Envela was destined for a Big Stage
Former McKay trackster won prep sprint events three successive years, has kept his reputation growing
When nearly two-year old Gus Envela came to the United States from the tiny African nation of Equatorial Guinea, little did he know that that he would begin a life-long journey as a man of significance on a global scale. But now, 55 years later, he has compiled an impressive resume’ of accomplishments matched by very few people in the world. Gus’s efforts began right here in Salem, Oregon.
Gustavo Envela, Jr. moved to Salem with the rest of his family after his father, Gus, Sr.—the first Ambassador of Equatorial Guinea to the United Nations—feared for their safety due to ongoing violence in that nation. He resigned his position, took a job with the state of Oregon, and moved his family of five children to Salem. It was here that young Gus soon discovered the world of athletics—and specifically, track and field.
Gus’s love for running started with the All-Comer’s Track Meets, run locally at Willamette University during the summers. The idea of running track was presented when Gus was playing in the family’s front yard when the teenager who would later become his first track coach commented about Envela’s impressive speed, and asked him if he would like to compete against kids of his own age. Gus agreed, and—pun intended—he was off and running.
“A few weeks later,” recalls Gus, “while wearing my favorite shoes--my Winnie the Pooh Slippers-at Willamette University's McCulloch Stadium—I won and set new records in the six-year and younger division.”
And the records would fall year-after-year as Envela mostly outdistanced his competition.
In his first national age group meet at age nine in Albuquerque, Gus finished second in the 100 and 220 yard dashes, while winning the 440.
As he grew and competed in meets across America, the wins piled up for Gus. And with it, came media exposure. Newspaper coverage across Oregon. A brief feature in Sports Illustrated. Television sports coverage as well. Much of it before he hit high school.
Later, at Waldo Middle School in East Salem, Envela’s talent in the sprints came into focus for the entire Salem community to see. He routinely blew away the competition in the 100, 200 and 400 meter events—frequently finishing the last event with up to a half-lap lead.
When Envela started classes at McKay High School, his sprint skills became quite evident. After working into the prep track scene as a freshman in 1983, Gus was ready to impress all of Oregon—and showed it his sophomore year.
At the 1984 OSAA 4A Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Envela won the 100 meter dash. And the 200 meters. And the 400 meters. It was a feat he would repeat in 1985, and again in 1986. And in the mix of that Oregon prep record for sprinting sweeps, Gus would set state records in all three events. His longest-lived event record was the 100 meters, which lasted until 2007—when it was finally broken by Ryan Bailey, also from McKay High School.
“I knew Ryan, and worked out with him when I was in town,” recalls Envela.
“I told him to please break my records as he was the next generation of sprinters and the McKay High School record board needed some new blood.”
Envela was rewarded for his efforts during his high school years, winning the Johnny Carpenter award as Oregon’s top prep athlete. His fame gave him lots of options for his future.
Gus had to decide where he would like to attend college.
“I received more than 300 Full Athletic scholarships to attend college,” he recalls.
He narrowed his top schools to four total—Auburn, Georgetown, the University of Oregon and Stanford. Envela decided to go with the Cardinal and packed his bags for Palo Alto.
Sadly, differences with the Stanford coach limited Envela’s time on the college track scene to just one year, but he continued to train for and compete for the Olympics, representing his native Equatorial Guinea.
Although he never advanced beyond the preliminary round of the 100 meter dash, Gus appeared in a record four straight Olympics in the event, beginning with the 1984 Games in Los Angeles as a 16 year old who carried nation’s flag in the opening ceremonies. He was also on the track in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea, 1992 in Barcelona, Spain, and 1996 in Atlanta—where he appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
To be clear, Gus’s life was not limited to running. He graduated from Stanford in 1990 with degrees in political science and African American studies. Following graduation, he briefly tried out for three NFL teams. He also spent some time in Hollywood, appearing in a handful of films, including the movie, Sargent Bilko.
Envela has also been a husband and a father. He and his then-wife Tomiko had two daughters, now in their twenties. The couple separated in the year 2000, and were formally divorced in 2015. He remains close to his daughters.
Most recently, Envela has been active in politics—focused primarily on his native Equatorial Guinea. In 2009, Gus stated his intention to run for president against the nation’s dictator Teodoro Obiang (Oh-Bee-Ang). But government officials refused to renew Envela’s lapsed passport. Gus remains determined to run for the presidency of his native land, despite the setbacks. He points out his nation’s most recent election last November was deemed as “not credible” by the United States and the European Union.
Envela currently serves as president of the group Federation for Democracy and Justice in The Republic of Equatorial Guinea. His political advocacy organization is based in Alexandria, Virginia. Gus has been an advocate with the group for 33 years.
Gus has been a fighter most of his life—a man fighting for respect and recognition while still seeking to help others who could be considered society’s underdogs. In the same way that Envela has pushed to become a representative of the marginalized, he also hopes that he will be remembered as a man of integrity and character—a person who seeks to serve others as his parents encouraged him and his siblings to do.
His competitive track days are over, but Gus Envela continues to pursue justice in the world around him—which makes him an exemplary Beacon of sports for the Salem-Keizer area.
Gus Envela is one of nine people being honored as Beacons by the Salem-Keizer High School Sports Booster Club. This year’s event is scheduled for June 17, 2023 at 6:00 pm at Salem’s Elsinore Theatre. The awards are given annually to those who have made a difference in the community through athletics. For more information about this event, or to order tickets, go to the Beacons website at this link. The Beacons attempt to remove financial barriers that might prevent students in any Salem-Keizer School District high school from enjoying the benefits of athletic participation.