They were teammates at Queen’s College Elementary school; then rivals in high school at the Queen’s College (QC) Comets and the St. Augustine’s College (SAC) Big Red Machine; now they will be reunited as teammates at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) Panthers this fall. That is the story of recent graduate of SAC, Raymond Oriakhi and recent graduate of QC, Matthew Thompson.
They both received full athletic scholarships to further their academic and athletic careers at Pitt.
The reconnection began from last year when the athletes were talking about who they want to go to college with. After Oriakhi got into Pitt, they then recruited Thompson. It was divine intervention as both have a familiar face around campus to help with the transition of living away from home.
Oriakhi is known for the 400 meters (m) while Thompson is more known for 400m hurdles event.
“I chose to go to Pittsburgh because overall, I love the school and the coaching staff. I believe that they will be able to help me to get to the next level of track and field,” Oriakhi said.
He wants to break Pitt’s freshman and school 400m record and hopes to medal at the Atlantic Coastal Conference (ACC) Championships.
Thompson said: “I chose Pitt because I enjoyed the atmosphere and the family feeling. Everybody was friendly and welcoming. I decided that it will be the best place in my opinion that I can continue competing in the sport that I love and am passionate for.”
He added, “In the upcoming four years I look forward to competing to the best of my ability. I want to progress as a young man and as a student athlete. I am happy that I have the opportunity to continue my tertiary education and obtain a degree.”
Both student-athletes did well in the classroom this past year. Thompson took eight Bahamas General Certificate Examinations (BGCSE’s) last year and he passed all eight. He took one exam this year, Accounts, and passed it. He is proud of his accomplishments in the classroom. He also served as the deputy head boy.
Oriakhi passed all eight of his BGCSEs and graduated with high honors.
“It is exciting to say the least – knowing that your friend from primary school and you are reuniting in college. Hopefully, we will be roommates and I am looking forward to that and a lot of fun,” Thompson said.
The tall and lanky Oriakhi said that it feels happy to be reunited with his childhood friend. “We would have gone through some growth through our high school years so it will be exciting to be back together,” Oriakhi said.
Alonzo Webb, head coach for the Panthers track and field team, is looking to use both youngsters right away. Webb has been at the helm of Pitt Track and Field since 2013. The Panthers compete in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1 ACC Conference.
“We expect Raymond and Matthew to bring their talents here and make an immediate impact in the ACC conference for the PITT track and field program,” Webb said.
As for the indoor season, he plans use them in the 400m, the 4x400m and possibly the 60m hurdles. Outdoors, Webb plans to put them in the 400m hurdles, 4x400m and may explore the 110m hurdles.
Both athletes have represented The Bahamas on the regional and international stages at multiple CARIFTA Games and at the 2018 IAAF Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Oriakhi had a very unfortunate 2019 season as he battled a hamstring injury in the season and was not able to have the season he wanted.
“This past season I had planned to medal at CARIFTA as I did in 2018. Sadly, I got injured at BAISS and it was quite disappointing. It helped me to grow and it was an eye opener. It showed me that everything will not go as you want it to go but you cannot let it be the end. You have to just get over it and move forward,” Oriakhi said.
He is healthy now and cannot wait for the 2020 season. The 17-year-old’s personal best in the 400m is 47.75 seconds, a time that was enough for a silver medal in the under-17 boys 400m at the 2018 CARIFTA Games here in Nassau, The Bahamas.
Thompson has bragging rights over Oriakhi as his Comets were victorious at the coveted 2019 Bahamas Association of Independent Secondary Schools (BAISS) Track and Field Championships.
“My school year on the track was successful as well. I am happy to say that Queen’s College won the BAISS Track and Field Championship and we did well. I got a few medals and I am proud of my team’s success as well,” Thompson said.
Thompson made hay while the sun shine with Oriakhi being out to power his way to a 49.57 seconds gold medal run in the under-20 boys 400m race at the BAISS Championships this year.
In his strongest race, the 400m hurdles, he won the gold medal in a time of 53.17 seconds.
The final race of his BAISS career was the under-20 boys 4x400m relays. In that race he and his teammates, Kendrick Major, Shaun Miller Jr. and Max Azor, broke a five-year meet record to win in a time of 3:19.49.
Thompson said: “It was pretty exhilarating. The crowd was shouting – quite belligerent to say the least. It was wonderful and it was great to finish off with a win and to break the record as well, which was the icing on the cake.”
The 18-year-old hurdler was healthy this past season. At the 2019 CARIFTA Track and Field Games in George Town, Cayman Islands, Thompson powered his way to a silver medal performance in the under-20 boys 400m hurdles. He ran a time of 52.23 seconds.
At those same games, he and his teammates Miller, Markenson Joseph and Terrance Jones won the bronze medal in the under-20 boys 4x400m relay.
He ran a personal best of 51.62 seconds in the under-20 boys 400m hurdles at the 2019 Bahamas Association of Athletics Associations (BAAA) CARIFTA Trials.
He represented The Bahamas at the Pan American Under-20 Championships in San Jose, Costa Rica in July. His time at that meet was 52.61 seconds.
Back in April of this year, he ran at the prestigious Penn Relays in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The laid-back and mild-tempered Thompson said, “It has been fun to compete against Raymond, because no matter what happens on the track we still remained friends. What happens on the track stays on the track. We managed to maintain our friendship through it all. It is competition.”
Oriakhi echoed the same sentiments as Thompson and he is looking forward to competing together.
Webb spoke about how important it is to have a Bahamian recruiting connection.
“To have a Bahamian recruiting connection is important for our program because there is a lot of talent in that country and to be able to recruit what we consider to be two of the top junior athletes is a major accomplishment,” Webb said.
He continued; “Based on our experience with these two young men so far through the recruiting process, we look forward to bringing in other Bahamian athletes that will add to the cultural experience of our university community and our track and field program.”
The young quarter milers knows The Bahamas is famous for quarter milers producing the likes of Chris ‘Fireman’ Brown, Steven Gardiner, Ramon Miller and Demetrius Pinder. They want to continue that tradition.
“I would like to continue the tradition that The Bahamas have with good quarter-milers. Hopefully I can represent The Bahamas at the Olympics and I have already represented The Bahamas at the Junior Olympics. I want to go to the Senior Olympics, win a medal and make my country proud,” a confident Oriakhi said.
“It is an honor to be considered one of the top athletes in the nation. I look forward to progressing as an athlete and a young man. I want to represent The Bahamas to the best of my ability,” Thompson said.
Both athletes have a strong support system that has stuck with them up to this point.
The former Comets standout thanked Dion and Matthew Thompson, his parents; brother; sister; grandmother; aunt; friends and supporters; coaches Everette Fraser, Wynsome Cole-Cash and Webb; Anya Dorsett and the other coaches who have helped him along the way. His track club is Fast Forward Athletics.
Oriakhi thanked his parents Raymond Oriakhi and Maria Woodside-Oriakhi, sister, grandmother, aunt, God, coaches Diane Woodside, Marvin Darville, Tito Moss and Coach Webb; and all his coaches thathelped him along the way. He ran for the Sunblazers this season but said most of his career he ran for Club Monica.
Junior athletes Thompson and Oriakhi will be the first Bahamians Coach Webb has coached in his career at Pitt. With the talented and hard-working duo, Webb and Pitt have found two diamonds that have the potential to take the program to the next level in the classroom and on the track.
Thompson left for Pitt yesterday and Oriakhi will join him today.
Education: College of the Bahamas, BA Media Journalism