Shot put thrower and one of Nigeria’s medal hopefuls at the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Chukwuebuka Enekwechi, in an interview with CHARLES OGUNDIYA said representing the country means a lot to him and he looks forward to excelling at the Games. Excerpts…
What does competing at the national trials mean to you as an athlete going to the Olympics?
Actually, coming for the national trials was the first time I was traveling outside of the United States in more than a year due to COVID-19; I was able to meet some of my older competitors, other teammates, people I hadn’t seen in a long time. I threw over the Olympic Standard twice in a row; I have done that more than nine times now. I actually got the qualification in July 2019, the national trial was the third meet in the month of June alone; so I am working so hard to be a good ambassador of Nigeria and a worthy representative of the country.
The Olympics was delayed for a whole year, has that altered your plans?
It changed a little bit but I will say it changed for everybody and not only for me. I think it is all about adapting and making the best use of the situation; we faced lockdown there in the United States and I am sure the same thing happened in Nigeria, which I think affected the home-based athletes also. This is a difficult situation for everybody, so we adapted to it and decided to give it our best. The Olympic cycle is always four years, but this particular one is four years and additional 12 months; it is difficult for the mind and the body but this is not for me alone but everyone. But we are already working on how to make the best use of it.
Did you have any fear when returning to Nigeria especially with the issue of COVID-19?
There was nothing like that; I was tested four times in a week, even while coming to Nigeria I did my COVID-19 test, in fact, I did two tests because they said the first one was out of date and I had to do another one 24 hours before my trip to Nigeria. Based on my result, I’d never been exposed to the virus and thank God for that. Nigeria is doing its best and that’s why there were regulations, I took my COVID-19 jab months ago, so, while the country is doing its best, I do mine too and we leave the rest to God.
With Olympic Games days away and Nigerians looking forward to track and field also getting on the podium, how ready are you?
Track and field is very difficult; so going for a major competition like the Olympics, you don’t want to put too much pressure on yourself, you need to focus, relax and also you need the composure of the mind and spirit. You need to compete first, the next thing is to advance to the next stage and if the medal comes, that will be great. For you to advance, there is need to throw enough distance to achieve that, and that will also depend on what the other competitors are doing. My job is to go out there, give my best and wait for what comes afterward.
How does it feel for you competing for Nigeria on the world stage with your appearances at the African championships, the African Games, the World Championships, and now the Olympics?
I know I am based in the US, but it means a lot to me representing my father’s land, Nigeria. Both of my parents are from Nigeria, I have a strong connection to Nigeria, my first name is Chukwuebuka, even though I was born and grew up in the US, I am connected to Nigeria. So whenever there is a chance, I always try to be available and give my best.
As the national record holder with 21.80m, how do you want to improve on that especially with the Olympics just a few days away?
Every day I try to do what I am good at and also develop on what I am not good at, try to improve on my techniques, look at what my competitors are doing right that I am not doing, try to continue to get better day after day, compete for as much as I can and at times just catch my fun.
So, what type of food do you love to eat especially the local delicacies?
For me I always want to keep it simple; almost every meal is good, jollof rice, peppered chicken; I like food because it always makes me big for competition. When I am close to a competition, I stay away from it, but when I have the time, I try to indulge myself in some local food.
How do you cope with the pepper since most of you guys coming from abroad always complain about such?
Normally when I come, it takes a couple of days for me to adjust, but the truth is we like the flavour, but we are not used to the intensity of the pepper, so we need to adjust to it so as to enjoy it. In as much as we enjoy the food, it burns, so we take the food, drink a lot of water and so on.
Coming around to see the athletes after a long time, what was it like relating again after more than a year out?
I will say that was the best part of the whole trip to Nigeria. Yes, we come for a competition, but when you see your friends everything changes. The way competition is in Nigeria is like, we all have the same way of life, when you see an athlete for the first time, the next time you see him or her, we are relating like a family, we always bond very quickly. It’s always like a family reunion when we come together for a competition as Team Nigeria.
Will you say you are disappointed missing the National Sports Festival?
I was down with a serious injury at the time, I was planning on coming, but physically, I couldn’t make it, but now I am healthier and ready to go.
What would you say about Nigeria’s chances at the Olympics apart from Track and Field?
Nigeria is doing a lot; we the foreign- based athletes are trying our best to bring a lot of flavour but the truth is, the home-based athletes are really doing a lot especially with the little resources available back home. The distances are getting better, records are being broken, and they are doing a lot. In as much as I am based in the US, I am proud of what they are doing back home; so I see Nigerian athletes achieving a whole lot in Tokyo.