In the summertime of 2012, I excitedly undertook a two-week trip from work to journey again to the UK, the place I had grown up and spent most of my grownup life, to witness the 2012 London Olympics firsthand.
Why? That yr I had an epiphany-to assist make Nigerian athletics related, as soon as once more. I’m not usually a dreamer. Truly, on the time of this awakening, I used to be exhausting at work as a administration advisor at Bain & Firm in South Africa, after I accomplished my MBA on the Kellogg Faculty of Administration within the U.S.
If I believed I used to be going to get pleasure from following Workforce Nigeria on the Video games, I couldn’t have been extra flawed–the 2012 Olympics can be the primary Video games since Seoul ’88 that Workforce Nigeria returned with out a single medal.
In truth, my enduring reminiscence from London 2012 was witnessing Workforce USA hit an Olympic scoring file in opposition to D’Tigers, Nigeria’s males’s basketball workforce. I returned to South Africa after the Olympics, fascinated by why Nigeria’s Olympic star had dimmed so dramatically and what we may do about it.
Down [sweet] reminiscence lane
Like many Nigerians in my technology, I grew up witnessing nice Olympic success for the nation – Nigeria’s first Olympic medal in Athletics (Observe and Subject) within the Males’s 4x400m at Los Angeles ’84 was solely Nigeria’s fourth Olympic medal total.
Thus far, Nigeria has gained 25 Olympic medals with 13 of them coming from athletics, however crucially since 2008, the nation has just one medal–a bronze from soccer on the Rio 2016 Video games. What went flawed? Why have been the twenty years from 1990 to 2010 the zenith of Nigeria’s international sporting success, and the way can the nation restore its Olympic pleasure?
These questions assail me as a result of I do know that by numbers, and genetically, Nigeria ought to do higher. My nation has had a wealthy historical past of success in athletics on the Olympics and World Athletics Championships. I came upon curiously, that one of many key causes Nigeria did so properly on the Olympics from Barcelona 92 till Beijing 2008 was main company sponsorship in Athletics.
Within the twenty years from 1990 to 2010, the phrase ‘Mobil’ was synonymous with Nigeria’s annual Observe and Subject Olympic trials. Exxon Mobil was the title sponsor of the occasion, and it was undoubtedly one of many high 5 nationwide Athletics Trials on this planet.
It additionally in contrast favourably within the high quality of efficiency with the likes of the trials within the USA, Canada, Nice Britain and Jamaica. Nigeria gained twenty of the 25 Olympic medals in athletics inside this 21-year interval.
Thus, the connection between Mobil’s lead sponsorship of Athletics in Nigeria and her Olympic success is plain. Sadly, the nice affect Mobil had on Nigeria’s Olympic motion was not a story that was clearly and broadly articulated, and the advantages to the model of remaining behind Athletics waned.
Amidst rumours that prize cash which was meant for the Athletes was now not reaching them, Mobil pulled the plug on their help of the Nationwide Trials in 2011. Is it any shock that Nigeria hasn’t gained a single Olympic medal in Athletics for the reason that Beijing 2008 Olympics?
Nigerian Athletics has not had a serious long-term company sponsor since Mobil pulled out in 2011. This inevitably led to a decline within the sport in Nigeria and has seen the mass exodus within the final decade of Nigeria’s greatest skills to signify different nations equivalent to Qatar and Bahrain.
Right now, the World 400m Champion and third quickest lady in historical past within the quarter-mile is Salwa Eid Naser. Don’t be mistaken- Eid Naser was Ebelechukwu Agbapounwu in 2013 earlier than she pursued her Golden Fleece to Bahrain.
As a part of a quartet of Nigerian-born Athletes, she impressed Bahrain to Bronze within the first-ever combined 4x400m (two males and two girls per workforce) on the World Championships in 2019. I coined the time period ‘Bahrain Drain’ way back to 2016 after we found that Bahrain’s whole observe workforce on the World U20 Championships have been Nigeria-born.
The 4 Athletes who gained Bahrain’s combined 4x400m bronze medal on the 2019 World Championships have been all born in Nigeria, and every one among them left for Bahrain between 2013 and 2015. They’re Musa Isah, Aminat Jamal, Salwa Eid Naser & Abbas Abubakar Abbas.
Although we consider the work we now have undertaken at MoC is now serving to to show the tide in Nigeria. Most of those athletes needed to search greener pastures elsewhere to have significant careers. Gone are the times all Nigerian athletes, in all places on this planet, rushed dwelling yearly for the extremely anticipated Mobil Trials to make sure choice for Workforce Nigeria.
Gone are the times when Nigeria may count on to have two males within the 100m or 200m finals on the Olympics, like at Atlanta ’96 or Barcelona ’92. Gone are the times when Nigeria was at all times a medal contender within the Olympic relay races–eight of Nigeria’s 13 athletics medals in Olympic historical past have come within the relays.
Certainly, Nigeria has gained medals in all 4 relay races they’ve competed in on the Olympics–the lads & girls’s 4x100m and 4x4x00m and these relay medals ought to be the obvious goal for Nigeria to return to successful methods on the Olympics.
The excellent news for Nigeria is that there’s mild on the finish of the tunnel. Regardless of a troublesome decade wallowing within the doldrums relative to the twenty years prior, a brand new technology of athletes are exhibiting the promise that might make Tokyo the nation’s greatest Olympic exhibiting since Atlanta ’96, the place Nigeria gained 4 medals in athletics and 6 medals in whole.
In 2019, Ese Brume gained Nigeria’s first World Championship Medal in 6 years within the Lengthy Soar, whereas Tobi Amusan narrowly missed out on a medal within the 100m Hurdles–they’ll most likely be Nigeria’s biggest particular person medal hopefuls in Tokyo, however don’t rely out the likes of Divine Oduduru and Blessing Okagbare to contest for 100m or 200m medals.
Seven Nigerian athletes have already certified for the Tokyo Olympics, and all of them are medal hopefuls of their particular person and/or relay occasions. Nigeria may find yourself with 5 medals in athletics on the Tokyo Olympics-at least two Particular person medals and as much as three medals within the relay races.
This won’t occur by probability. As a nation, we will need to have a flawless preparation to deliver our relay groups to coach and compete collectively regardless of the challenges posed by the continuing pandemic. Nigeria may really contest for all 5 relay medals in Tokyo, however not with out placing within the work.
South Africa’s sprinters have been already in relay camps even earlier than the coronavirus pandemic, whereas Nigeria’s 4x100m males misplaced to Workforce Ghana on the 2019 African Video games, regardless of having the quicker 100m sprinters on paper. With out ample preparation, one other barren Olympic Video games for Nigeria within the relays appears inevitable.
Making of Champions (MoC) has performed a serious position in reviving Nigerian Athletics-that I’m happy to say. It wasn’t lengthy after the 2012 Olympic Video games that destiny would set me on the trail to founding MoC. My subsequent challenge at Bain after getting back from my London 2012 Olympic trip can be in Nigeria and this coincided with the Eko 2012 Nationwide Sports activities Competition in Lagos.
I made a documentary to indicate Nigeria’s nice potential on the Olympics and the way we may notice it. At Eko 2012, I met lots of Nigeria’s Olympic greats for the primary time, notably the nation’s three double Olympic medalists in historical past–Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya and Enefiok Udo-Obong.
The journey of creating the movie would finally take me internationally to satisfy extra Nigerian Olympic medalists, from Harmless Egbunike within the USA, to Glory Alozie in Spain and Francis Obikwelu in Portugal.
Because of all of their inspiring tales, the manufacturing finally turned the feature-length docu-film, Making of Champions: “The Historical past”–the story of Nigeria’s Rise & Fall on the Olympics, which debuted on the iREP Documentary Movie Competition in 2014.
A lot of the movie was shot, on location, in Jamaica throughout their annual Secondary Faculty ‘CHAMPS’ to study the secrets and techniques of their unimaginable Olympic success, and what we noticed there gave me the conviction that Nigeria has all of the expertise and sources to duplicate and even surpass the Olympic feats achieved by the likes of USA and Jamaica.
We met many consultants in each nations who confirmed Nigeria’s potential and instructed us as a lot, despite the fact that we as a nation don’t know this about ourselves. The making of the movie is finally what impressed me to depart my job in South Africa and transfer again to Nigeria to start the MoC challenge in 2013.
We launched MoC Observe Membership in Lagos in 2016, below the tutelage of Olympic medalists, Deji Aliu and Glory Alozie, who function our Head, Sprints Coach and Dash Hurdles Coach, respectively. Since then, we now have launched into the journey of coaching a promising group of younger athletes, lots of whom are on observe to look at their first Olympics in Tokyo.
Promising skills equivalent to Nationwide 100m Champion Pleasure Udo-Gabriel, Nationwide 400m Champion Emmanuel Ojeli and Nationwide 200m Silver medalist Jerry Jakpa are all robust contenders to make their Olympic debuts in Tokyo, and they’re all key members of Nigeria’s relay groups, every having gained medals or set information for Workforce Nigeria within the relays in 2018 and 2019.
Udo-Gabriel, Ojeli, and Jakpa are a part of Nigeria’s subsequent technology of Olympians–already ranked properly throughout the High 100 Athletes globally of their respective occasions, they’re presently in robust Olympic qualifying positions and the nationwide name for Tokyo beckons for them. With preparation within the subsequent six months, Nigeria’s greatest Athletes at dwelling and overseas may mix properly to deliver dwelling the 5 projected Olympic medals.
Will it occur?
It’s all conjecture at this level, however in addition to dreaming at MoC, we’re serving to our athletes put within the exhausting work that may flip their and our goals into actuality.
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