Archive | June, 2014

Athlete Interview: MARK JELKS – Nigeria’s 100m Champion, formerly of Team USA!!!

30 Jun Mark 'Amuju' Jelks, 2014 Nigerian 100m Champion, recently switched allegiances from Team USA

30 year-old Mark Jelks, Nigeria’s latest fastest man, talks to the Nigerian press immediately after his win in the 100 metres, in a time of 10.23 seconds (-2.3 m/s wind) at the Nigerian Trials at the UJ Esuene Stadium in Calabar on June 20th, 2014…

How do you feel after winning your first Nigerian 100 metre Title?

I’m tired, hungry, sleepy…did I mention hungry? Men, it is breath-taking to be here. Seriously, I’m in awe right now. Words can’t accurately express what I feel right now. 

Right, we know that you didn’t just think that you were going to waltz in here and win this. Was there anything special you had to do to win here today?

You know, I just had to keep faith in what my training has been, and I knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy win. These guys are hungry to win out here on the track, so I just kept faith in what my coach and I had been working on.

So next stop for you is the Commonwealth Games

Yes, yes! I am ready, I am excited.

We are experiencing a time in Nigerian Athletics where our men are not doing very well. Last year at the World Championships our men could not progress beyond the heats. Now looking forward to the Commonwealth Games you are the Nigerian Champion, you’re the new kid on the block, you’ve beaten former Champions Ogho-Oghene Egwero and Obinna Metu to win the title. Are we going to see you perform better with regards to your time?

I am here to win medals. I am here to represent to the best of my abilities. I will go past rounds, I will make the finals, and I will get medals.

Mark, can you tell us what made you decide to switch allegiance from Team USA to represent Nigeria? 

The opportunity to represent a great country. Seriously, there are more opportunities here to flourish, to be great and to have the opportunity to get to the bigger stage. So that was the deciding factor for me

So what was the process of switching like? Do you have any parents, grandparents or someone in your ancestry who is from Nigeria? How does it work? 

Yeah, my ‘Papa’! I call him Papa, he’s my grand-dad. My uncle still stays here, so I decided to explore that side of my family.

And for Nigerian fans, can you tell us where your Papa is from?

Warri South.

What was your preparation like ahead of winning the Nigerian 100m title here?

The preparation is gruelling, it hurts. That is why I respect all those guys in the final, because they hurt just as much as I hurt. Every day they go out and do the same types of things that I am doing, to make the final, to represent, to get on the team, so it’s humbling and at the same time, exciting.

Mark 'Amuju' Jelks, 2014 Nigerian 100m Champion, recently switched allegiances from Team USA

Mark ‘Amuju’ Jelks, 2014 Nigerian 100m Champion, recently switched allegiances from Team USA

 

Nigeria’s new American Athletes – Should they be running for Nigeria???

30 Jun Nigerian Passport

The Nigerian Athletics Championships which wrapped up a week ago in Calabar seemed to usher in a new era in Nigerian Athletics – one which could see American athletes who have switched allegiances to dominate Nigerian Track & Field for some time to come, if there continues to be no serious effort or investment by the AFN or the private sector to develop athletes in Nigeria.

Athletes switching from USA to Nigeria has not been uncommon in the past few years. Indeed, Blessing Okagbare aside, most of the top athletes representing Nigeria currently, such as Regina George and Gloria Asumnu, once donned the blue, red and white of Team USA. That said, never has the systematic switch of allegiances of Americans to Nigeria caused as much controversy as it is causing right now, because in the past, the links that the athletes had to Nigeria were plainly obvious – within their names, and for the clear fact that either one or both of their parents were Nigeria. The only difference between them and other Nigerians was being born and brought up in the US.

What we are currently witnessing seems to be a completely new trend. Now, it seems that we’re no longer satisfied with recruiting Nigerians who were born and bred in America. The latest swathe of athletes recruited, who waltzed into Nigeria for the first time in their lives to dominate at the Nigerian Trials, would appear to have questionable links to Nigeria at best, completely fabricated at worst. We EXCLUSIVELY interviewed each of these new athletes at the Trials, so every day this week, we will be publishing the interviews with each of them, and asking you the public the questions that will inevitably arise – are these athletes really Nigerian? Were they really eligible to receive Nigerian Passports? Should they really be competing for Nigeria?

Probably the most critical question that arises is this - why are we expending great resources and efforts recruiting athletes who are not good enough to compete for USA, while we lose our best World-Class talents, such as Kemi Adekoya and Femi Ogunode, to the likes of Bahrain and Qatar respectively? Essentially, it would appear that we are mortgaging the futures of our best talents to take in these Americans, most of whom are in the twilight of their careers and will not make it past Rio 2016, even if they make it that far. Tell us what you think about each interview – interestingly, when asked about their family links to Nigeria, the responses we got ranged from parent, to grandparent, great-grandparent and even great-great-grandparent!

A quick check of Nigerian citizenship law shows that there are only 3 ways to obtain Nigerian nationality: (1) By birth (2) By registration (a woman married to a Nigerian man can obtain citizenship) and (3) By naturalisation (must have resided in Nigeria for 15 years). As such, the only way these athletes could possibly qualify is through birth: “A citizen by birth in Nigeria is a person who was born in Nigeria before or after independence and whose parents or grandparents belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria, or any person born outside Nigeria either of whose parents is a citizen of Nigeria.

Essentially, it seems rather unlikely that any athlete who does not have at least one parent who is Nigerian could possibly be eligible to receive a Nigerian passport and hence compete for Team Nigeria. It does appears the law may include a loophole, which states that people born outside Nigeria but with a Nigerian grandparent may be registered (by none other than the President himself) as a citizen of Nigeria if, among other stipulations, the person has shown a clear intention to be domiciled in Nigeria. So at a stretch, any of these athletes with a Nigerian grandparent could possibly squeeze in, but do you really see any of them intending to spend any time in Nigeria, outside of attending the annual Trials to win the right to compete for Team Nigeria at international competitions?

Sit tight, and watch out for these exclusive interviews throughout the week. We will update this post with the links to each interview as they are published!

 1. MARK JELKS Interview with the Nigerian Press immediately after winning the 100 metre Nigerian Title!

Mark 'Amuju' Jelks, 2014 Nigerian 100m Champion, recently switched allegiances from Team USA

Mark ‘Amuju’ Jelks, 2014 Nigerian 100m Champion, recently switched allegiances from Team USA

 

2. NICHOLE DENBY Exclusive Interview with MAKING OF CHAMPIONS, after winning the 100 metre hurdles Nigerian Title!

Nichole Denby, 2014 Nigerian 100m Hurdles Champion, recently switched allegiances from USA.

Nichole Denby, 2014 Nigerian 100m Hurdles Champion, recently switched allegiances from USA.

 

 3. TYRON AKINS Exclusive Interview with MAKING OF CHAMPIONS, after winning the 110 metre hurdles Nigerian Title!

Tyron 'Toritseju' Akins, 2014 Nigerian 110m Hurdles Champion,  recently switched allegiances from Team USA

Tyron ‘Toritseju’ Akins, 2014 Nigerian 110m Hurdles Champion,
recently switched allegiances from Team USA

 

4. MONZAVOUS EDWARDS Exclusive Interview with MAKING OF CHAMPIONS, after finishing in 2nd place in the 100 metres at the 2014 Nigerian Trials!

Monzavous 'Jolomi' Edwards, recently switched allegiances from Team USA, and placed second in the 100 metres at the 2014 Nigerian Trials

Monzavous ‘Jolomi’ Edwards, recently switched allegiances from Team USA, and placed second in the 100 metres at the 2014 Nigerian Trials

And the last but not the least – this time a British Athlete, not an American!

5. ALEX AL-AMEEN Exclusive Interview with MAKING OF CHAMPIONS, after finishing in 2nd place in the 110m Hurdles at the 2014 Nigerian Trials! 

Alex Al-Ameen, recently switched allegiances from Team GB, and placed second in the 110m Hurdles at the 2014 Nigerian Trials (his father is Nigerian)

Alex Al-Ameen, recently switched allegiances from Team GB, and placed second in the 110m Hurdles at the 2014 Nigerian Trials (his father is Nigerian)

One former Nigerian Athlete who has made his feelings about the recruitment of US and UK athletes to Team Nigeria is Double Olympic Medallist Enefiok Udo-Obong, who did not mince words earlier this week on his blog where he expressed his strong feelings about Al-Ameen’s candidacy to represent Nigeria!

 

ROAD TO BRAZIL Mini-Series #6: NAIJAs in BRAZIL get behind the SUPER EAGLES in PORTUGUESE!

30 Jun MoC World Cup Logo

In case you haven’t seen these already, Making Of Champs was in Salvador Da Bahia, Brazil in December during the World Cup Draw, and recorded these messages of support for Super Eagles from Nigerians living and studying there, in PORTUGUESE!

As the Super Eagles go for history against Les Bleus today, here’s one last look at these AWESOME messages rallying ALL Nigerians to get behind our boys in Brazil! The first video below features former Nigerian International Richard Daddy Owubokiri aka “Ricky” (a football legend in Brazil and Portugal) who has lived in Salvador for over 20 years, after he played there in the eighties, scoring a whopping 63 goals in 89 appearances over three seasons for Vitória, a club which Brazilian greats such as Bebeto, Dida, Hulk and David Luiz all played for early in their careers!

Richard Owubokiri immortalised on the wall at Vitória Club stadium in Salvador

Richard Owubokiri immortalised on the wall at Clube Vitória’s stadium in Salvador Da Bahia!

The rest are from a special group of students from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) during their 1 year Exchange Programme in Brazil, part of their Portuguese Language Degree. They played a big role in making this project possible, not only as subjects, but also as Portuguese interviewers and translators – OAU has been running this exchange programme in Brazil for more than 30 years now!

NIGERIA follows GHANA in sending plane of cash to BRAZIL?!?

29 Jun plane dropping money

If reports coming out of Nigeria today are to be believed, then it would appear the Federal Government of Nigeria has followed the actions of their Ghanaian counterparts last week, by sending a whopping $3.85 million on a plane to Brazil today for the appearance fees of the Super Eagles’ players at the ongoing World Cup, in the custody of none other than Nigerian Sports Minister Dr Tamuno Danagogo. The players reportedly boycotted training at their base in Campinas on Thursday before flying to Brasilia for their 2nd Round tie against France, and it would appear that their stance has led to this outcome.

This would appear to be ominous for the Super Eagles, as such appearance fee and bonus rows tend to come to the fore, just as they did with Ghana, when there is a chance that the team could be exiting the tournament – essentially the players fear (presumably from past experience) that once their tournament is over and they leave Brazil, that they may struggle to receive the fees and bonuses that are rightfully theirs. 

It goes without saying that Nigeria is certainly in with a shout of defeating Les Bleus tomorrow, but if that turns out unfortunately not to be the case, then the players have a right to the guarantee that they will be paid what is due to them. It would seem that this guarantee has come in the form of President Goodluck Jonathan sending a plane of money all the way to Brazil! It begs the obvious question – can’t this money just be deposited directly into the players’ bank accounts?

plane dropping money

Until Africa improves the level of administration for their football teams, such problems look set to continue for World Cups to come – it seems that we do not realise that we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot, by not providing world class administration, and still expect the the team’s performance to be world class, and have any chance of ever winning the World Cup or progressing to the latter stages.

A potential solution for the future could be FIFA arranging to pay the players directly rather than through their National Federations – indeed, this was a possibility that was mooted by FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke, as he weighed in on Ghana’s bonus row a couple of days ago! Until then it would seem that each player will likely have to make do with carrying over $100,000 in cash out of Brazil when their tournament is over!

The biggest winners in this whole mess? Surprisingly, Brazilian immigration, which is set for a windfall of over a million dollars (from the $3m Ghana and $3.85m Nigeria bounty combined), if reports that they will levy a tax of up to 17% on all the monies brought into Brazil are true!

suitcase-money

 

ROAD TO BRAZIL Mini-Series #5: Can the SUPER EAGLES SOAR against ARGENTINA at the World Cup?!

24 Jun MoC World Cup Logo

Can the Super Eagles SOAR against ARGENTINA tomorrow? After bringing you our analysis of Nigeria’s chances to go through to the second round against La Albiceleste earlier today, we once again bring you the thoughts of some Brazilian fans, and a rather knowledgeable Argentinian, on Nigeria’s chances at the World Cup against Argentina and, if we dare to go deep enough in the competition, against Brazil! Isn’t it unbelievable how much this Argentine fan knows about Nigerian football?!?

Also look out for former Super Eagles striker, Richard ‘Daddy’ Owubokiri, a.k.a. Ricky, as he pays a fitting tribute to his former teammate and fellow goal-scoring legend in Portugal, The Goal-King himself, Rashidi Yekini (RIP)! 

 

To get an idea of what it was like to be in Brazil when Nigeria played there at the Confederations Cup last year, and a feel for what the support for the Super Eagles is like from the locals in Brazil, check out the first FOUR episodes of the mini-series which we’ve been running since the World Cup started!!

Click here for Part I: Introductions

Click here for Part II: Confederation Cup memories!! 

Click here for Part III: Brazilians supported Nigeria at the Confederations Cup!!! 

Click here for Part IV: Naijas in Brazil wishing the Super Eagles the best of luck, in PORTUGUESE!!!!

 

EXCLUSIVE Interview (Part II) with MAURICE GREENE, Team Nigeria’s Relay Coach, on the new craze for recruiting American Athletes!

24 Jun Maurice Greene 4

Yesterday we published Part I of our EXCLUSIVE interview with MAURICE GREENE, Former World Record Holder, Olympic GOLD Medallist and 3-time World Champion in the 100 metres. Here’s the conclusion  – we met with him on his very first visit to Nigeria for the National Athletics Championships, to get his view on the new craze of recruiting American athletes to compete for Nigeria, and his future as Team Nigeria’s Relay Coordinator!

 

On the men’s side, Nigeria has struggled a lot recently. As a matter of fact, we haven’t had a sub-10 second sprinter since Olusoji Fasuba in 2006, when he set the African Record of 9.85s. What do you think we can do at the Commonwealth Games, when our men are only running 10.2 to 10.3 seconds?

Well, we’ve got to work. Today (at the Nigerian Trials) there’s a big headwind, so you can’t just look at the times of the races. You’ve got to look at how they produce, the elements and everything else that goes into a performance. When you get into a championship race it does not matter what time you run, what matters is what place you get. And if you look at the performance in the 100 metre finals at these Trials just now, it was a bit deceptive, because Ogho (Egwero) really did not start well at all. He stumbled out of the blocks and was dead last, but he was able to move through the race and finish strong, and still managed to get third. So that should tell you something, he would have run better, and pushed the others to run better, and then anything can happen. So everything happens in the race – it doesn’t matter what the time is, it’s the placing that matters most of all, and what happens during the race.

Speaking of that race, Mark Jelks just won the Nigerian 100m title, and both he and Monzavous Edwards in 2nd place just recently switched allegiances to Nigeria from Team USA. Can you tell us more about this trend of athletes, American athletes especially, suddenly finding their roots in Nigeria, and coming to compete for Nigeria?

Well, I think that it’s a good thing. They are great athletes and they just decided to come and run where their roots are and not there where they grew up. So I think it’s a good thing, it’s going to help out the country, because really this country has a lot of great athletes. If you see the trend, all it takes is for one athlete in the country to do something, then the next person then starts to believe that they can do it too, so that’s all it takes. Once one person does it, then another person does it, then another – it’s just a domino effect.

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Do you think this trend of recruit foreign athletes is sustainable? Do you not think that we should be developing more athletes in Nigeria?

No, but we are also developing the athletes in Nigeria, at the same time.

Okay, fair enough. So we understand that you signed a four month contract until the Commonwealth Games. Do you hope to continue after the Games as the Relay Coach for Team Nigeria?

I will continue after that, I will be here longer than that. We have already started discussing what will happen next year and the years after, so my plans are to continue on. My job here is to make the world realise how great Team Nigeria is. They have a lot of great athletes, and my job is to bring out that talent and make the world see it.

Do you think that Nigeria can be as good as the Jamaicans and Americans in a few years?

I believe that we can do that in a year. Especially in the Relays. Especially the women.

You sound confident that you can lead Team Nigeria to surpass even Team USA?

That’s my vision.

I suppose if that were to happen, Team USA might give you a call to give you a job over there instead?

Who cares? I’m not worried about them right now. My job is here, to help Nigeria do the best job possible, and that’s what I am going to do.

Is this your first time in Nigeria, for the National Trials? 

Yes, this is my first time.

What’s your impression of Nigeria so far, how have you found it? 

Well, you know, every place is different, but my experience has been very nice. The people have treated me very well – everything is good.

Fantastic! So we hope to see you in Nigeria more, coaching the kids over here too?

I will. I will be, I promise.

Final question for you – You’re the fastest man ever, still, in the 60 metres, with a World Record of 6.39 seconds which has stood since 1998! What can you do to teach our guys here how to start fast?

Look at Obinna (Metu), look at Ogho (Egwero), I’m teaching him. It will be a journey but it’s a start. You’ve got to start somewhere.

Maurice, thank you for taking the time to speak exclusively to MAKING OF CHAMPIONS

Thank you!

Maurice Greene, Nigeria's Relay Team Coordinator (R), with Making of Champions Founder & CEO, Bambo Akani (L)

Maurice Greene, Nigeria’s Relay Team Coordinator (R), with Making of Champions                       Founder & CEO, Bambo Akani (L) at the 2014 Nigerian Trials in Calabar

 

 

Can the SUPER EAGLES SOAR against ARGENTINA at the World Cup?

24 Jun ARG-NIG-prev

Two weeks ago, following the completion of Nigeria’s World Cup friendlies, we brought you the aptly titled Can the Super Eagles fly against Argentina at the World Cup?” where we assessed the Super Eagles’ World Cup chances, and we told Nigerians everywhere to KEEP CALM, following that string of unimpressive friendly performances. And calmness was certainly needed, after a goalless draw against Iran in the first game that had many a Super Eagles fan resigning the team to doom against the supposed might of Bosnia! In truth, fortune certainly favoured Nigeria in that match which could have easily ended 1-0 in Bosnia’s favour, if those two calls in the first half had gone differently – Dzeko’s wrongly ruled offside goal, and Emenike’s challenge on the Bosnian defender that led to Odemwingie’s goal, which we could not have had serious complaints if it had been called as a foul!

All that said, a win against Bosnia was always going to knock them out and put the Super Eagles in a prime position to qualify for the knockout rounds. Indeed, statisticians on various websites have given Nigeria some 85% probability of qualifying for the 2nd round ahead of Iran. Incidentally, Iran will also be seeking their first World Cup win in 16 years against the demoralised Bosnians, and only their second World Cup win EVER to sneak into the 2nd round for their first time ever, ahead of the Super Eagles. On paper, Iran should not beat the Bosnians, but stranger things have happened, and the manner in which they nearly held the mighty Argies to a goalless draw will give them all the belief they need to go and get the result they need against Bosnia!

As such, despite Nigeria’s seemingly high probability of making the Second Round for the first time since France ’98, our progression may well hinge on the Super Eagles making a little history of their own, and doing something that no other Nigerian team has succeeded in doing at the World Cup – Avoiding defeat against Argentina! Indeed, Nigeria has lost 3 out of 3 against our World Cup nemesis Argentina, and has not scored in 262 minutes of World Cup against the South Americans, since Samson Siasia’s 8th minute goal against them at USA ’94! That remains Nigeria’s only World Cup goal against them!

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In those matches Nigerians have always taken solace in the fact that Argentina’s margin of victory was only by one goal, but if that were to happen again, we could well see the drawing of lots to determine who goes through with them to the next round – if Nigeria loses and Iran wins by one-goal margins, with Iran scoring exactly one goal more than Nigeria (e.g. 0-1, 1-0 or 1-2, 2-1, etc) then lots will be drawn to determine which team will finish second in the group and face the unenviable task of meeting a French side that has already scored 8 goals in just 2 matches in Brazil! And Nigeria is no stranger to losing one-nil to the Argies…

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On the flip side, history beckons for Stephen Keshi if he can become the first Super Eagles manager to take even a point from Argentina at the World Cup. One would also presume that Nigeria is long overdue a result against La Albiceleste (The White and Sky Blue). They have not particularly lit up Brazil 2014 yet, with laboured victories against Bosnia and Iran, and it seems like they are lost for ideas outside the brilliance of Lionel Messi – if the Super Eagles can shackle him and prevent him from scoring (which thanks to the brilliance of Vincent “Enyeamagnet” they managed to do in 2010), then we have every chance of taking something from the game! Super Eagles captain Jospeh Yobo will become Nigeria’s first centenary player with his 100th cap if he suits up against Argentina, and he will be hoping that it is third time lucky, as he is the only surviving player from the teams that lost narrowly against them in both 2002 and 2010!

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Having secured qualification already, Argentina will not be going all out for the win against Nigeria. Could we perhaps see a shock result – Nigeria defeating Argentina at the World Cup? As with USA finally beating Ghana at the third attempt, it has to happen one day, and with Super Eagles in the ascendancy, and gaining in confidence after a good performance against Bosnia, Nigeria has never had a better chance to “smash and grab” against Argentina! To date, our only victory of note against Argentina was the historic 3-2 victory in the GOLD medal game at the Atlanta ’96 Olympics. It’s time to invoke the spirit of  that ‘Dream Team’ because something tells us that more than one goal will be needed to take victory tomorrow against Argentina!

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This could very well turn out to be an AWESOME World Cup for Africa, as there is a very real possibility that more than ONE African team will make the 2nd Round of the World Cup for the first time ever, strengthening the perennial argument for more than 5 African slots at the mundial. Apart from Nigeria, A draw for Algeria against Russia should be enough to see them through, and barring a disaster of ‘Kaitastrophic’ proportions against Greece (any Nigerian who saw the last World Cup should understand what that means!), Cote d’Ivoire should go through to the 2nd round for the 1st time in their history!

 

AFN lists Blessing Okagbare and 45 others for Commonwealth Games in Glasgow!

23 Jun L-R: Sade Abugan, Regina George, Omolara Omotosho & Patience Okon George celebrate their fantastic World Relay Bronze in the 4x400m

Source: http://www.athleticsnigeria.com/afn-lists-okagbare-45-others-for-commonwealth-games/

Double medallist at the Moscow 2013 World Championships, Blessing Okagbare will spearhead Nigeria’s chase for medals at the forthcoming Commonwealth Games billed to hold in Glasgow, Scotland from July 23 to August 3.

 The list was released by the AFN Technical/Commonwealth Games Selection Committee in a meeting that was held immediately after the AFN/CRS All-Nigeria Athletics Championships held in Calabar from 19-21 June 2014.

However some of the under-listed who are yet to hit the required standards in their events have been placed on probation and given a time frame of a maximum of two weeks to meet the set standards or get dropped from the team.

100m/200m/4x100m Women

1. Blessing Okagbare

2. Gloria Asumnu

3. Dominique Duncan

4. Justina Sule

5. Deborah Odeyemi

6. Mariam Bassey

7. Christy Udo

 

 100m

1. Mark Jelks

2. Mozavous Jolomi Edwards

3. Ogho Egwero

4. Seye Ogunlewe

5. Obinna Metu

6. Divine Oduduru

7. Peter Emelize

 

400m/4x400m Men (Probation)

1. Isah Salihu

2. Noah Akwu

3. Omeiza Akerele

4. Orukpe Erayokan

5. Abiola Onakoya

 

 800m Women

1. Abiye David. (Probation)

 

 800m men

1. Sean Obinwa (Probation)

 

400m/4x400m Women

1. Patience Okon

2. Folashade Abugan

3. Omolara Omotosho

4. Regina George

5. Ada Benjamin

6. Funke Oladoye

 

100m Hurdles

1. Nicole Denby

2. Ugonna Ndu

 

 110m Hurdles

1. Tyrone Akins

2. Alex Al-Ameen

3. Martins Ogheriakhi

 

400m Hurdles Women

1. Amaka Ogoegbunam

 

400m Hurdles Men

1. Christian Amaechi Morton

2. Rilwan Alowonle (Probation)

 

Long Jump Women

1. Blessing Okagbare

2. Ese Brume

 

 Long Jump Men

1. Samson Idiata

2. Suleiman Hammed

 

1500m Men

1. Soudi Hamajan

 

Triple Jump Men

1. Tosin Oke

2. Olumide Olamigoke

 

 Shot Put women

1. Nwaneka Okwelogu

 

Discus Women

1. Chinwe Okoro

 

 Shot Put/Discus Men

1. Stephen Mozia

 

Hammer Women

1. Queen Obisesan (Probation)

 

Javelin Men

1. Kenechukwu Ejeofor

 

EXCLUSIVE Interview (Part I) with MAURICE GREENE, former 100m world record holder & Team Nigeria’s new Relay Coordinator!

23 Jun Maurice Greene 1

MAURICE GREENE, Former World Record Holder, Olympic GOLD Medallist and 3-time World Champion in the 100 metres, speaks EXCLUSIVELY to MAKING OF CHAMPIONS about his rivalries with Nigerian athletes during his illustrious career, and his recent appointment as Team Nigeria’s Relay Coordinator!

You were the 100m World Record Holder with a time of 9.79s between 1999 and 2005. What were some of the greatest rivalries you had against Nigerian Athletes in that time?

At that time, (Francis) Obikwelu. Though I don’t know if he had switched countries yet, but he was probably my biggest rival. 

He was still representing Nigeria at the 1999 World Championships in Seville, when you won the 200 metre title and he was third. Can you tell us a little about that?

Well, it was a great rivalry. He kind of startled me in the semi-final because he ran that race so easily. He ran 19.84 seconds, and I was like ‘uh-oh’, I am really going to have to do something in the final, so I kind of changed up my game plan a little bit. I knew I had to change up and put more pressure on him in the race.

You won the final with a time of 19.90s, so if he had run that fast in the final, you would have lost it?

Well yeah that’s true, but each race is different. It all depends on who’s in the race and what happens during the race, that’s all.

If we recall correctly, Obikwelu pipped you to the Silver medal in the 100 metres at the Athens 2004 Olympics in a time of 9.86s – by then he was running for Portugal – while you took the Bronze in 9.87s?

Yeah – that was my fault though, because in the semi-final I slowed down too much at the end and he leaned and took second, so that pushed me to an outside lane for the final. I like being in the middle of the track, because when somebody moves I can move to go faster. So that messed me up – it put me in lane 7, so I only had Obadele Thompson from Barbados in Lane 8, and Asafa Powell in Lane 6, but everything happened in lanes 3, 4 and 5. So that messed me up, but you know I say it’s my fault, so it happens. You go through race strategies and race plans and everything else, so you’ve got to live with what happens. 

Another famous race for Nigeria at that Olympics was the 4×100 metre relay, and we distinctly remember Deji Aliu receiving the baton on the anchor leg for Nigeria at the same time you did for Team USA, and you eventually just missed out on the GOLD to Team GB by one hundredths of a second, with Nigeria taking the Bronze?

Yeah it was tough, because at those Olympics I lost 2 GOLD medals by three hundredths of a second – miserable day. I mean, you can’t even blink that fast. But you know what? It happens…

Let’s talk about your current appointment at the Relay Coordinator for Team Nigeria. What are your hopes and expectations for the role? What do you think you can bring to Nigerian Athletics? 

I don’t hope anything. Nigeria has a lot of great athletes here, and we just have to bring out that talent. They brought me in to mentor a lot of them and just help put everything together so that they can start producing the medals like they should. They haven’t been doing it in the past few years, and things need to change, so it’s my job to come in and try to change things, and try to make sure that the world sees the exact talent that Nigeria really has. So that’s what I plan on doing.

Do you have any of the athletes under your direct tutelage as their coach?

Yeah, I have a couple of them. I don’t work with them every day, but we have training camps, and I speak to a lot of them through email and on the phone, so it’s all of the above.

Let’s do a quick recap of the World Relays in the Bahamas – the girls had a great performance in the 4x400m relay, with the third fastest time ever by a Nigerian quartet in the event. What can you say about our performance at the World Relays?

Yeah, I think that was just a start of what we are beginning. It’s going to get better from there. That is just the start of it. At the World Relays, I had just been with the team for a couple of months, and I think the women did a very good job there. But I expect more out of them, and they know that I expect more from them. I get them to believe that they should expect more also, so good things – no, great things – are yet to come! 

Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of this exclusive interview with Maurice Greene, during his first ever trip to Nigeria for the National Trials in Calabar, where he weighs in on the recent trend of American athletes switching allegiances to Nigeria! 

Maurice Greene, Team Nigeria's Relay Coordinator, at the UJ Esuene Stadium, Calabar, during the 2014 Nigerian Athletics Championships

Maurice Greene, Team Nigeria’s Relay Coordinator, at the UJ Esuene Stadium, Calabar, during the 2014 Nigerian Athletics Championships

REGINA GEORGE beaten by her home-based teammates, as OKAGBARE completes sprint double on Final Day of Nigerian Trials

22 Jun DSC02183

The final day of the Nigerian Athletics Championships on Saturday produced a major shock, as Nigeria’s 2-time defending 400m Champion, Regina George, not only lost her 400m crown at the U.J. Esuene stadium in Calabar, but was beaten into 4th place by all three of her teammates with whom she won the World Relay Bronze medal in the 4x400m in the Bahamas last month. Folashade Abugan claimed the GOLD in 51.39s, with Omolara Omotosho taking Silver in 51.56s, and Patience Okon George took the Bronze in 51.62s – Regina George could only manage 51.67s, losing out in the photo finish for third!

Folashade Abugan at the World Relays in the Bahamas. She is Nigeria's new 400m Champion, winning at the 2014 Nigerian Trials in 51.39s!

Folashade Abugan at the World Relays in the Bahamas, where she won Bronze in the 4×400 metres. She is Nigeria’s new 400m Champion, winning at the 2014 Nigerian Trials in 51.39s!

The result was especially surprising because of Regina George’s fine form in the Relay team this year – she ran 50.5s and 49.4s splits for Team Nigeria at the Penn Relays and World Relays respectively. She also won her semi-final in Calabar with a time of 51.30s, the fastest time in the whole meet which would have been good enough to win in the final! For the last two years George has been Nigeria’s undisputed number one quarter-miler, so it is indeed a puzzle that she did not perform well enough to win a third consecutive Nigerian title in Calabar. It will be interesting to see how she bounces back from this setback, and if she can continue her recent dominance of the one lap race in Nigeria!

The significance of George’s defeat will not be lost on Nigeria-based fans and athletes alike, many of whom are still reeling from the surprise appearance and subsequent dominance of recently converted American athletes at these Nigerian Trials. American-based athletes have long been considered better than their home-based counterparts, and while in the past the athletes who switched allegiance from USA had obvious Nigerian heritage through at least one parent (such as Regina George & Gloria Asumnu), the recently recruited athletes would appear to have questionable family links to Nigeria at best, fabricated at worst.

The arrival of the new American-Nigerian athletes will undoubtedly further curtail the opportunities for home-based athletes to develop and eventually represent Nigeria. George’s surprise loss will give hope to athletes all over Nigeria that they also can go toe-to-toe with their US-based counterparts. Abugan, Omotosho and Okon George will inspire their fellow home-based athletes to rise to the new challenge posed by the newly converted athletes. This will certainly re-ignite the home-based versus foreign-based rivalry in Nigerian Athletics in a way that we have never seen before!

In other news from Day 3 of the Nigerian Trials, Blessing Okagbare completed the sprint double as expected, winning the 200m in a time of 22.62s, almost a full second ahead of Gloria Asumnu in 23.54s, and Dominique Duncan, another recently converted American on her first trip to Nigeria, in 3rd place with 23.91s. Home-based Divine Oduduru won the men’s 200m easily in 20.87s, with Odele Tega in 2nd with 21.33s, and another US convert, Monzavous Edwards, finishing a disappointing 3rd in 21.38s. US-based hurdlers Cristian Morton and Amaka Ogoegbunam claimed the men’s and women’s 400m hurdles crowns respectively, while Isah Salihu claimed the men’s 400m crown in 46.15s, ahead of last year’s Champion Noah Akwu in 46.34s and Omeza Akerele in 46.56s.

The Nigerian Championships this year are the Trials for the Commonwealth Games starting in Scotland next month, and the African Championships in Morocco in August. At this time it is unclear whether the athletes chosen for each event will be the first 3 from the Trials or the athletes with the best times throughout the season, so we wait with anticipation to see what the final Commonwealth and African Championship squads will be. If the selection criteria is indeed the Top 3 in each event from the Trials, then we could see Regina George missing out in the individual 400 metres, something that would have been unfathomable just a couple of days ago!

 

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A personal commentary of sports issues in Nigeria and the world

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