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His teammates called him the "Old Man", and at 23 he was the oldest member of the Harvard men's track team However, his nickname means much more than that senior co-captain Gus Udo simply exudes a sense of wisdom and warmth beyond his years.
In a sport that breeds individual champions. Udo played a major role in bringing this year's Crimson track squad--the most successful in more than a decade--together into a coherent group. During meets. Udo could almost always be found leading the cheers from the sidelines, and after the contests, making a point of announcing the results of every event to the entire team.
As four-year teammate Jimmy Johnson puts it. "Gus is easygoing. He coaxes people and emphasizes knowing about all events."
But the "Old Man's" contributions go far beyond acting as a father figure and a cheerleader. In his four years at Harvard. Udo has been a key member of one of the strongest jumping contingents in the East. Udo, Johnson, junior Mark Henry, senior Shawn Hall, and freshman Mike Okwu were almost unstoppable in the long and triple jumps, often sweeping both events.
Udo was one of the main reasons the jumping corps was so successful competing in both the long jump and the triple jump and proving highly successful at both. He finished only inches out of first place in the long jump in this year's indoor Heptagonal meet a competition between the eight Ivy Schools as well as Army and Navy and then came back to win the triple jump. He then repeated his performance this spring, winning his second. Heptagonal triple jump championship.
Success No Stranger
This success is nothing new to Udo. In fact it has marked his entire jumping career, which began more than a decade ago. The Quincy House resident was first introduced to organized sports when his family moved from Nigena to England after civil war broke out there in 1967. From the age of 10 until about 15, soccer was Udo's first love. But then a friend of his older brother's--one of Udo's seven siblings--convinced the Nigerian native to join the Shakesbury Harriers a local track club.
At 15, Udo began as a high jumper and when he hurled his body over 6-ft 6-in he began devoting more time to track and less to soccer. In 1976, Udo won the 17 and under English National title in both the long jump and the high jump, setting a new long jump record of 7.08 meters.
Two years later, he won the Senior National School Championship in the long jump, setting another record with a leap of 24-ft., 10 3/4-in, and earning an invitation to compete with both the British and the Nigerian Junior National squads. Udo opted to leap for the British team, but fell in a pothole and hurt his right ankle just before the competition and was forced to watch the meet from the sidelines. This was the first of nagging, untimely injuries that were to plague Udo throughout his leaping career.
After his successful junior competition. Udo had intended to attend the London School of Economics and continue his track career with his local club. But when a Shaftesbury teammate convinced him to make the trip across the Atlantic. Harvard had its newest star.
"After two minutes of agonizing. I decided to come out to America for adventure." Udo explains. "I like challenges and variety."
Udo certainly got both of those here in Cambridge. His first challenge was recovering from a broken ankle which he suffered when high jumping over his prefreshman summer. Doctors told him that he would never compete again, but after a lot of therapy and work. Udo was back on the runway in time to finish second at the indoor Heps.
Good Outdoor Season
By the outdoor season, he was back in the form he had exhibited back in England. The talented leaper captured the first of his first four straight Greater Boston Championships, won the outdoor Heps, and finished second at the IC4As.
That summer he returned to England and leaped over 25 feet, finishing second to the 1976 Olympic Champion. When Udo returned in the fall he began his most successful year here at Harvard, adding the triple jump to his repertoire, and set a school record.
His junior year he injured his knee and was not as successful, but this season he regained his sophomore form.
Throughout his four years here. Udo's toughest competition has not come from leapers from others schools, but rather from his own teammates, particularly Johnson. While Udo and Johnson admit that a rivalry exists, both described it as "friendly."
"We compete with each other to some extent," Johnson explains. But it doesn't matter who has jumped farther. We both encourage each other and cheer each other on."
After graduation, Udo will return to England to compete with the combined Harvard-Yale team against Oxford and Cambridge. Next year, he will finally attend the London School of Economics, spending his time getting ready to go to Business School and getting in shape for the 1984 Nigerian National team.
Not too bad for an 'Old Man."
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