Marco Arop once dreamed of playing in the NBA.
But his high school basketball coach Mike Wojcicki couldn’t help but notice Arop’s remarkable motor. Arop never stopped moving.
“He would play the whole game and just never get tired. He would never ask for a sub, he would never need a water break. He could just run and run and run,” Wojcicki said.
Flash forward five years and Arop has been one of the most dominant 800-metre runners on the planet this summer. The 22-year-old will be a favourite in Thursday’s Diamond League Final in Zurich. He’s climbed the podium in every Diamond League event in which he’s raced this summer — remarkable consistency for an athlete relatively new to the sport.
“I had no idea that Marco was going to be this good at track,” Wojcicki said.
Canada’s Olympic 200-metre champion Andre De Grasse will race both the 100 and 200 in Zurich. Winners of each event get US$30,000, a diamond trophy, and an automatic berth in the 2022 world championships.
Arop will be one to watch in the run-up both to next summer’s worlds in Eugene, Ore., and the 2024 Paris Olympics after climbing the global ranks at breakneck speed.
Arop and his family escaped war-torn Sudan when he was just three, living for a few years in Egypt before moving to Edmonton, where he grew up with five brothers.
Arop was initially considering a basketball scholarship offer from Concordia University of Edmonton, when Wojcicki — who, like so many high school coaches, laughingly said he recruits anyone “with a pulse” to run track — convinced him to come out for St. Oscar Romero’s track team.
Similar to De Grasse’s remarkable story, Arop showed up in basketball shoes and shorts.
Wojcicki convinced club track coach Ron Thompson to take a look. Thompson didn’t take much convincing.
“I was really impressed by his fluid stride,” Thompson said. “He was six foot four, that’s another asset that I was enticed by … and he was so smooth in his stride pattern.”
Thompson watched as Arop ran two minutes four seconds and won that first meet. With a few adjustments to his pacing, Arop slashed four seconds off his time in his next race. And then another couple of seconds. And another. He won silver at the provincial championships in 1:55 — Thompson said could have won gold if he hadn’t been boxed in.