By Pini Jason
It was the 10 seconds the world awaited with a suffocating sense of expectation! It was the 10 seconds that defined the London 2012 Olympics.
Like the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the London 2012 Olympics will pass as the most spectacular, the most watched and the most successful Olympics in recent times, well, one might say since the Atlanta 96 Olympics which recorded 8.1 million ticket sales.
But what will be engraved in our memories for a long time will be that famously expected 10 seconds. Then came the moment on Sunday 5 August 2012 and, like a blinding bolt of lightening, it was all over in 9.63 seconds!
Forget the 200 meters. We all know that the 100 meters dash is the main event in every Olympics. The winner is like the Victor Ludorum. We talk about him till the next Olympics. The 100 meters final lineup that Sunday bristled with stars: Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay, Yohan Blake, Ryan Bailey, Ushafa Powell and of course Jamaica’s iconic global brand, Usain Bolt! The question was who would take second after Bolt! Like a Ferrari, Bolt won the 100 meters dash in 9.63 seconds! The world roared from London to Kingston. In that moment of global ecstasy the only other thing the world waited for was his trademark lightening bolt pose!
During the 2008 Beijing Olympics when Bolt struck down Ushaffa Powel and Gay, a Jamaican cabbie carrying me from the Marriot Hotel, Tampa Florida to the airport said that Bolt’s mother explained that her son’s secrete for success was his relish for yam! Yam? I said in my mind that if that were so, Nigeria should produce millions of Bolts, especially from Benue state!
But for Team Nigeria we went to London with the true spirit of Olympics—to participate! How come a little Sugarcane Island like Jamaica can torment the world with world class athletes and we can’t? Don’t we eat enough yams? We are talking of the Olympics, not National Sports festivals where states rent athletes just to win medals. We are not even talking of All Africa Games where medals from the physically challenged make up the majority of the haul! Nigeria believes in prayers and predictions to win us medals.
You don’t prepare for the Olympics in two years! It is a quadrennial event! Nigeria appointed an athletics coach about six months to the game! Those in London now already have their eyes set on Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics. Olympics is a serious game and champions are like no other in the world and are heroes in every serious nation!
Our athletes, including the highly rated Blessing Okagbare, sensationally crashed out of their various events. Our hope shifted to Chika Chukwumerije, the taekwondo Bronze medalist in the Beijing Olympics. Chika Chukwumerije is a product of many years of preparation! Comrade (Igwe!) Senator Uche Chukwumerije spoke in London last week about his personal investment in what Chika has become today.
Comrade Chukwumerije, we must recall, was a leftist (if not angry Marxist) journalist and publisher of the radical Afriscope magazine. To add martial arts to his leftist bent was only natural. I bear witness to the kind of personal sacrifice and investment that produced Chika Chukwumerije.
Chika Chukwumerije’s effort
I have always lived in Surulere. Every Saturday and Sunday, young men and women trying to burn off the previous week’s ngwo-ngwo, ishiewu, nkwobi and odeku to create space for the coming week’s binging went to the National Stadium, Surulere, for exercise. Boxers who would one day represent us in international championships or become professional boxers trained on their own under the flyover! As far back as the late eighties, every Saturday that I went to the Stadium, I saw Comrade Chukwumerije and ALL his young children at the taekwondo class behind the swimming pool.
The investment he was talking about included time, dedication, discipline and money. Chukwumerije and his children came all the way from FESTAC Town to Surulere for practice! So Chika’s Beijing bronze was a product of at least 20 years of hard work which our sports administrators probably knew nothing about! For Chika, it has been a lifetime preparation. This is what catching them young is all about!
Let me also recall that Chioma Ajunwa’s gold in Atlanta had NOTHING to do with our sports administrators. The credit goes to Chief Segun Odegbami who picked the rejected Ajunwa (she had failed a drugs test and was treated like a leper) gave her hope, invested in her, took her to London for training and sourced sponsorship for her training. For redeeming Ajunwa, Odegbami was celebrated by the Mbaise nation and bestowed with a chieftaincy title, Enyioma of Mbaise!
We won the football Gold in Atlanta using footballers produced by Clemense Westerhoff. Let us recall that it took Westerhoff five years to produce the team that won us our first and only Africa Nation’s gold outside Nigeria and qualified us for the World Cup for the first time!
And because he stood up to the opportunists who exploited our footballers, they lied against him and booted him out. Then began the fraud that has ruled our football—packaging teams for competitions, so that we can win even bronze for the opportunists to go to Abuja to be celebrated and rewarded with cash!
I made a prediction that once we exhausted the rump of Westerhoff tutored footballers, our football would go under. That prediction has become a reality today! That is why the NFA or NFF signs coaches specifically to qualify us for semi-finals so that we can celebrate mediocrity! That is why they fired Samson Siasia!
He was wasting time experimenting with young players instead of qualifying us for competitions we would never win! You can see the impatience they are showing to Coach Steven Keshi’s determination to grow our football and thereby make our League a serious League. It took the Chipolopolo of Zambia at least six years under the direction of one of Africa’s best footballers, Kalusha Bwalya, first as a coach/player, then a coach and finally as FA Chairman to become Africa Champions.
The point I am making is that you cannot expect to reap where you did not sow. Something worse than that is to expect to reap when you DID NOT sow at all! I must admit that it is not every country that went to the Olympics that won medals.
Our case is that we are not even doing well in the niche events we used to do well like weight lifting, wrestling, table tennis and boxing. Our sports have suffered from our national state of un-being. In the sixties our sportsmen and women came from the Schools, Police, Army and Prisons.
These institutions favoured intakes with sporting abilities in their admissions and recruitments. Today we should be producing Olympians in shooting, archery, gymnastics, rowing, hammer, javelin, discus and shot put from the Military and paramilitary organizations. Our Ijaw brothers should be harvesting gold medal from the pools! Instead of shooting danfo drivers our police should be shooting traps!
We can do two things: Completely reorganize our sports associations and put them firmly in the hands of those who have participated in and understand the sports, not opportunists out for their pockets! For our football, the President should invite Sepp Blatter of FIFA here and make him understand that Nigerian governments at various levels fund football 100 percent as part of youth development and therefore have the responsibility to ensure that their investments get the expected results.
FIFA should therefore allow the government to sanitize our football administration and let those who have been in the sports all their lives run it like Kalusha is doing for Zambia. It is either that the government steps in to save our football or those blackmailers who run to Zurich to shout of government interference are allowed to fund it and run it their way.