New Telegraph

Ministry, AFN must develop other disciplines

At the recently concluded World Athletics Championship in Oregon, USA, Nigerian athletes failed to win any medal from day one till the very last day. On the very last day, two athletes – Tobi Amusan and Ese Brume – within 15 minutes won gold and silver for the country in the women’s 100m hurdles and the women’s long jump events.

With a race of 12.12 secs Amusan set a new world record to also win $100,000 prize money while Brume remains consistent with her podium appearances for the country in global events including the Tokyo Olympics Games where she won a bronze medal. Amusan was fourth at the Olympics and in many other global meets; she often misses the podium narrowly.

This time, she got it right and was not only first, she broke the world record. Amusan came into limelight in 2013 at the African Youth Games in Warri, Delta State. She started in the sprints and won silver in 200m in 2013 and in 2015; she won gold in 100mh at the African U-20 championship in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Same year, she joined the senior team to the African Games in Congo Brazzaville and won the gold medal leading to her gaining admission into the University of Texas El Paso.

At El Paso, Amusan became the second athlete for the university to be named C-USA Female Track Athlete of the Year. She won the Diamond League last year. We believe her feat in Oregon was a pure case of reward for consistency, hard work and perseverance over the years. After near misses, Amusan’s triumph shows that with doggedness, athletes can get the desired results in their respective sports disciplines.

In the ongoing 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Birmingham, all eyes will be on Amusan and Brume who also won a silver medal at the World Championships. They should retain their gold medals won at the last CWG respectively. Overall, we are aware Team Nigeria athletes have the likes of Great Britain, Australia, Canada, Jamaica, South Africa, Bahamas, Kenya and New Zealand to contend with at the games. A total of 94 athletes across nine sports disciplines are representing the country with expectations that they will be among the Top 10 countries in the medals table at the end of the competition. Nigerian athletes are doing great so far in Birmingham.

In the opening days, weightlifting gave Nigeria early medals to be on the table unlike before when the country always waited till the last days to win medals. The feat achieved by Amusan and Brume could be a motivating factor for other Team Nigeria athletes. And so, the ministry of sports and the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) should look into how more talents could be discovered in the long jump and hurdles events. Chioma Ajunwa won gold at the Olympics in 1996 while Gloria Alozie won silver at Sydney 2000. With the exploits of Amusan and Brume, it is obvious Nigeria could develop more talents from these two athletics events if efforts are made from grassroots to do so. We also recall the exploits of Yusuf Alli and Henry Amike in the long jump and hurdles events in the 90s. We make bold to say there are many other potential world champions in these two events in Nigeria if the athletics scouts are alive to their duties.

The task must start now, especially with the National Sports Festival coming up in November. We recall that in the past, the national athletics trials and other top events at the main bowl of the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos attracted huge capacity crowds just like football. Many of the fans would be all out to see the likes of long jumper Yusuf Alli, long jumper Chioma Ajunwa, short putter Adewale Olukoju and Vivian Chukwuemeka in the field events just as the fans expected to see Chidi Imoh, Innocent Egbunike, Falilat Ogunkoya, Sunday Bada (late), Mary Onyali, Olapade Adeniken, Davidson and Osmond Ezinwa, Olusoji Fasugba, Uche Emadolu, Deji Aliu, Gloria Alozie, Bisi Afolabi, Fatima Yusuf, Christy Opara and the Akinremi sisters in track disciplines.

At the time, fans celebrated the presence of our top athletes in the finals of the global meets like the Olympic Games and the World Championships. For example, it was a delight having one or two of the country’s sprinters in the 100m finals that time. At the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, the silver medal won by Alozie in the 100m hurdles was celebrated like gold just as Ajunwa’s name was on everyone’s lips over the golden feat achieved at the Atlanta Olympic Games. Somehow, the good trend dwindled as the top athletes especially in sprints were no longer among the best in the world while the relay team that was always among the top three, top five in the world also struggled with baton issues and inconsistency.

Countries like Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Brazil were at par with Nigeria in athletics but today, due to better planning, vision and results delivery, they are all well ahead of Nigeria. The revival to glory days in athletics should be deliberate efforts by the AFN and ministry since we are aware that the talents are scattered all over the country.

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