To Temi Ogunrinde, the proposal seemed preposterous. She had been a sprinter her whole life, and that’s what felt comfortable.
Matt Bingle, however, had another idea. The Gophers women’s track and field coach approached the former Park of Cottage Grove standout in the fall of 2014 and basically said: We want you to grab the handle of this chain that has a 9-pound steel ball attached to it, spin around in a circle and fling that thing as far as you can.
“It was like, ‘Coach, what are you doing? This is not what I want to do,’ ” Ogunrinde recalled.
But three seasons later, Ogunrinde (pronounced oh-GURR-day) has become a standout in the hammer throw and has a solid shot to earn All-America honors at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships. She’s one of a program-record 14 athletes who’ll compete for the Big Ten champion Gophers women in Eugene, Ore., from Wednesday through Saturday.
“To bring the biggest squad in program history to nationals — we wanted to make a statement that this was an impactful and memorable squad, and I think we’ve done that,” said Ogunrinde, a fourth-year junior. “Whatever happens at nationals is just the icing on the cake.”
Ogunrinde holds the Gophers’ record with a throw of 221 feet, 3 inches, and she qualified for her second NCAA outdoor meet by finishing third in the NCAA West preliminary meet at 216-2, which is fourth among the 24 qualifiers.
“She’s got a good shot,” Bingle said. “She should feel super confident going in.”
From sprinting to throwing
When recruiting Ogunrinde out of Park, Bingle saw athletic potential in the two-time all-state sprinter. She also played soccer and basketball, and the coach felt her skills could translate to the hammer throw. He ran the idea by assistant Peter Miller, who coaches the Gophers throwers.
“He told me, ‘Hey, watch this girl run. Tell me if you think she can throw the hammer or do anything for us.’ ” Miller said. “I think anybody can throw the hammer who is willing to work hard.”
In the fall of 2014, Ogunrinde’s redshirt freshman year, Miller started working with her on the hammer, though she still was practicing with Bingle and Minnesota’s sprinters. The first couple of weeks were spent observing, then Miller had her practice the throwing motion with a PVC pipe.
“No one trusted me with a hammer yet,” Ogunrinde joked.
In October, she released the hammer for the first time. And that winter, Bingle made the move.
“I finally said, ‘I think it’s time you go over here full time,’ ” he said. “The rest of it is history.”
Ogunrinde, however, did not immediately embrace hammer time.
“The first two years were rough. Freshman year was rough. In my sophomore year, it was a good day to not fall,” Ogunrinde said. “… It was a lot of turns; I got so dizzy and wondered, how do people even do this?”
And being separated from sprinting wasn’t easy, either.
“It was really hard to swallow that you’re not going to be doing something you love anymore,” she said. “I remember an indoor competition and my coach said, ‘This is your first and last collegiate race.’ I was so mad at him at the time.”
Slowly she improved, placing sixth in a meet in 2016. Then last year as a sophomore, Ogunrinde won the Big Ten outdoor title by throwing that 4-kilogram (or 8.82-pound) hammer 201-7. She repeated as champion this year with a meet-record throw of 219-8.
As Ogunrinde improved, she began embracing a role as a leader, following the example set by upperclassmen when she was a struggling freshman.
“She’s very vocal and very high energy. Everybody trusts her. Everybody looks to her,” Bingle said of his captain. “… Nothing is bigger than the team, and she buys into that. When one of your best kids buys into it, it’s easy to sell everybody else.”
An academic All-Big Ten honoree, Ogunrinde graduated this spring with a degree in nonprofit and entrepreneurial management. She’s pursuing her master’s degree in public policy at the U’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
“I want to stick in the nonprofit or government sector,” said Ogunrinde, who interned last summer with the Minneapolis Final Four Local Organizing Committee. “I’m really passionate about a lot of things — homelessness, the high incarceration rates we have, the cost of living.
“… Just because I’m going into public policy doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to be a governor some day,” she added, “but even to learn to be a well-rounded citizen, I’m excited about that.”
First though, comes the NCAA outdoor meet, where last year Ogunrinde finished 18th while battling an illness. Miller called that week a valuable experience and remembers thinking, “She’ll be gunning for a top-three next year.”
Ogunrinde’s odds received a boost when Arizona State’s Maggie Ewen, the defending champ and NCAA record-holder (244-6) from St. Francis, fouled in her three attempts at the West prelims and did not qualify. That development upset Ogunrinde.
“At the end of the day, Maggie Ewen is the best collegiate hammer thrower of my generation,” she said. “… You want to compete against the best and win against the best.”
Still, the opening is there. “She doesn’t want to be second at the NCAA meet,” Miller said, “I can tell you that.”
That’s quite the ascension for the once-reluctant thrower.
“It took time to feel like this is my event,” Ogunrinde said. “But now it’s my event. I know it, I love it, and it’s fun for me.’’