HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Olympic shot-putter Stephen Mozia of Hackensack will compete for the first time on Thursday.
Mozia is a Hackensack High School graduate whose parents are from Nigeria, where he has dual citizenship.
The athlete won the U.S. Junior Championships in 2012, but started to compete for Nigeria in 2014.
He is a three-time bronze medalist in the African Championships, taking home two medals this year in the shot put and discus.
Like many track and field athletes, especially throwers, Mozia’s early sports background focused on basketball and football.
In a story on Throwholics.com , Mozia said he started throwing to improve his footwork for his primary sports. He continued to play both sports until his junior year at Hackensack, when he dedicated himself full-time to the throwing events.
His career took flight at Cornell University, working with Coach Megan Johnson. He became a first-team All-American for the Big Red in the shot put, finishing second in the event at the 2013 indoor and outdoor NCAA Championships. He became the first Cornell athlete to win four Ivy League outdoor championships in the shot put.
"When he came in a freshman, I thought that can't be him,'' Johnson said. "I thought that skinny kid? Even now, he's very small for a world class shot putter."
Johnson said Mozia's explosiveness in the ring is what caught her eye as a coach. "He can go from 0 to 60 right away,'' Johnson said. "He's also very good about transferring his power into the implement. It's hard to teach. But he has a natural gift for that."
Mozia graduated last year from Cornell with a mechanical engineering degree, and landed a job with Emerson, a Missouri-based manufacturing and technology company. He trained for the Olympics in Knoxville, Tenn., and worked with John Newell, the throwing coach for the University of Tennessee.
“A Cornell mechanical engineering grad that’s gone to the Olympics and holds the national record for his country as well as worked successfully at a Fortune 500 company is definitely a great picture,’’ Mozia said in the Throwaholics.com story. He also plans to pursue a masters degree. “I’ll keep throwing as long as my company stays happy with the arrangement I have I’ll be fine. Emerson let’s me take off when I need. I have lofty goals in sport and well as business and I need to make sure they both are being given due diligence.”
Mozia could find himself in medal contention at the Olympics. He threw 21.76 meters last month -- a personal best and a Nigerian record -- and has improved in virtually every performance this year. In the 2012 Olympics, the winning throw by Poland's Tomasz Majewski was 21.89 meters. Mozia’s toss at last month’s meet would have won a bronze medal in London.
Mozia will not compete until Aug. 18. He’s hoping to reach the finals at the Olympics, which includes the top 12 throwers.
For a young man who had little knowledge of the event coming into high school, it has been a swift and powerful rise.
Many times shot putters bloom late as they mature physically and gain strength through their late 20s and early 30s. For Mozia to stand on the world stage at the age of 22 is stunning. "I keep telling him he can get the world record,'' Johnson said. "Whether he believes it or not, I don't know."
“God gave me this talent for a reason so I can’t waste it,’’ Mozia told Throwaholics. “And really I’m only here because of God and all my parents’ sacrifices moving to a new country. It’s a lot of hard work and I’m not sure if most people could do what I do on a daily basis; but I don’t get overwhelmed easily and after Cornell engineering this life is easy. And it’s put me in a position to help a lot of people in life and grow-up as a man to help others more.”
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