[TR Sport] How Nigerian athletics team crashed in Rio

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Athletics used to be Nigeria’s strong point at global events but poor preparations once again ensured the country’s athletes performed dismally at the Rio 2016 Olympics . Idris Adesina takes a look at the performances of the athletes in the event

Team Nigeria’s failure to prepare well for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, which ends on Sunday, has predictably  led to a disastrous outing for the country in Brazil.

Nigeria participated in 10 sports but at the time of writing this report, none has won a medal, making the country to tether on the brink of another failure as witnessed in the 2012 edition of the Games in London.

If there was going to be a medal for the country, athletics was tipped as one of such sports, but the country’s track and the field stars failed woefully in Rio.

Nigeria athletes featured 10 men, who competed in seven track and field events, and 15 women, who competed in 11 track and field events in Rio.

Blessing Okagbare shouldered the team’s medal hopes as she competed in the women’s 100m, 200m and the 4X100m relays. She opted out of the women’s long jump as she sought a place in the 200m semifinal during the week but she lost out after placing fifth in her heat. Okagbare also failed to win a medal in the 100m after she finished third in the semifinals. Her time of 11.09secs was not enough to earn her a place in the final.

The other women who competed on the track for Nigeria in Rio were Gloria Asumnu and Jennifer Madu, who both finished fifth in their respective women’s 100m heats. Margaret Bamgbose and Patience George reached the semifinals of the women’s 400m but finished seventh and eighth in their respective heats. Omolara Omotosho could not make the semifinals of the same event. In the women’s 100m hurdles, Tobi Amusan reached the semifinals, where she could not cope with the stacked heat she ran in and despite finishing third in 12.91secs, she could not secure a place in the finals. In the women’s 400m hurdles, Amaka Ogoegbunam finished fourth in her heat and thus lost out of a place in the semifinals. However, after finishing second in the heat two of the women’s 4X100m relays with a season best of 42.55secs, the team will compete against Jamaica, USA and others for a place on the podium on Saturday (today).

On the field, Doreen Amata could not reach the final of the women’s high jump after she finished 27th out of 34 competitors. Chinwe Okoro also missed a place in the women’s discus final after throwing 58.85m to finish 14th overall and Nwanneka Okwelogu finished 29th in the women’s shot put with a throw of 16.67m. In the women’s heptathlon, Uhunoma Osazuwa did not finish her events after she was disqualified in the 800m leg of the competition.

Ese Brume was the only Nigerian athlete to compete in the final of any event in Rio. She placed fifth in the women’s long jump final with a third jump of 6.81m.

For the men, Egwero Ogho-Oghene and Seye Ogunlewe could not get past the heats in the men’s 100m while Divine Oduduru placed seventh in the semifinal of the 200m after placing second in his heat behind Usain Bolt. Tega Odele could not reach the semifinal of the 200m after finishing last in his heat. Orukpe Erayokan ran 47.42secs to finish seventh in the 400m heats and Miles Ukaoma finished fifth in the 400m hurdles. Antwon Hicks reached the semifinal of the men’s 110m hurdles where he finished seventh with a time of 14.26secs.

On the field, Stephen Mozia, who came into the men’s shot put with the third best throw in 2016, could not repeat same as he could only manage a throw of 18.98m to finish 28th overall. Tosin Oke and Olu Olamigoke finished 23rd and 32nd in the triple jump respectively.

Until recently when the country began struggling in track and field, Nigeria was one of the world forces in athletics, especially the sprints, at the Olympic Games.

Of the 23 medals won by the country at its 16 Olympic participation, athletics has accounted for 13 of the medals with the other sports yet to replicate such for the country. Nigeria has two gold, four silver and seven bronze in athletics.

But it is however shameful to note that the last medal won in any athletic event at the Olympics by Nigeria was in Beijing 2008, when the women’s 4X100m relay team won bronze (which was on Thursday upgraded to silver by the International Olympic Committee after one of the Russian athletes, who won gold, was found to be positive to a banned substance). Okagbare also won her first Olympic medal in women’s long jump in Beijing.

Nigeria’s first participation at the Olympics in Helsinki in 1954 saw the country competing in only athletics events, but it won its first athletics medal 30 years later at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics, when the quartet of Sunday Uti, Moses Ugbusien, Rotimi Peters and Innocent Egbunike won bronze in the men’s 4X400m relays. Since then, the country has won a medal in athletics, especially the relays, at every Olympics except at Seoul 1988, London 2012 and Rio 2016.

However, the peak of the country’s Olympic performance in athletics was at Atlanta in 1996, when the country’s first individual gold medal was won by Chioma Ajunwa in the women’s long jump. The country also won three other medals in Atlanta with Mary Onyali and Falilat Ogunkoya winning bronze in the women’s 200m and 400m and the women’s 4X400m relay team comprising  Bisi Afolabi, Fatima Yusuf, Charity Opara and Ogunkoya winning silver.

Sadly enough, since the country’s performance in Atlanta, the present generation of the country’s athletes have participated in more athletics events than before but there has been less medals to show for it.

Apart from the general inadequate preparation for international competitions like the Olympics, former athletes believe that Nigeria has deviated from the developmental programmes which helped the country produce athletes of the golden era.

Atlanta 1996 silver medallist, Fatima Yusuf-Olukoju, believes that the country has forgotten to discover athletes from the grassroots.

In a post on her Facebook page, she wrote, “In Nigeria we don’t have any programme that discovers and develops young talents. The 400m is not for old people. You must be young enough to run it.

“In 1996 Olympics, we had three people run in the semifinal, two in the final and one came third. It hurts to hear one of the commentators say, ‘Nigerians are not known for this event’ during the early rounds of the women’s 400m in Rio.”

Barcelona 1992 bronze medallist, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi, said the present crop of athletes in the country were not motivated enough to win medals for the country, hence the general drop in the standard of athletics in Nigeria.

She said, “The standard of athletics in Nigeria has dropped because the athletes of today are not as motivated as we were in our days. I can’t really judge what the home-based athletes are going through because in my time, I was based mostly abroad.

“But all I know is that our athletes abroad and at home need more motivation to excel. Those abroad should put up performances that the home-based ones will have to pursue to bring out the best in them for the good of the country.”

One of the athletes, who competed in Rio, told our correspondent that the competition at the Olympics was far beyond what they prepared for.

“I can’t say this was what happened during the race. It was way beyond what I prepared for. I could not even repeat my personal best and I believe it had to do with the kind of preparation we had before coming here (Brazil),” the athlete said.

Sydney 2000 gold medallist, Enefiok Udo-Obong, believes that using old foreigners to represent the country at international events is killing the chances of home-grown athletes to bring glory to Nigeria.

“The importation of athletes into the country is a trend that just occurred over the last five to six years,” he said on his blog.

“It is sad because Nigeria has attained success at the top of world athletics with home-grown talents, but the truth is that those that run the sport are too lazy or have no ideas of how to develop talent. There is no greater evidence of these than to look across the Arab desert of Bahrain.

“While the likes of Femi Ogunode and Kemi Adekoya are winning world and continental titles for Bahrain and are well established, we should remember they left the shores of our country as young, promising but neglected talents.

“Their success at the world stage could be excused as those that left our radar or just a spill of our many talents, but events since their departure has shown that we have a systemic failure of administration and development of our young talents.”

Barcelona 1992 bronze medallist, Beatrice Utondu-Okoye, said the country’s performance in Rio could be hinged on the poor results before the Games by athletes.

“The time returned by our athletes, especially the home-based, before the Olympics was not too impressive. Our overseas-based athletes fared a little better than those based at home but at the Olympics, we have the best athletes from the world competing, so if we aren’t at the top of the event before then, there is no magic to win medals at the Games,” she said.

“In 1992, I as a home-based athlete then had a lot of athletes running close to the same time as I was running. We were able to win a medal in Barcelona because we were a source of challenge to one another. We had more than one athlete competing in the final of events alongside the USA but now it has dwindled. The pressure to get medals is only on Okagbare and really it is not fair on her. The others need to challenge her and run faster.”

Athens 2004 bronze medallist, Deji Aliu, says more youth competitions should be organised to breed young and groom young athletes. At present, the annual Daniel Olukoya Youth Athletics Championship is the only competition for junior athletes in the country.

He said, “If we don’t plan well ahead of competitions, the results will definitely be disaster. The next Olympics is a long time away and there is so much that can be done. The grassroots is where we should return to.

“When more youth competitions are in the country, we have a pool of athletes to pick from to the senior teams and a consistent performance and monitoring of the athletes will give good results.”

Udo-Obong believes the country should build and utilise its home-grown athletes more for competitions rather than recruiting foreigners for such purposes..

He said, “While we seek instant unmerited and lazy success by scouting the US for retiring athletes, people who invest in the future take our youthful best and develop them to world beaters. They show us that we have the potential, but sadly they also show us that we lack the leadership to nurture these potentials and that in itself is a sad reflection of our collective psyche.”

Onyali however believes that the corporate organisations should come to the aid of grassroots athletics in the country.

“A lot of young athletes like Ese Brume, Divine Oduduru, Ruth Usoro and more are in the country but they need help to grow into someone like Okagbare. When Okagbare retires and what we have is still the way it is, it will be difficult to replace her just like it was for the country to replace us when we left the scene.

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“The corporate bodies should come in and assist because government cannot do it alone and they cannot also take their hands completely off sports. But when our sports is private sector driven, we will get better results than we are having now.”

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