In the world of track and field, sprinting is one of the most exciting and adrenaline-fueled event groups to watch. It can, at times, also be a breeding ground for showboating and ego. But among the rising – or more precisely, resurgent – Australian stars in the discipline is Naa Anang, who has made a name for herself with her impressive performances and selfless nature.
At the recent Maurie Plant Meet in Melbourne, 27-year-old Anang ran 11.20 seconds for the 100m into a 1.4 m/s headwind, becoming the equal sixth fastest Australian ever. It was a remarkable feat, especially considering the challenging wind conditions. Anang surprised even herself with her performance, saying, “I’m so stoked, I mean I surprised myself in Adelaide [where she won in 11.39 into a 2.4 m/s headwind]. I didn’t really think I was in that shape this early, so I was pretty expectant for tonight. I was also very nervous because I put a lot of pressure on myself. I am glad I could back myself and come through, so I’m really stoked.”
There’s always conjecture about the extent a headwind or tailwind impedes or aids performance. What is for sure is that Anang’s run was an outlier compared to the other top ten performers in the nation’s history: the only whose best mark was run into a headwind. According to World Athletics records it’s also the equal fastest ever time by an Australian run into a headwind, matching Sally Pearson’s 2012 mark in Nivelles, Belgium (11.20s into a 1.2 m/s headwind). And for what it is worth, a 2018 article in the European of Journal of Sport Science equates the run to 11.11 seconds with no wind, or 11.00 seconds if aided by the maximum allowable 2.0 m/s tailwind; while World Athletics’s Rankings and Scoring Tables reward the run at the same level as an 11.15 performance in still conditions.
Rank Time Athlete 1 11.11 (+1.9) Melissa Breen 2 11.12 (+1.9) Melinda Gainsford-Taylor 3 11.14 (+1.4) Sally Pearson 4 11.16 (+1.8) Hana Basic 5 11.19 (+1.6) Kerry Johnson 6 11.20 (+1.2) Raelene Boyle 6 11.20 (-1.4) Naa Anang 8 11.24 (+1.4) Colleen (Beasley) Pekin 8 11.24 (+1.1) Cathy Freeman 10 11.25 (+0.1) Ella Connolly
But what makes Anang stand out even more is her generosity and selflessness off the track. At the Beachside Gift in Mentone in south-eastern Melbourne earlier this month, she not only participated in the event but also stayed until 10pm to help the meet organisers pack up. It’s not every day that you see a professional athlete pitching in with the manual labor, especially after a long day of competing.
Anang’s kind and giving nature is a reflection of her upbringing. She was born in Ghana and moved to Australia when she was six months old. Her parents instilled in her the importance of working hard, being grateful for what she has and giving back to others. This is something that Anang has carried with her throughout her life, on and off the track.
“My name, Naa, means princess, but growing up with two older brothers meant I was more of a tomboy, used to having to fight all the time,” she told World Athletics in 2019.
Anang’s selflessness is not just limited to her willingness to lend a hand. She is also known for her generosity towards her fellow athletes and warm character (she also has the best Instagram handle in Australian athletics @ohyeahnaa). When Anang won the long jump and 100m double at the Australian Championships in 2019, becoming the first woman in 70 years to do so, she was quick to give credit to her competitors, saying that they pushed her to be her best. It’s sometimes rare to see such humility and respect in the world of sports, where the focus is often on individual achievements and records.
But Anang’s journey to success has not been without its challenges. For the past three years, she has been dealing with shin splints, a painful condition caused by stress fractures in both of her shins. This injury has made training difficult and has forced Anang to modify her workouts significantly. Despite this setback, she has continued to work hard and stay committed to the sport.
Anang credits her coach Gary Bourne for helping her overcome her injury and return to top form. Bourne has pushed her to run further distances than she would like, but it has paid off in the end. Anang says, “This off-season was perhaps the first time in a long time that I actually was able to train every day consistently. That’s what I put it down to, and my coach Gary pushing me to run further distances than I would like, but it is working out.”
Anang’s success on the track and her kind-hearted nature off the track have made her a much liked figure in the Australian athletics. She represents the best of what athletes can be: dedicated, hardworking, and humble. Her story is proof that with the right mindset and support, anything is possible. And we’ll be tuned to the track for the rest of the season, and beyond, to see what lies ahead.