When Benjamin Azamati speaks, whispers are loud compared to the volume coming out of his mouth.
When Benjamin Azamati runs his message is louder than thunder before a lightning strike.
Azamati, the fastest man to ever walk the campus of West Texas A&M and all the Division II track world, announced this week he will end his athletic career at WT focusing his energy on running pro and in the Olympics for his native Ghana.
“What else does Ben need to do here?” said West Texas A&M men’s and women’s track coach Matt Stewart, in full approval of Azamati’s decision.
Stewart doesn’t mince words when talking about his sprinter who leaves WT track after his sophomore year owning virtually all WT, Lone Star Conference and D-II sprint records, along with running for Ghana in the XXXII (2021) Tokyo Summer Olympics.
“Ben, obviously, has done more for us than probably winning a national championship would,” Stewart said. “That’s by putting our program on the map with his performances at big meets, he’s an Olympian, and at Texas Relays dropping 9.90s. He’s top five in collegiate history no matter what division in the 100. He’s one of the best collegiate sprinters all-time no matter what division and easily the top D-II sprinter of all-time.”
Stewart’s not talking crazy. The facts back him up.
Azamati busted the elite 10-second mark in the 100-meter dash several times and owns the Division II all-time record at 9.90. That time ranks him fifth all-time of college runners in any division, the top four times each owned by D-I athletes led by Tennessee’s Christian Coleman Jr. at 9.82.
Azamati’s consistency is mind-boggling when you consider he has put down Division II’s top seven fastest times ever run in the 100.
In the 200-meter dash, one Azamati calls “a strategic race compared to the 100,” he owns the fastest time in D-II history at 20.13.
Taking it indoors, Azamati is tied for the all-time D-II record in the 60-meter dash at 6.54 and ranks second in the 200 all-time D-II list at 20.57.
These times have earned Azamati All-American honors, all the WT school records in the sprints, as well as all the Lone Star Conference meet and overall sprint records.
Not bad for a soccer player, eh?
Growing up in soccer-crazed Ghana, Azamati played soccer in his youth and then found his passion in running during high school.
“My PE teachers learned I could run watching me play soccer,” Azamati said. “They wanted me to represent my high school at these games and everything started from there. I had a scholarship to the University of Ghana to go run and that’s when running became my passion.”
Now, Canyon, Texas is some 6,600 miles from the city of Accra, home of the University of Ghana. Not exactly a short recruiting trip for Coach Stewart.
WT’s impressive track program recruited itself as Abraham Seaneke of Ghana was already running for the Buffs.
Even though Azamati’s fasted 100 arriving at WT two years ago was a 10.80 – slow for him, fast for the rest of the world – Seaneke talked to Stewart about Azamati running for WT.
Azamati and Stewart, a college sprinter in his day at Texas Tech earning All-American status in 2003, clicked from the start.
“We had Abraham here and he talked to Stew about me,” Azamati said. “Stew was even interested in me when I was running a 10.80. That means he saw potential in me and knew I could do better. He gave me a chance and a full scholarship to represent WT on the track.”
Stewart said when Azamati arrived in Canyon the focus was all about two words.
“When Benjamin got here, we just worked on all things speed and power,” Stewart said. “He needed to get in the weight room and improve his strength and explosiveness. We have also worked really hard on his acceleration and block starts.
“He is a student of the sport and always wanting to improve and analyze races and workout sessions to see where he can get better. I’ve never coached anyone like him. Just a special person and athlete.”
Azamati is a fan of Coach Stewart.
“Stew’s meant a lot to me,” Azamati said. “Most people have coaches that give you that pressure to run this and run that. Stew gives you the choices of what you want to run. I feel like he also wants you to do well academically, not just in your sport. Stew has been a big part of my career.”
Azamati jumped on the national scene last March at the Texas Relays winning the 100 in 9.97. That time set Ghana’s national record breaking a mark that was 22-years old and earned him a berth on the Ghana Olympic team.
Later that spring, Azamati also became a two-time D-II national champion in the 100 and 200 earning the USTFCCCA National Athlete of the Year honor.
While last summer Ghana’s 4 X 100 relay team reached the Olympic finals, it was DQ’d in the finals.
“Absolutely, the Olympics were emotional for me,” Azamati said. “It’s e very athlete dreams of running in the Olympic Games. Being able to represent my country and represent WT as well, it means a lot to show how hard working I am. It was mixed emotions for me. But at the end of the day when you go there and you don’t do really well, you want to come back and get medals for the country.”
That’s the competitive nature of Azamati, who said sure he gets nervous before a race but “it shows I care and shows I want to do better. I feel a lot of pressure but that pressure I always say it just for me to perform better.”
Part of Azamati’s excellence arrives from his pre-race routines seconds before he sets into the blocks.
“I get behind the blocks I do something I call the mental imagery,” Azamati explained. “I picture myself going into the blocks and then going through all the phases of the 100 meters. The 100 meters is pretty short so you have to think really fast in nine seconds. I think of where I have to delay my top end speed at, where I have to run really, really run fast and where I can conserve energy in order to finish the race. That’s what goes on in my mind before I get into the blocks.
“The 200 is very different. It’s a more tactical race.”
Azamati’s mental imagery works, and work well.
Once again that past spring at the Texas Relays Azamati performed better than most could ever imagine running a 9.90 in the 100 prelims, the fastest time ever produced by a D-II runner.
“Because it’s the first outdoor race,” is how Azamati explains his success at the Texas Relays the past two years. “I happen to run fast there just to see where I am out for the outdoor season. I pretty much give my everything there. And then I’m fresh coming off the indoor season. It has good weather and then atmosphere as well with all the people being around.”
While Azamati’s personal races at last month’s D-II nationals didn’t go as planned with a false start in 100 and silver in the 200, he was part of WT’s school record-setting 4 X 100 Relay earning gold in 39.27.
“I can’t explain what happened on the false start I knew I was ready and I just felt my body move,” Azamati said. “Better for it to happen now than later. Of course, that’s a lesson learned. I will be patient next time.
“But of all my races at WT, the last one (sprint relay finals winning D-II gold) is my favorite.”
Azamati has learned the different cultures of Ghana to the United States which includes a commitment to being a student as well as an athlete. He has fallen in love with dining on Chipotle. And, of all the many prestigious awards he owns his favorite is the portrait of him as an Olympian presented to him at midfield during halftime of a WT football game last fall.
“All the awards mean a lot to me,” Azamati said. “But I’m more about what people mean to me and the portrait I was given at the football stadium … that was really cool. That’s going to stay with me for a very long time.”
Azamati said he plans to stay in Canyon the next year and train with “my teammates that help me so much.” He also plans to graduate with an Animal Science degree next May.
Azamati laughs when asked what his close friends back in Ghana think about him running in the U.S.
““They think you have to leave Ghana to come here and run fast,” said Azamati, who remember arrived in Canyon running a 10.80 in the 100 and ran a wind-aided 9.86 at the LSC meet this spring. “That is the main question I get asked.”
WT coach Stewart almost pulled of an unheard of double last month winning the D-II track national women’s championship with his Lady Buffs and a runner-up in the men’s meet with his Buffs.
Stewart is often asked questions about Azamati. And while that speed of Azamati impresses and even amazes him, Stewart appreciates the 24-year-old man Azamati has become.
“Benjamin is a tremendous person and all the success he has achieved is earned by his hard work ethic and attitude,” Stewart said. “He is very humble and gracious to all those who have helped him get to this point. He is also a great teammate and helps other athletes on the team and wants success for everyone.”