The 80-degree late-March sun beat down on hundreds of college athletes congregating under the Texas sky at Mike A. Myers Stadium. The Texas Relays, the second-largest collegiate track and field event of the season, was underway with 12 top-25 track teams and Olympic medalists Gabby Thomas and Kendra Harrison in attendance.
The meet brought high stakes, but Boston University freshman sprinter Toby Makoyawo was ready. In the 100-meter dash qualifier, Makoyawo ran a 10.12, smashing the Boston University record of 10.45 set in 2018 by Justin Flynn.
“It was kind of scary,” Makoyawo said. “It wasn’t even about [the time], it was the time of year. I did it in March which is just crazy because it showed all the potential I had. I have so much left to do in terms of training and I ran 10.1 just like that.”
Makoyawo comes from a humble upbringing, growing up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in West London. While he considers himself a good student, his forte has always been athletics.
During his childhood, Makoyawo played everything from tennis to cricket, and dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player. However, the combination of his parents’ skepticism and the higher barrier of entry into Premier League academies led him down a different path — track and field.
“It just made sense to do track because I was a lot more talented,” Makoyawo said. “I’ve probably progressed more in track than I would’ve [in soccer].”
Winning his sports day races in primary school, Makoyawo was always aware of his speed but he did not take track and field seriously until age 15-16 when he ran for his secondary school, St. Joan of Arc.
Peter Griffiths, a coach based out of the Watford Harriers track and field club, noticed Makoyawo’s quickness at the Hertfordshire Schools meet in 2016 and recruited him. Griffiths has coached Makoyawo for the past six years and Makoyawo said he “made me who I am today.”
“The thing about Toby, he’s very dedicated, he’ll give 100% of whatever he puts his mind to, whether it’s his studies, his hobbies, he’s into photography,” Griffiths said.
The main source of inspiration for Makoyawo is his parents. His father would take him to train four days per week and wait in the car for three hours before driving home and waking up at 6 a.m. for work.
“Anytime I’m running I have to remember how much my dad sacrificed for me to be able to do what I’m doing,” Makoyawo said. “I take losing very seriously because I don’t want to just be doing all of this for me to lose and not achieve anything.”
In July 2021, Makoyawo ran in the European U20 Championships in Estonia where he walked away as the champion with a 10.25 time. He then won the award for British Junior Male Athlete of the Year for Athletics Weekly in 2021, a U.K.-based track and field magazine.
The lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic was a great period of growth for Makoyawo as he utilized his free time to refine his running abilities.
“The pandemic, even though it was a tough time for everybody … that was the best time for me to decide my future and get myself together,” Makoyawo said.
It then became time for Makoyawo to field college offers, most of which came from universities across the Atlantic, such as the University of Michigan, Florida State University, Ohio State and more. He eventually decided on Boston University because of both Coach Gabe Sanders and the academic balance.
In the fall of 2021, Makoyawo ventured across the pond to begin his collegiate career. However, the transition was difficult both on and off the track.
“It’s very much like a movie,” Makoyawo said. “In the UK we watch movies on American college. . . it’s kind of crazy, everyone is so social and I have to adjust to that.”
In his free time, Makoyawo loves media and videography and even makes the graphics for the Track and Field Instagram accounts. Griffiths recalls how Makoyawo used his camera to distract him from the stress of the European U20 Championship. Balancing these hobbies, schoolwork and intense training is anything but easy, especially as a freshman.
“The reason why I’m struggling more is because when you get to the level I want to be at, you have to just train harder,” Makowayo said. “I’ll get back from class and I’ll be so tired I don’t want to do any work.”
When lining up in his lane, Makoyawo excels. The day after breaking the school’s record at the Texas Relays, he blew everyone away with an astounding 9.90 in the 100-meter final to take first place for the Terriers. Despite the race being ruled illegal due to a 4.6 m/s tailwind, Makoyawo was not shy to call it “the best race of my life.”
“Not many teenagers can say that they ran 9.90 regardless of the wind,” Makoyawo said. “There’s a recording of me running that race and you can hear someone in the background saying ‘who’s this?’ like no one expected me to win that event.”
This year has been the “biggest year” for Makoyawo as he finishes up his freshman season.
“I wouldn’t make predictions but hopefully he just keeps progressing forward, developing, getting stronger and he will get quicker,” Griffiths said. “Everybody’s following him and we’re just all very proud of him.”
Makoyawo has his sights set on the top as he plans to compete professionally following his planned three-year tenure at BU. First, though, he is concerned about the present and making the team’s presence known nationally.
“I’m looking forward to us being on the podium for NCAAs,” Makoyawo said. “I feel like [BU] can represent what it means to be amazing academically and athletically.”