too. With a season and a half left in his collegiate track career, who knows? Maybe he’ll leave UCSB with the 10 fastest 100m marks in school history. Every personal record will be a school record, and time is on his hands.
A version of this story appeared on p. 1 and 9 of the April 6, 2017, edition of the Daily Nexus