Former BYU runner pursues his Olympic dreams after getting cut from BYU men’s track team

On the indoor track in the Smith Fieldhouse, 21-year-old Omar Aburouss bends down and kicks his leg out forward.

His hand reaches the bottom of his shoe, pulling his foot towards him. The young athlete winces as his leg muscles loosened. Sweat beads down his face as he continues to solely stretch out his hamstrings for another 30 minutes to prevent injuring “his weak points” for the 12th time. Aburouss breathes heavily as he walks down the track to release any muscle tension.

Representing his home country Jordan, BYU junior Aburouss is currently training to qualify for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Despite him being cut from the BYU men’s track program this past summer, that does not stop him from pursuing his childhood dream to run in the biggest race in the world.

Before coming to BYU, Aburouss was already a four-time Jordanian national champion and a national record holder for the Under-23 60-meter and 200-meter events. He also competed in the 2018 U18 Asian Championships in Hong Kong and participated in Youth Olympic Games Qualifiers in Thailand.

When living in his hometown of Amman, Aburouss first heard about BYU from local neighbors in a “member house” next to his aunt’s home, where they all came together for family meals and activities. As college applications opened, his mom and aunt encouraged him to apply to this Utah college that was so highly spoken of. He applied and was accepted.

Because the COVID pandemic canceled many races and events for prospective athletes like Aburouss to be scouted by colleges, he reached out to the track and field coaching staff for an opportunity to join the team.

Not only was he offered an athletic scholarship for BYU track and field, but also a Jordanian-Palestinian academic scholarship; however, he could only choose one.

“I thought I could keep both,” Aburouss said. “I kind of weighed my options. I [thought] it’s safer to pick the academic one, in case I get injured, and I [wouldn’t] have this other scholarship.” Nevertheless, he was still able to participate on the track and field team.

After only three semesters of running for BYU, the track coach called him into his office and told Aburouss that he was not going to be on the team. The news broke the young prospect’s heart. He felt as if he had an “identity crisis.” Who is Omar Aburouss without track? How will he achieve his dreams in the Olympics now?

“[Track] is what I dedicated my life to for the last eight years,” he said. “This is why I moved to Utah. I had a very hard time, and I felt like it was unfair.”

Despite the incident, he qualified and competed in the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, for the Jordanian national team in the men’s 100-meter. He finished in 16th overall and fourth out of seven in his heat, clocking with a time of 11.24 seconds. Even though his results weren’t what he wanted, he still felt honored to race amongst some of the fast people in the world.

Aburouss represented his home country Jordan and finished in 16th place overall in the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon on July 15, 2022. (Photo: Omar Aburouss)

“It was a very, very valuable experience,” he said. “I felt like it was the perfect thing to prepare myself to compete at the Olympics.”

He contacted the BYU coach again after the race in Oregon and the coach agreed to bring him back on the team. For months, Aburouss trained vigorously to prove that he deserved to be on that team. Fellow BYU sprinter Dallin Draper knew of Aburouss’ Olympic dream and trained with him this past summer.

“Every morning during the summer, we would get up and go lift probably around eight o’clock,” Draper said. “And we do those three or four times a week. We’re like really pushing each other all summer.”

Even though he had some success during that probationary period, Aburouss received a text message from the same coach—he was cut from the BYU track team for the second time. Doubt began to fill his mind.

This photo took place at the Ken Shannon Last Chance Invite on Feb. 24, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo: BYU Photo)

“It was very tough,” Aburouss said. “I [couldn’t] talk to him again because the [roster submission] deadline already passed.”

Then, within 24 hours, he received another text. This time, it was from BYU assistant strength and condition coach Zach Stetler, offering to train Aburouss for the Olympics for free.

 “He’s a hard worker,” Stelter said. “I know he’ll put the effort in…For a long time, I’ve been studying sprinting, sprint mechanics, and sprint protocols to get faster. I want to put my knowledge of speed and speed programming to the test, and I want him to reach his goals.”

Stetler is confident in Aburouss’ technique and form, so they’re focused on improving his speed. Rep after rep, Aburouss practices his “explosiveness” and trains “exactly how the race is going to be.”

His path to the Olympic qualification is not a typical circumstance where he runs a specific time to be automatically sent to Paris. The quicker he clocks in his upcoming races, the higher his chances are to qualify. According to Aburouss, his best chances are “to break the 60-meter [which is 6.86] and 100-meter national record [which is 10.48].”

Race Record60-meter (sec)100-meter (sec)200-meter (sec)
This chart shows the national records of Jordan and the United States and the international records of men’s track. The quicker Aburouss clocks in his upcoming races, the higher his chances are to qualify. (Chart: Mele Fangu)

His coworker in the Office of Belonging, Jacob Tai, lifts weights with the young prospect most afternoons during the week. While training and working alongside him, Tai sees how Aburouss is “extremely dedicated to everything he does.” The young runner is motivated more than ever since being cut, according to Tai.

“He just needed a fresh start,” Tai said. “He always pushes himself when we’re together…He just wants to prove the haters wrong.”

Even Aburouss’ supervisor, Fui Vakapuna, is impressed by his tenacity as well. Vakapuna is also planning on attending the Olympics in Paris and hopefully see one of his favorite employees on the biggest stage in the world.

“One of the things that I see with what Omar brings and provides to the table is just a high IQ of execution,” he said.

Ultimately, Aburouss’ main goal is “making [his] mom proud,” who raised him in a single parent household since birth.

“There’s things so much bigger than the Olympics for me,” he said. “At the top of them all, [I want to be] the best man that I can be. I feel like going to the Olympics and motivating myself to go to the Olympics play a huge factor in me being the man that I want to be.”

“I feel like going to the Olympics and motivating myself to go to the Olympics play a huge factor in me being the man that I want to be,” Aburouss said. (Photo: Mele Fangu)

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