Exclusive: Annie Tagoe on battling injuries, skin bleaching and finding body confidence

  • Kobe Tong

Life in athletics has given Annie Tagoe a hemispherical view of the world around her.

There’s an alarming trend within athletics, which Tagoe is doing her upmost to buck, of junior competitors that fade into obscurity when the senior ranks come to the fore. Our very image of Tagoe sees her stood alongside Jodie Williams, another athlete to outlast the scorns of injury, who was crowned British 200m champion this weekend. Ojie Edoburun, too, has experienced similar troubles.

Run your finger up Tagoe’s Power of 10 profile and the number of performances bottleneck narrower and narrower to the present day. Nevertheless, although the athletics circuit has missed the impact of the sprinter’s spikes more than ever, absence has formed for her a worldliness that regular competition may never have offered.

Sitting down with GiveMeSport earlier this year, Tagoe opened up about her story which, albeit more absent from newspaper presses than ever, has never been worthier of emboldened ink. The 26-year-old broke down her battle with injuries over the years, insecurities about her own ethnicity and how she pulled herself out from a depressive nadir.

“In 2014, I was having some troubles with my knee and they just weren’t going away,” the Brit placidly reminisced. “I had this cyst that kept growing and every time we drained it, it just kept coming back bigger and bigger. Eventually, it burst and my tendon got infected, so I had to get my tendon scraped. Then, the following year, I snapped my cartilage in half. I was rehabbing this knee and that knee.

Depression and injuries

“Both years, I just couldn’t run at all and my knees were in so much pain. I went through depression. I didn’t leave my house for a good few months, I was depressed. I just didn’t want to do it anymore, I just didn’t understand what was happening. I just thought: ‘how am I going to bounce back?’ Everyone that I’ve grown up with – Bianca, Dina and Desiree – they were all doing so well and I just felt like I was standing still.”

In a sport measured by the most explosive of bursts, there’s a jarring sensation that comes with being anchored down by injury. The individuality of athletics bears no safety net for when the trapdoor of injury opens and the mental side of recovery, as Tagoe knows all too well, is often far harder than the physical strains to which athletes can often become accustomed. 

However, not all the obstacles that Tagoe has faced in her career have come between the white lines of the track. The 26-year-old has struggled with how people have received her skin tone and explained how an emotional break-up drove her to the point of bleaching. 

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Turning to skin bleaching

The Brit honestly recalled: “There was a guy that I was that dating that, when we broke up, told me that: ‘no one is ever going to like you, the reason why I was with you is because you’ll never find someone who likes dark-skinned people like you.’ For two years, I was so heartbroken that I tried all sorts of things to make myself lighter.

“I got foundation that was lighter, I tried bleaching for a while. I did crazy, crazy things to get lighter. I just felt so ugly. So, when Rimmel approached me, I was like: ‘oh my god, somebody does appreciate my skin tone and they do see the beauty in it.’ I don’t even wear foundation anymore. I used to wear heavy make-up to training because I was ashamed of how I looked.

“It was actually Christine Ohuruogu who told me to stop wearing it and she was like: ‘you’re so beautiful, your skin is so nice.’ She’s the mother of track and field. She’s amazing, when you speak to her she’s so humble!” The name of Ohuruogu seems omnipresent for young British sprinters and it’s clear the Olympic champion has a vastly unappreciated impact on the next generation.

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Finding confidence in modelling

Praise from such an esteemed figure in athletics, as well as due recognition from a modelling company, has helped Tagoe to find the solace that so often breeds success in elite sport. It’s also a frame of mind that marries perfectly to Tagoe’s body confidence and the sprinter has emplored athletes to take an unabashed pride in their sporting physiques.

In a month that has seen Eilish McColgan foully branded ‘too skinny’, there was a real positivity with which Tagoe spoke of her modelling and a body that sign-posts the strength of her discipline. “I think that’s why I started getting into modelling,” the Willesden athlete said with assurance. “There’s so many athletes that rely on track to bring them money, but we’ve got amazing bodies.

“People die to have the bodies we have and I feel like we’re not using it to the full potential. When you go on the street, people say: ‘Oh my god, what do you do? Are you a personal trainer?’ and I’m like: ‘No, I’m just a sprinter!’ They’re like: ‘Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. Do you do this? Do you do that?’ So, I really encourage a lot of athletes to get into the modelling world right now.

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A passion for travelling

“If you’re black, if you’re dark, if you have an afro, that’s the market for you. They’re paying you to look the way you look, you don’t have to have that European style of beauty anymore.” It’s a self-confidence that took years for Tagoe to reach and, when she did, it quickly pervaded into every facet of her life.

Travel has also played an invaluable role in Tagoe’s self-discovery. Hunt down her Instagram profile and you’ll find an array of images that could be plastered on the next National Geographic cover. Naming the Seychelles, New York City and Bulgaria as her most treasured destinations, Tagoe explained how exploring the world has given her a broader perspective on life.

The under-23 relay medalist explained: “I ended up travelling a lot and I went to a load of different countries. I think, when you travel and learn about different cultures, your problems are never as big as they seem to be. I went to Cuba as one of my first countries and I was just shocked at how they lived and my problems just didn’t seem that big to me anymore.

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Relationship with her coach

“So, when I came back, I had a different mindset. My coach made me see a psychologist, I saw a nutritionist, I saw a whole different medical team and everything just changed for me. I think if I was in a different group, that wouldn’t have happened. I don’t think a lot of care and effort would have gone into me still being in the sport.

“I spoke to my coach every day. He’s a strong African man and he just told me all the right things. My coach believes that I’m so talented and I just have to put my faith and trust him because he’s helped me for so many years. All I can do is to repay him by running quick.”

Whether or not Tagoe will ever wear the Union Jack over her shoulders on an athletics track again remains to be seen. There’s ample reason to suggest that injuries and a lack of momentum have done plenty to strip the rapidity out of a once effortless gait. However, given everything that Tagoe has learnt and discovered through her journey, does that truly matter?

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The importance of Tagoe’s story

If her continued links and dedication to the world of athletics can engrain her story into the sporting community, then countless other athletes will be the benefactors. Tagoe has, after all, been at the frontline of mental health and racial issues that affect far more people than could ever fill an Olympic-grade athletics track.

And while athletes might be told to ‘run out of their skin’, Tagoe has proven that you can find success in being comfortable right inside it.

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