May 27, 2022

From Two-Time Olympian to Mentor, Bobcats Track & Field Head Coach, Claude Toukene is Helping Young Hopefuls Strive for Gold

By B&SC Athletics Team

From Two-Time Olympian to Mentor, Bobcats Track & Field Head Coach, Claude Toukene is Helping Young Hopefuls Strive for Gold

Claude Toukene, affectionally referred to by Bryant & Stratton College Bobcat student athletes and colleagues as “Coach Touks,” never thought he would wear the title of “Coach” – let alone “Olympian.”

“When I was in high school, my health and physical education teacher recognized potential in me,” said Toukene. “It was his encouragement to join the track team that led me to find my passion for running.”

He describes himself in his early career as “quiet”, letting his natural talent speak for itself. It did just that and more – earning him a spot representing his native country of Cameroon in the 4×100 relay event at the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games in Atlanta, G.A. and Sydney, Australia, respectively.

“I had no idea how fortunate I was at the time to have had the experience of competing in my first Olympic Games at such a young age (21),” said Toukene. “By Sydney, I was 25 years old and more mature, and really started to understand the magnitude of it all.”

In between the Games, Toukene accepted a track & field scholarship to attend Norfolk State University in 1998. It was there that Toukene connected with his role model and inspiration, Coach Steve Riddick. An Olympic Gold Medalist in the 4×100 relay himself, Riddick competed in the 1976 Games in Montreal. This shared experience of competing on an international stage fostered a strong bond between the two.

In 2000, Toukene’s Olympic career came to an abrupt end when he suffered a knee injury during the Sydney Games, leaving him unsure of his next venture. After graduating college in 2001, he decided to follow his passion for running and began volunteering at Western Branch High School’s Track & Field program. A natural at leading young athletes, he quickly was hired as an assistant coach and, eventually, head coach in just a year’s time.

Despite his clear penchant for the role, surprisingly, Toukene did not foresee a career in coaching. “When I was in college, I did not plan on becoming a coach, but I felt a strong need to assist others in achieving their goals. It was through that passion that I realized my love of working with student athletes.”

Today, Toukene serves as the head coach of the successful Bryant & Stratton College Bobcats Track & Field team in Virginia, founded in 2017. Under his leadership, the team has produced 11 All-Americans in the last three years for events including the long jump, shot put, hurdles, and 600-800m races. He has also earned three Regional Women Coach of the Year Awards for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 indoor and outdoor track & field seasons and has mentored three Regional Women’s Athlete of the Year award winners between 2019 and 2021.

Leading the team from its inaugural season has also allowed him to play an integral role in developing the program from the ground up. An in-demand coaching talent, Toukene credits his decision to join the Bobcats coaching staff to the College’s leadership and culture.

“The Bobcats Athletic Director Erik Blackwell allowed me to be a part of the vision for the program from day one and provided me with unwavering support to develop the team in my own way. I was welcomed into a warm, family-like environment.”

Now long past his competition years, the Olympics are never far from Toukene’s mind and heart. Having had an unforgettable experience competing in the Games, he now mentors students and young athletes to strive for the same achievement.

Amongst these young Olympic hopefuls is current Bobcat Tracy Udogbe. Under Toukene’s coaching and mentorship, she was poised to head to Japan for the 2021 Games before COVID-19 prevented her from competing in the Nigerian Olympic Trials.

“When I expressed to Coach Touks that I wanted his help to prepare for the Olympic Trials, he did not hesitate. While my dream was interrupted this year by the pandemic, I plan to train for the next Games, and I know he will be there to help me succeed,” said Udogbe.

Currently in Japan for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Toukene still can’t help but marvel at the grandeur of the global competition and the talent displayed on the track every four years.

“I feel compelled to watch the Olympics as a bystander just as much as I felt compelled to compete in my younger years,” he said. “The Games are the ultimate showcase of perseverance and commitment, and I know through my mentorship of talented student athletes at Bryant & Stratton, I will be watching one of my own Bobcats cross the famous finish line one day.”