When nearly two-year old Gus Envela came to the United States from the tiny African nation of Equatorial Guinea, little did anyone know 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. And those efforts began right here in northeast 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 their 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 - specifically track and field.
Gus’s love for running started with the summer All-Comer’s Track Meets run locally at Willamette University. The idea of running track didn't originate with Gus but from his teenage neighbor who saw Gus playing in the family’s front yard. Doug Ousterhout, the teenager who would later become his first track coach and his high school track coach, commented about Envela’s impressive speed and asked him if he would like to compete against kids of his own age. A few weeks later, Gus, wearing his favorite shoes - his Winnie the Pooh Slippers – was at Willamette University’s McCulloch Stadium setting new records in the 6-year old and younger division. Literally, Gus was off and running. And the records would continue to fall, year-after-year, as Envela outdistanced his competition.
In Albuquerque, New Mexico in his first national age group meet at age of 9 Gus finished 2nd in the 100 and 220-yard dashes, and won at the 440-yard distance.
As Gus grew and competed in meets across America the wins piled up. 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. He was definitely on the map as a running talent. He had become a “phenom”.
It was at Waldo Middle School that Envela’s talent in the sprints came into full 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 latter event with up to a half-lap lead.
At McKay High School he continued to run away from the competition. After working into the prep track scene as a freshman in 1983, Gus was ready to impress all of Oregon. It was during his sophomore season as a Royal Scot that he served notice to the rest of the state that he wasn't just good. He was great.
At the 1984 Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) 4A (4A schools were the largest in Oregon in those days) Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field 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 he not only won those events, he would set state records in all three. In fact, 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.
(Envela says he knows Bailey and worked out with him when he came to Salem. He says he also encouraged Bailey to break his records, pointing out that McKay High’s 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 during the Oregon Sports Award ceremonies. His success, and dominant success at that, gave him many options for his future. He had to decide where he would like to take his running talent, where he would attend college. As an outstanding student as well as a track athlete, he had received hundreds of full athletic scholarship offers. Because he “took care of business” in the classroom, a lot of doors were open to him.
Gus narrowed his top schools to four - Auburn, Georgetown, the University of Oregon, and Stanford. Envela decided to go with Stanford and packed his bags for Palo Alto.
Sadly, differences with the Stanford track coach limited Envela’s time on the college track scene to just one year, but he continued to train with an eye on the 1984 Olympic Games to be held in Los Angeles. The goal? To represent his native Equatorial Guinea.
Although he never advanced beyond the preliminary round of the 100-meter dash, Gus appeared in the 100 a record four straight Olympic Games, beginning with those 1984 LA Games. As a 16-year old he carried his nation’s flag in the opening ceremonies. He was also on the track in the '88 Games in Seoul, South Korea; '92 in Barcelona, Spain; and '96 in Atlanta – during which 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 Sergeant Bilko.
Envela has also been a husband and a father. He and his then-wife Tomiko had two daughters, both of whom are young adults. The couple separated in the year 2000, and were formally divorced in 2015. Gus remains close to his daughters.
Envela's interest in political science has evidenced itself after his track career. He has been active in politics, especially those pertaining to his native Equatorial Guinea. In 2009, Gus stated his intention to run for president of Equatorial Guinea against the nation’s dictator Teodoro Obiang. 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 that 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. Gus used high school athletics to things much greater. He was an athlete of incredible accomplishments and fame. High school athletics were a jumping off point for the rest of his life, a life of significance and purpose. And that makes him a Beacon.