The Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) presented a total of 14 athletes to don the colors of the country at the just concluded IAAF World Championships in London. The federation must have hoped to put smiles on the faces of Nigerians with the athletes bringing back at least a medal.
However, things were not to be as none of the athletes got to the final of any track event. Blessing-Okagbare-Ighoteguonor (Long Jump) and the women’s 4x400m relay team were the only finalists, finishing 8th and 5th in their respective events.
While much has been said about the country failing to get a position on the medals table for the third consecutive year at a major championship, with fellow African countries like Cote D’Ivoire having a Double Silver medallist in Marie-Josee TaLou and South Africa placing 3rd overall on the medals table, the dismal outing by the Nigerian team was one that had been foreseen in the build up to the Championship.
The AFN failed to organize competitive events for the athletes in the early part of the year, due to their focus being on the federation elections to elect a new board. The annual National Championships was held just about two weeks before the commencement of the Championship in London, thereby leading to athletes applying for late visas and inevitably arrivals at the competition.
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In fact, it was disclosed that most of the athletes arrived just a few days or a day before the opening ceremony, with exceptions of Okagbare-Ighoteguonor who already had a valid British visa and Tosin Oke, who’s a resident of London.
Also, an athlete arrived just a night before the closing day, and was still allowed to be part of the relay team, where obviously she became the weakest link and one of the reasons the team failed to get a medal, after being tipped on paper as one of the podium contenders.
These were just part of the problems compared to those faced by these athletes in London. The coaching department was one that raised so many questions from pundits within the country, as a coach that had three of his athletes competing, was not listed to travel with the team to the British city.
This psychologically affected his athletes, as was disclosed by one of his quatermilers in a video interview, after failing to run a faster time in the semis which will qualify her for the final “I wish my coach was here with me, I would have done better and ran faster.”
Also, it was pointed out by a Facebook fan who was present at the athletes’ training pitch in London, that he saw the country’s only representative in the 400m Hurdles, Onome Nathaniel training and warming up all by herself without a coach or supporting team few minutes before her semifinal race, even though she had clocked an impressive Personal Best (PB) of 55.30s in her heat.
Nathaniel agonizingly failed to qualify for the final, as she was disqualified in her race for a lane infringement; this perhaps would not have happened if she had her coach beside her to psyche her up before the race.
To buttress on the low performance by these athletes, all except Okagbare-Ighoteguonor failed to run faster times through the qualifying rounds, which led them to being knocked out in the semis.
A major casualty was in NCAA Champion in the 100m Hurdles, Tobi Amusan who ran 12.97s in the heats and 13.04s in the semis, the slowest times the talented hurdler has done this year.
Amusan ran a PB of 12.57s en-route her winning the NCAA title for University of Texas, El Paso (UTEP), and ironically her time was faster than the London Gold medal winning time of 12.59s, set by Australia’s Sally Pearson.
This makes one ask: do the National coaches know what it takes to make an athlete peak at the right time ahead or during a global competition?
While this question is still being pondered upon, it raises others such as: what can be done next with these athletes, ensuring that the right systems are in place to deliver next time? How can athletes be made to arrive at their peak fitness, and the inexperienced ones made to adapt to high-level competition? Who are the athletes that exhibit the potential to earn medals in the next two global championship cycles so they can be invested in? What are the lessons learned from London, and the tweaks that need to be made over the next three years for Tokyo 2020?
These questions and many more will need to be answered on why a country with over 170 million people cannot produce a single medalist in the past four years, at a global championship.
Meanwhile, other countries are gaining positively from the pool of talents we have. For example, early last year there was an alarm on the ‘Bahrain Drain’ of Nigerian athletes nationalizing to represent the oil rich country. This drain has started yielding results for Bahrain, as Salwa Eid Naser (aka Ebelechukwu) surprisingly won a Silver medal in the women’s 400m final in London.
Not also forgetting the likes of Morolake Akinosun (USA) and Chijindu Ujah (GBR), playing major roles in winning 4x100m Gold medals for their respective countries.
The talents Nigeria poses have never been in doubt. There are a lot of great talents that have emerged in the past four years and at London 2017, that really bodes for 2020 and 2024; but if they’re not well invested in and things done the right way, there’ll be a continuous repetition of team Nigeria coming back like a pack of cards with no medals.
The prayer up now is that, things won’t deteriorate to the level that athletes getting to the semifinal stage in a championship would be classified as a major achievement, which can be likened to winning a medal.