In the face of late preparations and low number of experienced wrestlers at his disposal, 2002 Commonwealth Games and Sydney 2000 Olympics gold medalist, Honorable Daniel Igali tells SOLOMON NWOKE that Nigerians should not expect too much from his wrestlers at the Glasgow Games, starting July 23
What are your expectations at the 2014 Commonwealth Games?
I am looking forward to a colorful celebration of the Commonwealth Games. I am looking forward to seeing about 44 nations compete for medals on the mat and also looking forward to sporting brilliance in Glasgow.
What were the preparations like for your wrestlers and how confident are you that they will win medals in Glasgow?
When you are in the heat of battle, you stop talking about what you could have done better. The discussion now has to be about encouraging our wrestlers so that they will do their best at the Commonwealth Games. I have always believed that it’s not how hard or long one trains that enables one to get the job done but how well and how smartly one prepares that gets it done. Ideal scenarios are the stuff of dreams. I can say we have done what could be done in the circumstances. The wrestlers, in my view, are in the mood to challenge for medals for Nigeria. They are motivated to win medals.
If you had your way, what would you have wished for the athletes?
Again what I would have wished for the athletes is now belated. I must admit that preparations officially started a bit behind schedule.
For Nigeria to even dream about winning medals at the 2016 Olympics, we really need to shift our focus from one month preparations to a more streamlined, focused and methodical long term developmental model. Preparation has to be a four year cycle-program.
Immediately we are through with one Olympic Games, the next Olympic cycle has to begin. For us to do well, our athletes must compete.
Until we decide to adopt high performance models in our sports system, we will continue to lament after every major sporting event because we are hardly harnessing the potentials of our athletes.
Was it proper to select the Clasgow-bound wrestlers from the E.K Clark Wrestling Championship held in Delta State?
The decision to name the Commonwealth Games wrestlers at the EK Clark Championships was probably one of the best decisions we have made as a federation. It was done in the open and in a very transparent manner. Most times, when trial selections are done in a closed camp, athletes always complain about being robbed.
In this instance however, the silver medalist and the bronze medalist who normally do not have a chance to wrestle against each other in a normal tournament ,were given a chance to battle each other. The winner was given a further opportunity to face fight the gold medalist. In my view, there is need to give athletes who will represent Nigeria the rest of mind to focus on training rather than worrying days to the tournament whether they would make the team. For this Commonwealth Games, we selected the first team two months before the Games and in my view, it was a good decision.
Our wrestlers traveled to Romania for a training tour just few days to the start of the Commonwealth Games. Don’t you think it came late?
Ideally, we should have camped in Romania for about six weeks However, because of circumstances beyond our control,we have just slightly over a week to spend in camp before leaving for Glasgow. But we still have another week in Glasgow before we start competing on the July 29. We therefore intend to make the best use of the time in Glasgow as well.
How do we guide against such delays in future International competition?
It’s a complicated situation. Most sports federations, including wrestling, rely exclusively on funding from the National Sports Commission and as a result, there is little we can do as a national federation to address this short-coming. I am hopeful however, that things will improve as regards better preparations for international sporting events.
Wrestling won a total of 13 medals for Nigeria, comprising three gold, three silver and seven bronze medals at the 2011 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. Are you optimistic on the present wrestlers winning more medals?
We are hopeful as a federation that our wrestlers will not disappoint Nigeria at the Glasgow Games. However, it would be irresponsible of me to mention the number and color of medals the wrestlers would win. My attitude towards these Games is that contentment with whatever medals we win. I do not want to put much pressure on the athletes.
During the last Commonwealth Games, as the technical adviser, I was able to predict with almost 90% accuracy, the medals we were capable of winning. This time however, my technical team is optimistic of our chances in Glasgow, but I wouldn’t volunteer information on the number of medals, especially gold medals. Only 30% of the members on the last Commonwealth Games team are on the current team.
As happy and excited as I am that there is turnover in athletes and new talents are discovered, it also means that we will be short of experienced wrestlers. We therefore have to be patient with results and not expect too much and ultimately put too much pressure on the team.
What target have you set for the team?
The target the federation has set for the team is for each athlete to give 100% effort on the mats in Glasgow.
Since you became the President of Wrestling Federation, the sport has witnessed tremendous development, how have you been able to combine the role with your position as the Chairman House Committee on Sports in Bayelsa.
First of all, my board members in the Wrestling Federation have made my work a little easier. I have very good relationships with the top shots at the National Sports Commission and the President of the Nigeria Olympic committee.
I also have the support of my Governor, Speaker and other members of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly. We also have the support of people like Governor Uduaghan.
The other person who has operated quietly behind the scenes is Amb. Boladei Godknows Igali. He is the chairman of patrons of the Wrestling federation and has really been a huge influence to the Nigeria national wrestling team. Later this year, he has promised to sponsor Blessing Oborududu and a coach to the World Wrestling championships as part of his promise to fund the most valuable wrestler from the Gov. Dickson wrestling Classics to a grade1 tournament.