May coach Nigeria again
â€¢ Mobil Open begins today
By Onochie Anibeze
Solomon Ogba, not gifted with height, walked tall yesterday when legendary Lee Evans arrived the country courtesy of his invitation as the new President of Athletics Federation of Nigeria.
Ogba has repeatedly spoken of his burning desire to engage foreign coaches for athletics and the name, Lee Evans, has been on his lips since he assumed office about two months ago.
If AFN finally engages Evans, it will be his second coming as coach in Nigeria. Interestingly, Evans arrived with Ron Davies, another American with huge track records and whom he had worked with before in Nigeria.
Evans was in Nigeria three years ago on the invitation of Ogba who was commissioner of sports in Delta State. In one week, he organised clinics for coaches and games masters in Delta State and left.
This time around, he will watch the Mobil Track and Field which starts today, assist coaches in training Nigerian athletes to the World Championship in Berlin and possibly remain as some kind of technical adviser to the federation. But it could be a role that will see him train Nigerian athletes again as he did in his first coming when late Isaac Akioye brought the legend here to groom Nigerian athletes in the 70s. And his stay in Nigeria saw the emergence of athletes that made Nigeria challenge even USA in track and field. It was simply an era with memories that have remained green to the track and field faithful.
Ron Davies was in Kano, Evans in Ibadan, Don Coleman in Calabar and Sergha Porbeni in Lagos. Porbeni had just returned from USA and keyed into the programme that saw the emergence of the likes of Henry Amike, Yusuf Alike, Celestine Okwilagwe, Keyinde Vaughan, Moses Ugbusien, late Dele Udoh etc.
â€œIâ€™m happy to be back,â€ Evans said on arrival yesterday at the Murtala Mohammed Airport. Ogba was on hand to receive him.
â€œNigeria is a coachâ€™s paradise. Iâ€™m looking forward to helping out again. Interestingly, Ron Davies is here too. He can help out in the relays as well as the long distance races.â€
When reminded that a lot of things have changed and that the state of athletics had fallen below expectation, he paused and said â€œI donâ€™t mind hard work. We have to work hard and get it right again because the athletes are here.â€
Lee would be shocked that the facilities in places like the University of Ife which served as one of the camps at the time he worked in Nigeria from the mid 70s have lost the standard that made them training camps.
â€œI canâ€™t wait to work with Lee Evans again. It will be wonderful. Itâ€™s a great thing for Nigeriaâ€™s track and field,â€ enthused Porbeni, an expert in the jumps.
Evans was the first human being to run 400m under 45 seconds and remained unbeaten throughout his career. He is one of the sports legends in the world.
Lee Evans, a two-time Olympic gold medallist, set a world record in the 400-meters at the 1968 games that stood for over 20 years. He was also a member of the 4×400-meter relay team that set a world record in winning the gold medal in Mexico City. He is currently head coach at Southern Alabama University.
â€œWe have great challenges to turn athletics round again and Iâ€™m happy that Lee Evans is here, first to observe, possibly help us out for the World Championship and see how it goes. We would be glad to have him back,â€ Ogba said yesterday.
Track and Field expert Daren Esan described the engagement of Evans as â€œmassive for Nigeria.â€