Archive | August, 2014

Okagbare rues missed chance in 100m Diamond League Final, seeks redemption in 200m!

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The absence of world leader and major contender for the jackpot in the women’s 100m, Tori Bowie at the Zurich leg of the IAAF Diamond League, was meant to be a blessing in disguise (no pun intended) for Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare, but it was Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown who stole the show at the end of the day as she coasted home in 11.04s, to win the $50,000 at stake.

Murielle Ahouré was a close second (also in 11.04s), while Okagbare posted 11.06s in third place in the first series of finals for the Diamond League, which ends with a second series of finals on September 5th in Brussels, where she will be going for the 200m, and where 15 other events would be decided.

Bowie pulled out of the Zurich 100m due to injury she sustained in the Birmingham leg of the meet, which made Zurich a winner takes all affair as anyone who won it could have taken home the 100m Diamond Race crown. Prior to the race, Okagbare occupied 6th place in the 100m standings, and victory in Zurich would have handed her the top prize as long as Kerron Stewart, who occupied 2nd place in the Race with 7 points, did not finish as the runner-up; the Jamaican finished a distant fifth in 11.19s and Blessing would no doubt be ruing her lost chance. A win in the final would have been the African & Commonwealth Champion’s first ever in the Diamond League series.

Okagbare has run more 200m races than 100 this year, as the race in Zurich was only her fourth in the Diamond League. However, she was sensational in the Commonwealth where she claimed the sprint double with a Championship Record (CR) of 10.85s in the 100m, and 22.25s in the 200m. Even though she confessed in Marrakech, venue of the African Senior Championships, that she was already tired and hoping to bring her season to an end in Brussels, she will be hoping to bounce back to take the 200m in Brussels, where she is a top contender for the prize, currently in second place with 11 points, behind Allyson Felix who reached 13 points following the Nigerian’s absence in Stockholm a little over a week ago.

Not only would she have Felix to deal with in Brussels, but also Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands who recently posted a National Record (NR) and world leading time of 22.03s at the European Championships!

Okagbare could win $50,000 with Zurich Diamond League VICTORY, while Usain Bolt ends his 2014 season early!

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Next stop…Zurich. Fans of Nigeria’s No.1 sprinting sensation, Blessing Okagbare will have to wait no more as the athlete resumes action at the IAAF Diamond League on Thursday, August 28 in Zurich, Switzerland where she will compete in the 100m in a STACKED field that includes Veronica Campbell-Brown (SB 10.86s), Murielle Ahouré (10.97s) and Allyson Felix (11.01s) amongst others.

Okagbare took a break from the prestigious series to compete in her first Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (July 23 to August 3) where she claimed the 100/200m sprint double. In the 100m, she breasted the tape in the 100m with a Season’s Best (SB) and Championship Record (CR) of 10.85s, denying former world champion, Campbell-Brown a much sought after victory in the event. The Jamaican is yet to win an individual title at the Commonwealth Games, having won two silver medals in the 100m (2002 and 2014) and another in the 200m (2006).

The Nigerian maintained her stellar performance this season by reclaiming her African title in the 100m at the African Senior Championships in Marrakech where she stormed to the crown with a CR of 11.00s flat, also denying fierce rival, Ahouré of Cote d’Ivoire her first African title in the event. Okagbare however pulled out of the 200m, which Ahouré dominated easily with a time of 22.36s.

Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands will be looking to go under 11 seconds for the first time. The Dutchwoman sneaked in a win in the 200m at the Glasgow leg of the series where she stunned Felix (22.35s) and Okagbare (22.41s) to win the title with a National Record (NR) of 22.34s – she has since lowered the Dutch NR to a world leading 22.03s this season at the European Championships! Her 100m PB of 11.03s set in the B race of the Glasgow Diamond League 100m is also a National Record – not bad for a heptathlete! 

This race is only Okagbare’s fourth 100m in the Diamond League this year, and she is yet to secure a victory in the event. She finished second behind Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in the very first meeting in Doha, but didn’t finish her race in Lausanne after she slipped. She placed fourth in Monaco behind Bowie, Campbell-Brown and Ahoure. She occupies a distant sixth place in the standings with just 2 Diamond League points while Tori Bowie sits at the top with 12 points. However Bowie, who has the world leading time of 10.80s this season, will be the only big name missing. She has had to withdraw after pulling up injured in the 100m in the Birmingham Diamond League meet at the weekend.    

The most fascinating aspect of the IAAF Diamond League, are the double points awarded in the final race of each event, with 16 Diamond Races being decided in Zurich, and the final 16 being decided in Brussels next week! This annual twist in events adds to the excitement of the final races, as an athlete currently ranking in third or fourth place, could change their fortunes just by winning the final race. So while a few races are practically over, in many other races, the athletes will battle till the very last second or centimetre!

The rules also state that one must compete in the final race of their event to win the Diamond Race crown, so despite having amassed a near unassailable lead, Bowie’s absence blows the 200m Diamond Race right open, and means that in a dramatic twist of fate, Okagbare could win her FIRST ever Diamond League crown with a WIN, so long as Kerron Stewart, who currently occupies 2nd place in the Race with 7 points, does not finish as the runner-up in Zurich! 

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Standings before FINAL race (Zurich). Diamond League competitors get 4 points for a win,2 points for 2nd place, and 1 point for 3rd, but these points are DOUBLED for the final race!

1st place in each Diamond League event takes home $10,000 and the overall winner for the Diamond Race in each event each season takes home $40,000. This means that a $50,000 windfall is at stake for Blessing and her rivals in Zurich – every single woman in the race has a mathematical chance of taking home the 200m Diamond Race Crown!

Meanwhile, $50,000 is small change for the likes of Usain Bolt, so he does not compete regularly in the Diamond League, instead prioritising meets that can afford the appearance fees he commands – anywhere from $250,000 per race, up to $500,000 which he received for the London Anniversary Games last year! He has pulled out of the Zurich meet, bringing an early end to his 2014 campaign. Zurich was meant to be the last competition for the Jamaican multiple world and Olympic champion, who clocked 9.98s in Warsaw on Saturday night to set an unofficial 100m indoor record, previously held by Frankie Fredericks in 10.05s – the 100m is never run indoors, but prior to the race Bolt cheekily asked for the stadium roof to be closed to claim the unofficial record! 

It was only Bolt’s second individual and fourth race of an injury-hampered season. His other two outings were at the Commonwealth Games where he made his debut by anchoring the 4x100m team to gold with a CR of 37.58s. It would have been fun to watch Bolt re-ignite his rivalry with former world champion, Tyson Gay (9.93s) of the US who would be attempting the sprint double in Zurich. Nevertheless, the 100m still promises to be exciting, as Gay’s fellow returnee Asafa Powell, who returned a stunning SB of 9.87s a few days ago in Austin, and newly crowned European 100m & 200m Champions, James Dasaolu and Adam Gemili will also be on show!

The Zurich Diamond League will be shown LIVE on SuperSports 2 from 7-9pm on Thursday, with Blessing’s 100m race at 7.59pm SHARP! YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS THIS!

Blessing Okagbare EXCLUSIVE Part III – On the Olympic Treble & On Reviving Nigerian Athletics!

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BLESSING OKAGBARE, recently crowned Commonwealth 100m & 200m Champion and African 100m Champion & Record Holder, speaks EXCLUSIVELY to MAKING OF CHAMPIONS on her career, personal life and on Nigerian Athletics! In this FINAL part of the 3-part interview series recorded in Morocco during the African Championships, she speaks on the possibility of attempting an Olympic treble, and shares her thoughts on what it would take to revive Athletics in Nigeria!

So is the Long Jump still your favourite event?

Yes, it is!

What are the chances that you will combine all 3 events – the 100m, 200m and Long Jump at the next World Champs and Olympics?

I will say 70/30 because the schedule is always off, and the long jump exerts more strength on your body, that’s the truth. I worked really really hard but there is something about this whole body. Your mental state can be fine but when the body has shut down, it has shut down. There is nothing you can do than give it the rest that it deserves. I don’t know if the schedule is going to permit me to attempt the triple that I did last year but I would really want to do it, trust me.

Do you think there is a case for you asking them to make the schedule work in your favour? They did it for Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis in the 90s…

They did, so we’ll see how it goes. It’s all politics! (she  laughs) 

How do you feel about Nigerian athletics today? There was a time we used to win a lot of medals on the global stage but now it seems like you are our only individual Olympic medal hope. Do you feel the weight of the whole nation on your shoulders?

No, I used to but like I said I put my priorities straight. If the people who are out there can’t do much to support the sport, this is my career. I have so much passion for what I do, I love Track & Field. I want to enjoy every moment of it. At the same time this is where I earn my living and take care of my family and I have to take care of it. I can’t wait for them; I can’t sit down and expect them to want to do something for me, so that is the difference between the people that are succeeding and those that are not. So if you keep waiting for these people, trust me you are going to be way behind.

Do you think that Track & Field in Nigeria can be revived to rival the likes of USA and Jamaica on the world stage?

No, I don’t think so. I’m not cursing them but it’s going to be really hard, it’s going to be extremely hard. Right now they are doing a lot of recruiting versus building on what they have – it doesn’t make any sense to me, you know, it doesn’t.

So how can we make that revolution in Track & Field happen?

I don’t know, a lot of things have been said in the past but it doesn’t look like they are going to change. They will keeping making the same mistakes and the government will keep changing and new people come. Some people who have no clue about sports will sit there as ministers and so on. First of all you need to find someone who has passion for this game, that knows the sport, that knows what it means to break a world record. Some people don’t even know what a world record or African championship record means. You need people who are educated about the sport. That is the way you can get athletes to do the best. Athletes that you are supposed to pay training grants in November, you then give them in April when it’s no longer relevant. They will just use it for shopping. You can’t give me that kind of money now, I will just go to the mall! They are always doing things at the last minute. That is one of the things they need to change because it is not taking us anywhere. It is just slowing us down.

Making Of Champions is working on a plan to start Professional Track Clubs in Nigeria and train athletes to go to the Olympics, giving them access to world class training in Nigeria. Do you think it’s something that could work in Nigeria?

It might be a 50-50 thing. I don’t know how successful it will be.

It worked in Jamaica…..

It depends on the people running this whole thing. If it’s going to work for them, good luck. I would just wish them good luck.

How would you like to give back to Nigeria, and play a role in reviving the sport across the nation?

I’m trying to set up my foundation. I’m still working on that but I have to make sure that I have people that I can actually trust because I don’t really stay in Nigeria, so I need people that I can trust to stand there when you need them. I still have so much going on but I want to give back to my community, my country and fans. I’m setting up my foundation to help young kids coming up in any way I can – probably put them through school, maybe up to college. It will be a great thing so I’m looking forward to that.

So if Making of Champions is able to start this programme to give home-based athletes training right in Nigeria, would you like to support that programme?

It depends! I can’t just put my money into something I have no guarantees will work…

No money involved oh, it’s just for you to mentor the kids…

Okay, yeah, whichever way I can support, of course I will!

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak exclusively to MAKING OF CHAMPIONS – we wish you all the best for the future!

Thank you!

 

If you missed Part I, on Blessing’s CAREER and her chase for more MEDALS and RECORDS, check it out here!

Or Part II, on her MARRIAGE, KIDS, and on finding her voice on Social Media, click here!

Blessing Okagbare EXCLUSIVE Part II – On MARRIAGE, KIDS & finding her voice on Social Media!

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BLESSING OKAGBARE, recently crowned Commonwealth 100m & 200m Champion and African 100m Champion & Record Holder, speaks EXCLUSIVELY to MAKING OF CHAMPIONS on her career, personal life and on Nigerian Athletics! In this second part of the 3-part interview series recorded in Morocco during the African Championships, she speaks on her upcoming marriage, on having kids, and on finding her voice on Social Media!

Now, you’re engaged to be married. So first of all congratulations!

Thank you!!

Do you have a wedding date yet, and will you be planning to start a family soon? How do you plan to weigh that up with your career aspirations?

Actually it’s sometime in November and I’m looking forward to it. But I just want to get the wedding over with. I mean when I get married I become Mrs someone, I would have a husband but then talking about a family and kids is not really in the schedule for right now. I already have so much planned out for the near future and I really want to achieve that. That’s why I just believe that when I can do this and put this in place, then the rest will follow.

So maybe kids after the next Olympics…?

Well we’ll see about that.

Your fiancé is an ex-Super Eagles player, Igho Otegheri. Have you discussed whether your children will be footballers or sprinters?

 (She laughs) Oh we always argue about that. He would be like ‘he would play soccer’ and I would be like ‘Play what? My son is not playing soccer. He can play basketball. I wouldn’t want the girl to be in Track but the thing is when they are blessed with the talent, there’s not much we can do but support them. I would really want to support my kids but I don’t want any of them to be in Track & Field.

With the two of you it seems you’re going to have some pretty talented kids….

They can just do other sports – a sport that can make them some money though!

You’ve started using social media quite effectively to make your voice heard. We’ve got some quotes here that you’ve made on Facebook, and we just wanted to ask exactly what each of them mean to you! The first one is ‘Do not mock a pain that you haven’t endured’.

It goes to people that just sit down and criticize. It’s a like the team goes for a competition and, they don’t know what I went through at the Olympics, and they say, ‘She just went there and failed’. The thing is, do you think I actually went there to fail? You don’t know what it feels like. It took me four months to get over London 2012, just to get over the whole mental setback before putting myself together. The thing is before you actually sit down to criticize someone, put yourself in the shoes of that person and see what it feels like, before jumping to conclusions.

The second one is interesting. ‘It is in the house of a coward that people gather and point to the tomb of yesterday’s warrior.’

(Laughter) I had people say so much about that. Yes the thing is some people say something right now, and they go back and change it, and they bring people together and talk about the same thing while they are not really going to do it. ‘You know I really want to be somebody, I want to do this, I want to do that’ and then they go back and change it; they don’t fulfill the things they said they were going to do. Or they just brag about something so hard but behind closed doors they do the opposite. But they bring people together and say all this stuff like….I call them cowards.

The next one is ‘When someone says you’ve changed, it simply means you’ve stopped living your life their way.’

Of course! Of course!! If I make you too happy that means I’ve been doing a lot of things that you love but the thing is you have to accept me for who I am. We might be friends but sometimes I tell people that there is so much that goes beyond friendship. Some people might go ‘You’ve changed; you’ve stopped hanging out with us’. It’s just priority based; it’s not like I changed.  

So on that note, how have you changed over the years and do you have to change to become a champion sprinter and win medals?

I’ve not really changed; I’ve just become more me and that’s Blessing Okagbare and there are certain things I can’t do. Like when I have a competition, you don’t expect me to be at the lobby trying to sit down and chit chat with people. I have to go to bed a certain time, I have to eat at a certain time. I remember how many times my coach made me go to bed in Glasgow and I couldn’t eat because it was too late, we came back from the track late. I go to bed starving and it is not fun. It is discipline. The thing is I get extremely disciplined. Like I was telling one of my friends that just graduated that when you are done with school, they start paying you a cheque. You get to another stage of your life where you just don’t say things or do things like ‘I don’t know if I want to do this thing, I’m not sure’, no you have to want it, that’s just it. I didn’t change, I just became more me, like I had to start putting more things on the priority list. The things I want right now, like I want this award, like Commonwealth GOLD medal, I’m not going for second place. This is what I want, so what is it going to take me coach? And then he says ‘This is what you have to do, you have to do this or do that’.

So the final quote from your wall is Biblical. It says ‘For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not delay.’ (Habakkuk 2:3)

Patience! It’s all about patience. Every day of my life has been a blessing, that’s what I see. I’ve been through a lot and sometimes I just feel like ‘God, you just forgot about me’ but each time I read the scriptures, there is so much I see that I’ve not even read in the Bible, that there is something called patience and you just have to be patient. When things start falling in place you will be so amazed at how wonderful it will be!

Tune in on Sunday evening for the third and final part of this Exclusive Interview with Blessing Okagbare, where she speaks on attempting the Olympic TREBLE, and she shares her thoughts on reviving Nigerian Athletics – stay tuned!

If you missed Part I, on Blessing’s CAREER and her chase for more MEDALS and RECORDS, check it out here!

Blessing Okagbare EXCLUSIVE Part I – On her CAREER & On chasing more MEDALS & RECORDS!

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BLESSING OKAGBARE, recently crowned Commonwealth 100m & 200m Champion and African 100m Champion & Record Holder, speaks EXCLUSIVELY to MAKING OF CHAMPIONS on her career, personal life and on Nigerian Athletics! In this first part of this 3-part interview series recorded in Morocco during the African Championships, she speaks on her career to date and on chasing even more medals and records!

You started off as a Long & Triple Jumper – how and when did you get your big break in your career?

Well I would say it started from my moving to the States. That was when it really started happening because I would say that was one of the best and greatest decisions I have made in my life, because if I had been in Nigeria, honestly I don’t know where I would have been right now. It actually started in 2008 at 19 when I won a bronze medal in Beijing. Then I didn’t know what it was but as the years progressed I got more education as regards to Track & Field and I figured that I had much more talent than what I was seeing so I just took it up from there.

So would you say your bronze medal kind of helped your move to the US, and getting a scholarship?

No I actually got the bronze medal after I arrived the States. That was my first year in college then.

When did you start sprinting, and when did you know that you had the potential to become a champion sprinter?

Usually we do a lot of running when we are jumping and my coach was like ‘You have a lot of speed to put on the track’ and I was like no at first. So it was actually in 2009 when he said ‘We are going to this meet and you are going to jump and do the sprints’ and I was like ‘Why?’ He said, ‘I just want you to sprint, take a break from jumping’. I was like ‘Okay, that’s fine, I’m up for it’ so I actually did and surprised myself with 11.22s, so that was it! That was how it started. Not every sprinter would just run 11.22s on their first race so for a jumper to do that, it means you’ve got the talent so I stuck to it.

What is the greatest moment in your career so far?

I would actually say the Commonwealth Games right now. It’s really new and fresh though but I think it was one of the competitions I really prepared for and everything was just in place. I was so relaxed but extremely focused, and executed much better than I have ever done in my career and it paid off.

What about when you broke the 100m African Record?

I was so happy when I won that race, just because of how fast I ran. I wasn’t worried about the African record. I was just really happy because I wasn’t expecting the race to be that fast. I was like ‘What!’ people were like ‘You’re way better than that, you just don’t know it.’

Which medal that you’ve won means the most to you?

I will say the World Championships.

Which of the two – the Silver in the Long Jump or Bronze in the 200m?

The Bronze in the 200m

Why that one in particular?

Because there is more competition in that one versus the Long Jump. It’s the biggest stage.

You’ve come a long way since the 1st Bronze in Beijing, and it took you 5 more years to get another global medal – the two medals at the World Championships. What would you say to Nigerians whom always expect instant success, and to those that wrote you off after London 2012?

Well I won’t blame them. I’m not criticizing them it’s just that we have less education when it comes to sports, and Track & Field and how it goes. I really want them to look more into this whole aspect of sports. I also want them to know that there is no magic in sports, as much as we the athletes want to go there and win, but there is always somebody who is working harder than you are, and more is being invested in that person than in you. It’s not like you don’t have the talent, you do have the talent but there is so much that makes an individual a champ. It starts from the way you eat or sleep, the people you surround yourself with, the people that educate you, the people that sponsor you, the people that tell you that you can do it, versus Nigerians, the majority of whom just criticize. They don’t have any education regarding what athletes go through. It got a little bit to me after 2012; a lot of people wrote me off but the thing is I believe God has blessed me so much more than what people just see for me to give up my career so easily. I knew that I had just started so I just kept my faith.

What are your hopes and dreams for the rest of your career?

Actually I want to do way better than I have done right now, like extremely better. I’m talking about attempting world records and putting myself in the gold medal position and I actually want to be one of the best sprinters to end up being in track and field…Sprinter slash Jumper! (she laughs).

On that note how much lower do you think you can take the 100m African Record?

I’m actually looking at a 10.5; 10.58. That’s what I’m going to work towards, which is not going to be easy.

It sounds like 9.58, like Usain Bolt?

Well, this is Blessing Okagbare. Like I said at the Commonwealth Games I’m going to work twice as hard as I have ever worked. Even a 10.7 is not an easy race I’m telling you, but that is actually my goal. I’m looking at a 10.5 in future because I’m still young and getting to my peak. Usually the peak should be between 27 and 28 and I’m 25 right now so as long as I stay healthy, I am looking at 10.5, 21.6 in the 200m, and 7.50 in the long jump. I’ve not been training for the jumps but anytime I go out there I still jump 7m so I have the talent to jump over that.

Well you’ve already answered our next question because for a long time a lot of people, including ourselves, have seen the 200m as possibly your best event. How soon do you see yourself breaking Mary Onyali’s African Record of 22.07s? When do you think you can go under 22?

I’m actually looking at it this year, with good conditions. I was trying to attempt it in Glasgow but the way they had that schedule (the semis and final on the same evening) was completely off for me. First of all the weather was horrible; it was too cold and damp so I didn’t want to push it. The semi-final was very easy for me so I was like ‘let me do it’ but after that, with the rain and everything, my coach said ‘don’t push it’. And you want to listen to the person that coaches you because they have been there before. They know the pros and cons of everything you do, so he said ‘don’t push it, just go there and win’ and that was what we did. I’m still trying to recover from the Commonwealth Games. I have still Brussels (Diamond League) so I’m hoping to run faster there. Hopefully I can attempt the 200.

Tune in later this week for the Part II of this Exclusive Interview with Blessing Okagbare, where she speaks on her upcoming wedding, on having kids, and on finding her voice on Social Media – stay tuned!

Blessing winning 100m GOLD at Marrakech 2014 in a new African Championship Record of 11.00 seconds flat!

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Hua Wilfried Koffi is standout athlete of African Champs ’14, after grabbing Sprint Double with TWO National Records!

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He was not even considered to be a major contender for gold at the 2014 African Senior Championships but Cote d’Ivoire’s Hua Wilfried Koffi has turned out to be the star athlete of the tournament as he raced to the sprint double with National Records (NR) in both the 100m & 200m!

He has also etched his name in the annals of history as the third man to achieve this feat, after Nigeria’s Victor Omagbemi set the pace at the 1992 Championships, while Former World and Commonwealth Champion over 200m, Frankie Fredericks of Namibia did same a decade later in Tunisia.

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The 26-year old was not even listed among the continent’s Top 10 in the 100m prior to the championships as he came to Marrakech with a Season’s Best (SB) of 10.21s. South Africa’s Simon Magakwe and Akani Simbine as well as Nigeria’s Mark Jelks were considered top contenders for the highly coveted title, but it was the Ivorian who stormed to the title on Day 2 of the competition with a Personal Best (PB) and National Record of 10.05s ahead of the Nigerian pair of Jelks and Monzavous Edwards. It is also the fourth fastest time recorded by an African this season. Ogho-Oghene Egwero finished fifth in the race.

Koffi admitted that he felt a bit scared going against Nigeria in the 100m as the country is reputed to have the best sprinters on the continent.

He said, “When I woke up this morning I said God please help me to win this race and my coach sent me a message that I was going to break my record. He said ‘just think that you are alone in the race’, and I did. There were three Nigerians in the final, and Nigerians are known for their prowess in the sprints so when you go against them you feel a little bit afraid. But I asked God to help me and my dream materialized.”

Not done with winning the ultimate prize and setting records, Koffi, who was rated Africa’s No.5 over 200m with a time of 20.45s stunned the continent’s fastest man over the distance, Isaac Makwala, in the finals as he set another PB and NR of 20.25s, while the Batswana followed in 20.51s. Prior to the championships, Lesotho’s Mosito Lehata (20.36s), and the South African pair of Akani Simbine (20.37s) and Titi Ncicihli (20.41s) had faster times but eventually succumbed to the Ivorian’s superior strides.

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Koffi is no stranger to the African Championships though, as he is making his third appearance in the biannual competition. He won bronze over the 100m at the 2012 championships in Benin and added another bronze medal at the 2013 Universaide where he competed for Shanghai University. However his recent feat is surprising for an athlete who is not yet sure of how far he intends to pursue a career in athletics, as he gets set to commence a doctorate programme in China.

“I train in China”, he told MoC. “When I told someone about it, they were surprised. It’s really not easy in China because we do not have many competitors there. I train alone and my coach is based in Germany so I receive my training programme via text messages or email but God just helps me to train every day. I don’t know for how long I will continue to train there because I am about to start a PHD programme in September. I don’t know if I will leave the track or if I will continue.”

Qualifying for the Continental Cup is a big deal for Koffi who says his goal is to do a sub-10 at the championships:

“The next step is to prepare for the continental Cup. My expectations are high because it is a dream come true for me; it’s a big deal. My aim is to break the 10s barrier and run as fast as Nigeria’s Olusoji Fasuba who ran 9.85s.”

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If Koffi Hua was the standout athlete of the tournament, and honourable mention must go to Isaac Makwala, who became the African 400m Record Holder this season, and was also the fastest on the continent over the 200m this season (both times were set on the same day). At these championships, Makwala won the 400m, finished 2nd a couple of days later in the 200m, and then returned a couple of hours later to lead Botswana to a stunning GOLD in the 4x400m over Nigeria in a new National Record!

 

Tyron Akins, Nigerian and African 110m Hurdles Champion, ready to give his ALL for his new country!

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Nigeria won an unprecedented 1-2-3 in the 100m Hurdles at the African Championships this week, and MAKING OF CHAMPIONS exclusively caught up with the three medallists, Tyron Akins, Alex Al-Ameen and Martins Ogieriakhi, trackside immediately after the race. 

(L-R, Alex Al-Ameen, Tryon Akins & Martins Ogieriakhi after medals ceremony, where they got Silver, GOLD and Bronze respectively in the 110m Hurdles at the 2014 African Championships

L-R, Alex Al-Ameen, Tryon Akins & Martins Ogieriakhi after medals ceremony, where they got Silver, GOLD and Bronze respectively in the 110m Hurdles at the 2014 African Championships!

In recent weeks, we have spoken much about the controversy surrounding the Americans who recently switched to compete for Team Nigeria. Though Akins was initially reluctant to speak to us again following what we’ve written about them on these pages, he decided to use it as an opportunity to air his grievances on our coverage of their stories, and to let ALL Nigerians know what it means to him to have been given the opportunity to run for Nigeria! See the full interview transcript below:

Akins: When I read what you guys had written, I was so taken aback because when I did the interview with you it was all out of love. I was like mehn I’m happy; this is my first time of being here; like this is unbelievable and then I read the thing and it came off as so negative, like these guys are just coming in and there is controversy and all that. The Nigerian people have done nothing but openly welcome us, so it hurt me to read it, honestly.

MoC: We appreciate this and we’re glad you can talk about this and we respect that. There are a lot of people hurting in Nigeria as well because they feel like they are losing their opportunities to develop because you guys are coming in to take their spots, and they don’t seem to be getting even nearly the same support as you guys are. We appreciate that you’re still willing to speak up on this issue, because you will need your voice to be heard in Nigeria, otherwise you may have an uphill battle in winning over the masses…

Akins: Absolutely! I know that and I don’t have a problem with that because I’m dedicated to Nigeria – that is why I have this shirt on. There are people who are missing out on opportunities but the thing about athletics is this – what this does is that the people who are missing out on opportunities have to go back and re-evaluate and say hey, there is something I’ve got to change. This guy here (Martins Ogierakhi), when I came in he could have said we have Ty here and all that, but he stepped up to the occasion. This guy ran a PB (Personal Best) two weeks back to back. He beat me in Warri, you see what I’m saying? He stepped up to the occasion and its paying off. We are together on the podium now. I just want you to know that I love Nigeria.

Al-Ameen: I know that there is a lot of controversy and in my situation, people say they don’t know my background and stuff. The reason why I switched was not because I couldn’t make the team in England; it’s because I’m Nigerian, my father is Nigerian, and I would want to represent Nigeria. This year I ran a PB coming into these championships. It wasn’t so last year so I’m grateful to be running with these guys. We are the best in Nigeria at the moment; it’s a good day for Nigeria.

Akins: Like I said, even Martins (Ogieriakhi) has run his PB this year, because we’re all pushing each other. You see what I’m saying? We swept the hurdles in the African Champs. I’m giving my all to Nigeria. As a matter of fact, me and my coach are trying to do something where I can come to Lagos and Warri and talk to some of the kids about maybe coming to school in the US, so when you wrote the negative stuff it really hurt me because it was borderline disrespectful – I would never take advantage of a place or come to Nigeria because it is an easier way or something like that. Every time you step on the track it’s gonna be hard. Competition everywhere. Anybody could have won that race today so I never take track and field for granted. 

L-R, Alex Al-Ameen, Tryon Akins & Martins Ogieriakhi being awarded their Silver, GOLD and Bronze Medals respectively by AFN President, Solomon Ogba

L-R, Alex Al-Ameen, Tryon Akins & Martins Ogieriakhi being awarded their Silver, GOLD and Bronze Medals respectively by AFN President, Solomon Ogba

MoC: So let’s get to the race. Congratulations! It was a clean sweep for Nigeria in the 110m hurdles. Tyron you won that race with 13.57s. Talk us through the race, how did you feel?

Akins: Well I feel good because our goal when we were coming here was 1-2-3. We never said Tyron you win, and this guy second or any of that. It was strictly 1-2-3. We were going to push each other like we always do. I knew I had a pretty good start so those guys know I was going to get out of the blocks, so once I get out, you come with me and we gonna be good to go. I know that these guys are going to come towards the end. Martins is a strong competitor so he’s going to be there all through the race. Our goal was accomplished, it was 1-2-3. It could have gone either way; he could have won, we could have run 14s as long as Nigeria won the medals, that was what we were worried about but the focus was 1-2-3.

MoC: Do you feel like this makes up for just missing out on the finals at the Commonwealth games?

Akins: Missing out on the finals in the Commonwealth Games was because I didn’t have any races. My last before the Commonwealth Games was trials, so I went a whole month without races, so I wasn’t really sharp. It hurt me dearly because I want to really represent the country to the best of my ability and I couldn’t do it because I wasn’t in the finals, but this is a sort of redemption so I’m pleased with it.

MoC: Alex, let’s come to you very quickly, you were in the final at the Commonwealth Games, and 2nd here, which is your first silverware for Team Nigeria, a Silver medal in Africa. How does it feel?

Al-Ameen: Well it feels good and I would say it was great that we did a 1-2-3. I was coming here to win but I’m happy that my teammate got it. I did make the final at the Commonwealth Games and it was a great achievement of mine because I put it down as one of my goals for the year, and to get silverware as well. I didn’t do as well as I could have in the final today, but I am so happy that I can win a Silver medal for Nigeria and myself.

MoC: Martins I’m going to come to you very quickly. You were the National Sports Festival champion in 2012, and won the title twice before that as well?

Ogieriakhi: I have won it three times back to back: 2009, 2011 and 2012.

MoC: Wow! So is this your first medal for Nigeria at a global competition?

Ogieriakhi: Yeah, this is my first medal and I am very happy. I was going for the first position. Seeing Tyron by my side, I had to push forward and I had to tell myself ‘I won’t let him go, I won’t let him go!’ Both of them pushed me to place 3rd in this very race, so I am very happy.

MoC: Where do you go to from here now? More medals for Nigeria?

Ogieriakhi: Yeah! We said it yesterday that we were going to place first, second, third here, so hopefully we can do more.

MoC: Tyron, we’re going to end with you. We know that the Nigerian press including ourselves have given you guys a lot of heat since you switched to Nigeria. Can you tell us what this medal means to you?

Akins: It means so much because I expect to get the heat; you’re doing your job and I respect that but at the same time I just want to let you know that this is not just something that I take for granted. I’m very very serious about this. This is something that is very dear to my heart so. Like I said when I read what you had written I was so shocked because when I did the interview I didn’t get that vibe at all, but to get this medal and not only that, to get this 1-2-3 sweep for Nigeria is so overwhelming; it’s hard to put it in words. I think we were so close in the medal count and this medal just put us over, I’m not sure.

MoC: Thank you for still taking the time to talk to us. We appreciate it.

Akins: You’re just doing your job man. I just want you to know that I’m very serious about this.

Hurdles Clean Sweep

American Lindsay Lindley becomes Lindsay Weyinme – after getting Nigerian passport through uncle who ‘married in’!

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Hey, would you like a passport in 24 hours to compete for Nigeria? Apparently we’re giving them out to anyone who’ll accept the offer…

The African Championships rounded up on Thursday night, and the big surprise for Nigeria fans during the week-long competition was the sudden appearance of new girl Lindsay Weyinme in Green-White-Green of Team Naija. We caught up with her after the 100m Hurdles final where she finished 4th, and this is what she had to say about how she was recruited to Team Nigeria (captured on camera by AthleticsAfrica):

Following the National Trials in Calabar, where we extensively covered the appearance of the newly recruited Americans to Team Nigeria, we asked the most pertinent question that arose – whether they should even have received Green Passport in the first place, given that Nigeria citizenship law clearly states that one must have at least ONE Nigerian parent to naturalise, if you were not born in Nigeria. Never in the history of Nigeria has any foreigner EVER received the passport because their great-grandparent or great-great grandparent was Nigerian, as some of them have claimed is their link to Nigeria.

All of this makes Weyinme’s claim as to how she got the Nigerian Passport even more startling. Is there any country in the whole world where you can become a citizen because your UNCLE MARRIED someone from that country? Not you, but your uncle? It’s such brazen disregard for Nigerian Law that one can only assume this young lady and her ‘Naijamerican’ colleagues have been rather misinformed and ill-advised in this whole situation.

Let’s not even get into the fact that she did not even attend the Nigerian Trials so her selection on the team is a big surprise, to say the least. This is the same situation with Robert Simmons, who also did not attend the trials, and has done little to justify his inclusion on the team, after not finishing his 400m race at the Commonwealth Games, and false starting earlier this week at these African Championships. The integrity of our whole selection process is at stake here.

It did not take long for more news on Wenyime’s background to emerge in online fan forums in Nigeria. It turns out that her real name is Lindsay Lindley, and it is likely that she was given the name Weyinme during the process of naturalising. Interestingly, the other Americans recruited to Team Nigeria have been given Delta middle names, such as Mark ‘Amuju’ Jelks, Monzavous ‘Jolomi’ Edwards, Tyron ‘Toritseju’ Akins, and so on.

They are all set to represent Delta State at the upcoming National Sports Festival, which just happens to be the first National Sports Festival that is open to foreign-based Nigerians, a classification which they now fall under. Which begs the question – is their recruitment really about making Team Nigeria better, or is it about Delta State winning the National Sports Festival? What becomes of them after the Festival? Only time will tell.

One thing is certain – it is very IMPORTANT that Nigerians do NOT direct any ill-feelings towards these athletes, who are merely embracing an opportunity that has been accorded them to advance their careers as Nigerians. What’s done is done, so they should be supported for whatever time they have left as Team Nigeria athletes (the majority of them are over 30), BUT as a people we need to make sure that we protect the integrity of the Nigerian passport, and what it means to represent this great nation – our immigration services has clearly dropped the ball here.

What’s next if we don’t close the loop on this? Someone will say their friend’s sister’s aunty-in-law is Nigerian and that’s how they got the passport? Essentially, almost anybody in the world can get a Nigerian passport in 24 hours to compete for us. You would think that this MIGHT be acceptable if we were talking about world-class, exceptional talents, but so far they have not improved Team Nigeria – at the Commonwealth Games only one of the recruits got a RELAY medal, while at these African Championships only one of them got an individual GOLD, which we still would have won anyway if they were not there, as we swept all the medals in that event. We even lost our Continental Crown to South Africa, winning only 8 gold medals this time around, as opposed to 10 in Porto Novo 2 years ago!

When all is said and done, this is not even about the recruits, and we want to re-iterate that we harbour no ill-feelings towards them, and we will celebrate whatever medals they can win for Team Nigeria at any level. What this is really about is how we see ourselves as a nation and a people. We need now to look deeply within, at our system, to make sure that born and bred Nigerians get the SAME opportunities, SAME privileges, and SAME funding as the American Recruits, because if that were to happen, Nigeria WILL surpass Jamaica & USA as the dominant force in World Athletics. It would only be a matter of time. Watch this space.

Nigeria’s GOLDEN GIRLS win 4x400m Title as curtain falls on 2014 African Champs!

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Nigeria’s outstanding 4x400m women’s relay team capped a remarkable season with their fourth back-to-back title at the African Championships on the final day of competition in Marrakech, Morocco. The team comprising of Patience George Okon, Regina George, Ada Benjamin and Folashade Abugan consolidated on the team’s impressive performance this season by sprinting to their first GOLD medal of 2014 with a time of 3:28.87s, with Kenya and Botswana following in their wake in second and third with 3:32.26s and 3:40.28s respectively.

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The team won bronze at the inaugural IAAF World Relays in May, and then upgraded to silver at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow barely two weeks ago, before striking gold in Marrakech. It remains to be seen the colour of silverware they would claim when the IAAF Continental Cup gets underway in Marrakech a month from now!

Their male counterparts also won their first medal of the season as they took silver in 3:03.09 as they relinquished their crown to Botswana, who had the current record holder over 400m, Isaac Makwala as the anchor leg of the race. Botswana took the title with a National Record (NR) of 3:01.89s, while Kenya finished in third place with 3:07.35s. Noah Akwu, Robert Simmons, Miles Ukaoma and Amaechi Morton represented Nigeria in the race.

The first medal of the evening was won by Amaka Ogoegbunam in the women’s 400m hurdles, as she finished second in the 400m hurdles behind South Africa’s Wenda Theron Nel who clocked 55.32s to win gold. The Nigerian champion posted 55.46s while Kenya’s Francisca Koki finished third with a National Record of 55.84s.

Chinwe Okoro added another silver in the women’s shot put event where she recorded a distance of 16.40m, while Cameroun’s Sally Dongmo won with 16.84m. Nwanneka Okwelogu placed fourth with 15.14m. The duo won GOLD and Silver in the discus event the day before, with Okoro taking the title with a National Record (NR) of 59.79m.

Dominique Duncan was a surprise Bronze medallist in the women’s 200m as defending champion Gloria Asumnu relinquished her title to Cote D’Ivoire’s Murielle Ahouré who won the crown in 22.36s, while her team mate, Marie Ta Lou Gonezie placed second with 22.87s. Duncan returned a time of 22.98s while Asumnu and Regina George finished fifth and sixth respectively with 23.31s and 23.53s respectively.

In the men’s 200m, Nigeria’s only finalist, Divine Oduduru finished in sixth with a time of 20.81s, in the race that was won by Cote d’Ivoire’s Wilfried Koffi Hua who added the 200m title with an NR of 20.25s to the 100m crown he won two days earlier. Oduduru, who ran a wind-assisted 20.25s in Oregon last month to claim a World Junior Silver said after the race that Nigerians should expect more from him in the near future.

National Champion in the women’s triple jump, Blessing Ibukun Ibrahim, finished in third with a leap of 13.35m, behind Cameroun’s Joelle Mbumi who took gold in 14.02m, and Nadia Eke of Ghana (13.40m).

Overall Nigeria finished second on the medals table with eight gold, nine silver and seven bronze medals, while South Africa take over as the Continent’s Champions with ten gold, five silver and four bronze medals. Kenya (seven gold, eight silver, ten bronze medals), Botswana (four gold, one silver, one bronze) and Cote d’Ivoire (three gold, four silver, one bronze) completed the list of teams in the Top 5. It will be recalled that Nigeria emerged overall champions in the last edition of the Championship, which was held in Port Novo, Benin Republic two years ago.

Team Nigeria Guide to 2014 African Athletics Champs – DAY 5 (Thurs Aug 14)

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Here’s the full schedule of ALL Team Nigeria Athletes competing on the FINAL DAY  (Thursday August 14th) at the African Athletics Championships, Marrakech 2014. Unfortunately this is not being shown in Nigeria, as SuperSports only have the rights to show the European Championships, which is happening simultaneously…

Never mind – Follow Making of Champions’ LIVE TWEETS,  POSTS and INSTAGRAM throughout the day as we bring you all the Action LIVE & DIRECT from the Grand Stade de Marrakech – stay tuned! 

 

Shot put Women
5.45pm: Final – Chinwe Okoro (NGR No.1, Africa No.2) and Nwanneka Okwelogu (NGR, Africa No.4)
 
 
Triple Jump Women
5.50pm: Final – Blessing Ibrahim (NGR No.1, Africa No.3)
 
 
400m Hurdles Women
6.10pm: Final – Amaka Ogoegbunam (NGR No.1, Africa No.4) vs Wenda Theron Nel (RSA, Africa No.1), Hayat Lambarki (MAR, Africa No.2) and Anneri Ebersohn (RSA, Africa No.3)
 
 
200m Women: NGR vs CIV!
6.25pm: Final – Gloria Asumnu (NGR No.2, Africa No.7), Dominique Duncan (NGR, Africa No.3) and Regina George (NGR)
 
vs Murielle Ahoure (CIV, Africa No.2) and Ta Lou Gonezie Marie J (CIV, Africa No.9)
 
 
200m Men
6.35pm: Final – Divine Oduduru (NGR No.1, Africa No.8) vs Isaac Makwala (BOT, Africa No.1), Titi Ncincihli (RSA, Africa No.4) and Wilfried Koffi Hua (CIV, Africa No.5)
 
 
4x400m Relay Women
8.45pm: Final – Nigeria (Africa No.1) vs Botswana (Africa No.5), Kenya (Africa No.6), Morocco, Ghana, Ethiopia and Cameroon
 
 
4x400m Relay Men
9.25pm: Final – Nigeria (Africa No.1) vs Kenya (Africa No.2), Botswana (Africa No.3), Ghana, Morocco, Algeria and Ethiopia
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