As the African Championships ended Thursday in Marrakesh, Morocco Seun Ogunkoya nursed nostalgic feelings. At the same time, regrets rummaged through his mind because no Nigerian male sprinter could put up any serious challenge in the 100m final; an event Nigerians were once untouchables.
Ogunkoya during his time was the most feared sprinter in the world as fellow competitors like Maurice Greene and Ato Boldon showed him a lot of respect. Sadly though, Ogunkoya did not achieve his true potentials in track and field. He pressed a self-destruct button as it were and Nigeria, a nation full of dream killers helped him on the way to doldrums.
This is why today Ogunkoya is fuming. He argued that Nigerian officials have not really departed from the past, a development that has hindered countless athletes from reaching the climax of their careers.
“We are just paying lip service to athletics development here,” said Ogunkoya who held the African record of 9.92 seconds from 1998 to 2006 when Olusoji Fasuba broke it with a 9.85 seconds run in Doha.
“Between that time and now what have we been doing? Does it mean that there are no longer talents in Nigeria? Must we now be pinning our hopes on only one woman?” Ogunkoya, the first Nigerian to win the African Championships back to back 1996-98 queried.
He submitted that there are many athletics potentials in all states of the federation. He added that all that was needed was proper guidance; just like it was given to him when he rose from the junior ranks to become a world beater.
Ogunkoya rose to fame in 1996 after he won the National Sports Festival in Makurdi. At a tender age of 19 he became the youngest sprinter to break the 10 seconds barrier with 9.97 seconds run in 1997. Under the tutelage of late coach Samuel Akinyemi and later Tony Osheku, Ogunkoya made quite an appreciable impact in world athletics, before personal tragedies, lack of encouragement and poor management put paid to his career. His attempt to re-launch his once promising career in 2001 failed to blast off the blocks and he retreated to his native Akure.
“We still have sprinters like me out there in the grassroots. This is why I have taken to coaching and my aim is to produce another quality runner just like me and also to honour late coach Akinyemi who was like a father to me.
“So far I have two boys and one girl I am training. They are doing well but I found out that, those in authority do not pay attention to what the coaches are doing and they seem not to care how the young athletes are groomed.
“Imagine the last golden league in Warri, some junior athletes including mine were not allowed to run.
“ These athletes paid their way to the place on the premise that they will compete based on their previous performances in the golden league only for them to be denied. This is not very good for the growth of these youths,” Ogunkoya stated.
He lamented that the Athletics Federation of Nigeria hierarchy is not looking inwards for genuine talents adding that the recent hiring of Greene by the AFN was a misnomer.
“If we had the money to pay Greene, then why don’t we have money to spend on our local athletes?
“Greene is my good friend. We used to speak on the phone, but I was not comfortable with him coming to coach our relay teams.
“What did he achieve with the team that the local coaches had not done in the past? If Greene was so kind to have come why did he not reveal to the AFN the programme that was used by his coach to nurture him to greatness? I bet he wouldn’t.
“If that money that was paid him was given to local coaches here it would have been better used. Nigerian coaches and their athletes are in dire need of support. We should look inward and do what we are supposed to do to get results.
“We do not need to recruit athletes from abroad. It was from here that I was raised to become an international athlete. I still believe that we have athletes and coaches who can do it,” stated the former athlete.