SYDNEY, Australia, Sept. 26 (Knight Ridder/Tribune)--God will get her through, she says, and for once we are compelled to listen, to hope she is right and to hope He really is on her side.
There is a faint smile on Gloria Alozie as she speaks of her faith and it is strangely comforting as you try to fathom how she stands before you at all after the horror her life has taken on over the last several weeks.
Alozie, 22, is a Nigerian runner, her country's top hope of winning a gold medal in track, where she runs the 100-meter hurdles. She won her first-round heat Monday morning, then, for the first time, she answered questions about her fiance, Hyginus Anayo Anugo.
Anugo, 22, was also a runner, a 200-meter and 400-meter specialist who just missed making Nigeria's relay team but came to Sydney anyway after Alozie appealed to the Nigerian Olympic Committee that he be allowed to travel with the team as an alternate.
Alozie is one of the most popular athletes in her country. Anugo was one of the most popular on the team, known for his acts of generosity and kindness. That's what he was doing one week and one day before the Olympics began, when he made a late-night run to a nearby 7-11, was waved across a busy street by a bus driver and was struck and killed instantly by an oncoming car.
The depth of Alozie's grief can be comprehended only by those who have suffered a similar loss, though one can surely imagine the agony of a 22-year-old woman losing her future husband.
Alozie was strongly encouraged to stay in Sydney and accompany Anugo's body back home to Nigeria after the Olympics. "It was the collective advice of the other athletes and coaches," said Nkem Osu, press attache for the Nigerian team. "We counseled her and encouraged her to compete. We told her that the only way to keep (Anugo's) memory in focus was by competing and winning. We're happy she took it in good spirit."
Alozie said Monday that it was because of Anugo that she stayed. "He was training to get to be here," she said. "Since he is not here, I still like to compete."
And then she talked about God.
A devout Christian, her parents named her Gloria, she explained, for "The Glory of God," her middle name of Oluchi meaning "work of God."
She seemed to relax a bit as she spoke of her faith, clearly the only thing she could talk about.
"Yes, it was difficult," she says of running her race. "(But) I really trained to be here. I feel very strong. And God has taken care of everything. That is what I believe. He is the one who encouraged me. I think about this and God is in control of everything."
How many times do we hear athletes talk about "God's glory," and mean it only in the context of sports, of victory, how their performance was inspired by Him, maybe even determined by Him as if He was rooting against the other guy?
This, of course, is not about God helping a runner go faster, but about helping a young woman get out of bed each morning. "God has taken care of me," Alozie says. "When everything happened, it was very difficult for me, but God comforted and encouraged me."
Alozie and Anugo shared the same tribe, the Ibo, in Nigeria, and they shared a love of running as well as their love for each other. "We've always been training together, we've always been competing together. We were together in many competitions," she says before hesitating. "I don't like to remember everything for long."
Alozie will train and rest and pray, she says, before her next race Wednesday.
"I try my best," she says. "I keep saying, `Look upon God, God is my strength.'"
She will run for her country and then she will bury her fiance.
You know she will remember everything for too long. You just hope her strength sustains her.
You're glad God is on her side.