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Bolt and Gebrselassie: The dream team inspiring Nigeria's fastest man

updated 7:30 AM EDT, Wed July 17, 2013
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obinna Metu is Nigeria's fastest man
  • Metu has trained with Usain Bolt and long-distance legend Haile Gebrselassie
  • Successfully combined his athletics career with education to gain a university degree
  • Dreams of winning a gold medal at the Olympics or World Championships

(CNN) -- When Haile Gebrselassie speaks people listen.

The Ethiopian double Olympic gold medalist, who won the 10,000 meter title at four consecutive World Championships between 1993 and 1999, knows talent when he sees it.

So when Gebrselassie labeled Nigerian sprinter Obinna Metu "a bundle of talent who has a very bright future because he is ready to learn," people began to sit up and take notice.

Most of all Metu himself, who as the fastest sprinter in Nigeria is determined to emulate Gebrselassie's success.

"I want people to be hearing my name, I'd love to be famous," Metu told CNN's Human to Hero series.

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"I'm thinking of a way to develop my name and sports can help me achieve this. I want to let the whole world know that I exist."

Father figure

Metu and Gebrselassie's paths crossed at the G4S 4Teen Program, which Metu says is "all about helping the young athletes to develop their talent through financial back-ups."

The pair recently spent time together in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa where they hope to inspire the next generation of athletes.

But while hundreds of children watched on in awe it was Metu who was starstruck by Gebrselassie -- a man he describes as a father-like figure.

"Because of his inspirational talks I'm able to withstand the challenges on the track -- he gives me fatherly advice," said Metu.

"He has made me understand that to become a great person in track and field or even in sports in general, you have to train your mind to cope with pressure.

"If you cannot handle the pressure then I don't think you can have the qualities to become a champion.

"I could tell that he was able to deal with the pressure and that's why he set so many records. To have him as my mentor is a great thing and will always live in my memory."

Bolt

While most athletes would dream of having just one mentor with the experience and success of Gebrselassie, Metu is in the enviable position of having two -- and the second one isn't too bad either.

"Usain Bolt is lovely," Metu said of the world's fastest man. "He's the kind of person everyone would like to be, to be where he is.

"Because he's generous, he doesn't discriminate, he doesn't really show that he's a champion, he doesn't scare people away from him.

I'm the fastest man in Nigeria and everybody's looking up to me -- they want to beat Obinna Metu.
Obinna Metu

"He always wants people to be close to him. He plays a lot, if you're a champion or if you're not a champion, he recognizes everybody."

Jamaica's Bolt, a six-time Olympic gold medalist, is regarded as one of the finest sprinters in history as well as one of the most charismatic athletes on the circuit.

But behind his bravado and confident streak is a man who is desperate to help his fellow competitors, according to Metu.

"Usain made my stay wonderful in Jamaica," he said. "Usain would always say 'Africa, come on, let's go'. He doesn't differentiate.

"He always remembers how he started. He always remembers 'hey, I was once like this guy, so I have to encourage them'.

"He really does encourage people; he encourages young people around him to keep what they know best."

Personal best

Bolt's work with Metu has already reaped dividends with the Nigerian producing a season's best of 10.11 following his time with the Olympic 100 and 200 meter champion.

The opportunity to work with sprinters and coaches outside of his own country was important to Metu, who believes the lack of top training partners in Nigeria has hampered his progress.

By working in the U.S. alongside some of the biggest names in athletics such as Bolt and Yohan Blake, Metu has gained the kind of experience he could never have gained in Nigeria.

"I think training with these guys teaches you how to manage yourself in the competition," he added.

"It helps you realize that you shouldn't fear champions. It makes you recognize that one day I'll be like this guy.

"If you train with a champion then hopefully you'll turn out the same way. That's why it was such a great opportunity when I trained with Usain Bolt."

New challenge

They say that charity begins at home. You have to show that you are good in your own country before showing the rest of the world that you are good.
Obinna Metu

Already a champion in his own country, Metu is desperate to push the boundaries of his success and challenge the Jamaicans and Americans in the big tournaments.

Racing against the same athletes within Nigeria no longer holds any appeal nor is it challenging enough -- he's the big fish in the small pond and that has to change.

"I'm the fastest man in Nigeria and everybody's looking up to me -- they want to beat Obinna Metu," he said.

"I'm unbeaten in the national trials for the past four years. I still need to do a lot of things to do to become a champion. My mental target is not to win national trials.

"It's no longer any news to me, I don't call it a victory. If I win I don't celebrate that much.

"I'm looking forward to winning a medal at the World Championships or at the Olympic Games. That's what I'm focusing on now."

The opportunity to star at the Olympics began as a far fetched dream.

It was during his time at school that Metu decided to pursue sprinting and attempt to follow in the footsteps of his hero, Olusoji Fasuba.

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Fasuba, an Olympic bronze medalist and a Commonwealth Games silver medalist, provided the inspiration for Metu, who at five years his senior had already become a household name in Nigeria.

The two men came face to face at the national Olympic trials in 2008 with Metu defeating Fasuba and taking the title as Nigeria's fastest man following a thrilling 100 meter contest.

It was a proud moment for Metu, who also won a bronze medal in the 200 meters at the 2007 World Championships as well as a gold medal at the All African Games in Algeria.

Olympic bow

That success ensured he arrived at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing full of confidence -- finishing second in his 100m heat with a time of 10.34 seconds before recording a time of 20.62 in the 200m.

Disappointment followed in the 4x100m relay -- a nightmare baton exchange led to disqualification and ended any hopes of medal success.

But that failure failed to dent Metu's spirit.

Competing at the Olympics in Beijing and then at London four years later remains a proud achievement -- but is by no means the most important of his life.

That came when he graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, with a degree in Business Management.

"My greatest achievement is that I'm an international athlete and a graduate," he said.

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"It's something to boast of, because I don't know about Western countries, but I do know about the African mentality.

"They always see sportsmen as people who don't go to school -- as a nuisance. People used to see sportsmen and women as uneducated, people who wasted their time.

"So I am proud to say, 'OK, I'm able to combine sports and my educational career and combine them successfully'.

"Every year I'm counting my achievements. It's not as if winning national trials is the best achievement in track and field.

"They say that charity begins at home. You have to show that you are good in your own country before showing the rest of the world that you are good."

Family man

Metu's family were certainly proud of him when he won gold medals in both the 100 and 200m at the West African University Games in Ghana.

From there he moved on to the very first training camp held by the G4S 4teen Program in Kenya where under the guidance of Gebrselassie he has flourished.

His success working alongside the likes of Bolt and Gebrselassie has helped Metu not just blossom as an athlete, but as a person.

But there is no doubt in his own mind where the roots of his success stemmed from.

"I'm a product of my family. My family do not regret they have me in this world," he said. "They say 'Ah that's my son'. My mum, brothers and sisters are all proud of me.

"They say, 'Yes Obinna, you're making us proud out there' and that's it. I think it's a great achievement for me."

Perhaps in time he'll make Gebrselassie proud too.

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