Courtesy BYU athletics
Tatenda Tsumba

World-class sprinters are hard to come by in Provo, but Tatenda Tsumba, a junior from Zimbabwe, basically fell into the laps of BYU track coaches.

Tsumba, who was part of his country’s Olympic team in Rio, will be part of a Cougar contingent at the NCAA Track and Field Outdoor Championships this week in Eugene, Oregon.

Tsumba will join 12 other Cougar men who have qualified for the championship. Only Texas A&M (18), Arkansas (16) and host Oregon (14) have more targeted for events this week, a definite Power 5 type showing of Ed Eyestone’s program. On the men’s side, Utah State qualified three and Southern Utah one.

“I think our coaches did an excellent job getting people qualified. On the men’s side, there were 13 and the women had four,” said Eyestone. “People don’t realize how extremely difficult it is to get athletes qualified for this NCAA championship. Going into the regional, we had the second most men qualified, and if you look at that regional, we had 46 qualify to get there.”

Eyestone said this spring has been one of those times where everyone kind of stretched out and put themselves out there. “When times were there to grab, they kind of went the extra effort and held on by their fingernails. It was fun.”

In the fall national cross-country championships, BYU men finished seventh and the women 10th to put BYU’s athletic programs on a solid footing for the year.

Tsumba, who came to the United State to run for a Division III school, was unhappy with his development and sent an email to BYU’s track staff. Eyestone’s staff took a look at his performance as a long jumper and was interested.

After enrolling at BYU, Tsumba not only competed in the Olympics, but he’s spent time in Jamaica working out with world record holder Usain Bolt, the fastest man alive.

“He certainly has a chance. We’d certainly like to see him make the final,” said Eyestone. Tsumba will compete in both the 100 and 200 meters. His 200 personal best is 20.49, set at the BYU Invitational this spring. His personal 100 record time of 10.19 came at this spring’s Texas Relays. Those efforts put him among the best in BYU history behind the likes of Frank Fredericks and Leonard Myles-Mills.

“He’s one of these guys who comes on really strong. He’s not a guy who starts particularly fast but the last 50 meters is when he eats up his competition,” said Eyestone.

In the field for the 100 meters, Tsumba will face 20 of the top sprinters in the world, including Cameron Burrell from Houston, who has posted the best NCAA qualifying time in the field at 9.95 seconds. Arkansas State’s Jaylen Bacon is close behind with a blistering 9.97. Tsumba’s time, which should make him the fastest human walking around the state of Utah today, was 12th out of the field of 24 in the 100 meters.

“If he can get out and get a good start, I think we have a good chance of seeing him in the finals, and if he can finish in the top eight, he will earn All-American honors. He will be going up against the best in the country, no doubt,” said Eyestone.

“This country is not weak in terms of the sprints,” said the coach.

“There will be some international athletes of great caliber. It is just fun seeing the journey he has made to get to this point. When he came to the country, he quickly learned it wasn’t a good fit in terms of the competition. What we learned is it pays to pay attention to email.

“I think when I got it, I read it and forwarded it to coach (Stephani) Perkins and told her this guy looks like he’s interested in coming here. He came out, fell in love with the mountains, the campus and university and atmosphere. It’s been a good fit. This will be his final outdoor season, but he’ll still have an indoor season.

“This will be the first guy we’ve had make it to the NCAAs for the 100 since Leo in 2000.”

Eyestone said Tsumba has a loving, kind family back home, in particular, his mother. He was named a BYU captain because of his character and work ethic.

“He’s been dedicated and hard-working. We’ve been fortunate to have him, and I’d love to see him finish up with an All-America citation. If you make the final, it’s a great accomplishment. It may be harder to make that final that it is the Olympic finals, the field is that good.”

He has worked himself onto the world stage. He saw how hard Bolt and the Jamaicans worked, how many hours they put into what they do. He’s established a pair of personal records this spring at BYU in the aftermath.

Hall of Fame golfer Arnold Palmer once said something applicable to the Tsumba story. “It’s a funny thing, the more I practice, the luckier I get.”

Tsumba was recently quoted in the campus newspaper, the Daily Universe, and it paints an accurate picture of his approach.

“We all have obstacles in our lives. During those obstacles when you feel like there’s nothing left for you, I found that God had a better vision for my life. I could never have imagined it, but now I’m here and I’m able to do the things I’m doing.”

These sprints go fast, they’re over almost as quick as they begin.

But inside those races, there is a lifetime of experiences.