In less than a year the cross country and track and field team has gone through two head coaches. One was terminated before the cross country South Coast Conference Championships and the other left for another coaching position at East Los Angeles College. The lack of access to a proper coach is harmful to an athlete’s career, which was why PCC was eager to hire Innocent Egbunike as someone who could bring his experience and stability to a floundering team.
More than 30 years ago Egbunike helped the Nigerian relay team win a bronze medal at the 1984 Olympics. Egbunike then went on to participate in several more Olympic Games and coach a number of athletes, including Angelo Taylor who won a gold medal in the 400 meter hurdles during the 2008 Olympics.
Egbunike is now eager to see the cross-country team succeed in the upcoming season, but he knows that building a relationship between himself and his new team is first and foremost.
“We’re trying to reach out to everybody right now to make sure we establish that good foundation because that’s key,” said Egbunike.
Egbunike has big plans for this season, including placing at state, but he also understands that it’s going to take time to get there. Right now, Egbunike is focused on building a strong team of new and continuing cross-country athletes.
“The future is bright, but right now we’re taking it step-by-step to get there,” Egbunike said.
Egbunike’s concern for his athletes extends beyond the track. The former Olympian understands the value of a good education and is eager to see his athletes succeed in the classroom.
“He’s a hard-working person and he looks out for the athletes,” former 1988 Olympian teammate and current PCC employee Grace Apiafi said.
Apiafi isn’t the only one eager to see Egbunike continue his coaching career at PCC.
Keith Marshall was excited when his son Kalen Marshall, who is a track and field athlete, decided to attend to PCC.
“When they hired this coach, coach Innocent, I was really so thrilled. I know that now not only do they have an Olympian on their hand who understands what it takes to get to the top, but he also coached the Olympics,” Marshall said.
Egbunike participated in four Olympic Games as an athlete and then another four as a coach. His extensive record includes winning a silver medal in the 400 meters at the 1987 World Championships in Rome and working as the head coach of Nigeria’s Olympic team for the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Egbunike also worked for Mt. San Antonio College as an assistant coach from 1991 to 1995.
However, Egbunike does not look to his accomplishments for recognition, but rather to his ability to give back.
Egbunike started off playing soccer and if it weren’t for prodding from mentors and coaches he wouldn’t have begun a career as a track and field athlete.
“I look back to when I was in college and what my coaches and instructors did for me, and to me it’s an opportunity to give back,” Egbunike said. “To give back to these young men and woman and to be able to help them reach their goals.”
Egbunike’s hiring will be made official this month at the Board of Trustees meeting.