Demi Omole might be the fastest man in Wisconsin, but when out with his friends he's known as a dawdler who is often implored to shake a leg.
"I walk really slow," says Omole, before sauntering over to join his UW track and field teammates to stretch at the McClain Center last Thursday. "I'm impatient when I drive, but I don't speed. I just get frustrated in traffic jams. But I walk really slow. People say that for someone so fast, I walk way too slowly."
Thankfully for the Wisconsin men's track team, things are different once Omole laces up his spikes and steps into the blocks. He has turned in the fifth-best 100-meter dash time among college sprinters in the country this year at 10.22 seconds. (That, I think, is about how long it takes me to cross King Street - if a bus is bearing down on me.)
In March, Omole placed second in the 60-meter dash at the NCAA Indoor Track Championships, with a time of 6.57 seconds. His performance added eight crucial points to help the Badgers take home the team title, beating Florida State by five.
The national indoor trophy is only the latest accomplishment in an incredible six-year run for the Badgers, who during this time have won six Big Ten indoor titles and five outdoor titles. The only missing piece is a national (as opposed to Big Ten) outdoor championship.
Omole adds strength in the sprints to a team that has traditionally been known for its distance runners. He won the 100-meter dash at the Drake Relays last weekend for the fourth straight year and helped set a world record in the 400-meter relay at the 2004 World Junior Championships in Italy, an experience that still ranks as the highlight of his career.
"Over in Europe, they have a big track fan base," he says. "So everywhere we went, we were treated like celebrities, even though most of us were 18 or 19 years old."
It's obviously a much different story in Madison, where Omole is a relatively anonymous senior at the UW, majoring in legal studies. Omole was born in Nigeria, where his family lived until he was 5. They moved to London, then New York and finally to the Milwaukee area when he was in fifth grade. That was around the time Omole started gaining an appreciation for running fast.
"When you're little, you're always running around and racing your friends," he says. "I think I was about 10 when people started saying, 'You're going to be in the Olympics someday.' But I never took track seriously until sophomore year in high school. I had some great athletes at my school [Whitefish Bay Dominican] and we had a lot of success my freshman year, and I guess that geared me to focus more intensely my sophomore year."
That focus has continued at Wisconsin, where Omole has become a five-time All-American under veteran coach Ed Nuttycombe, who has helped Omole grasp the mental side of the sport.
"Being a sprinter, you have to rely about 90% on natural talent," Omole says. "The rest is technique, learning how to run a race correctly and how to stay upright, keep your form correct. That kind of stuff is what you get up here at Wisconsin. A lot of people think you need warm weather to do all that. But we have a nice indoor facility here."
To the novice track spectator, the 100 meters is a 10-second explosion of speed and athleticism, but Omole is constantly making adjustments and managing his speed.
"By about the 40- or 50-meter mark, you know your position in the race," he says. "It's up to you where you're going to finish. If you start to press too much, then you're going to fade. But if you stay relaxed and upright, you're going to pretty much stay in the same position. But if you get too relaxed, then you might fade as well."
Saturday's Wisconsin Twilight meet at the McClimon Complex will offer a unique opportunity to see Omole in action before he moves on to the conference and national championships later this spring. After that, Omole intends to take his shot at an international track career, maybe even the Olympics.
"I don't want to say I'm thinking big picture, but I guess I am," he says. "It's my last season, so hopefully I can get a national championship. But I'm looking forward to the USA championships and making the world team this summer and going to Osaka, Japan."