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Athletes for Berlin but target London

By Onochie Anibeze
Amaechi Morton’s mother is a Nigerian. His father is originally from Barbados. The father acquired American citizenship having been living in USA where he met and married his Nigerian wife. So, by birth and otherwise, Amaechi is an America citizen. But like his mother, he could enjoy dual citizenship.

It was on this basis that Pat Itanyi, the United States-based liaison officer for the Athletics Federation of Nigeria engaged Amaechi’s mother and convinced her to allow the 19 year old university student compete for Nigeria.

And so when Nigeria presents a team at the World Championship in Berlin next month, Amaechi will be among the athletes vying for honours for themselves and their countries. He probably wouldn’t have had such an opportunity now if he was competing for USA. But this does not reduce anything from his quality. It is a matter of opportunity. And Amaechi has grabbed one, courtesy of his participation at the just concluded Mobil sponsored All Nigeria Open.

But the young man did not know he would make it. Just after seemingly recovering from jet lag, he faced other factors – weather and feeding. He was in Africa for the first time, and so were a few other athletes Itanyi convinced to appreciate their Nigerian background. For three days, Amaechi couldn’t eat well.

The 400m hurdles event started and he couldn’t find his feet in his speciality. But he recovered gradually and entered for 400m flat event. And this has now raised the hopes of many as Nigeria begins track and field revival under the new AFN board led by Solomon Ogba.

Amaechi did not win the event. With his 46.10 secs he was second to Saul Weigoowa who is almost becoming a veteran in Nigeria. Saul ran 46.01 to win the event that he has dominated in Nigeria for some time now. With Berlin just around the corner,  nobody is expecting wonders from Amaechi where he will run in the 4x400m relay.

Nobody is expecting wonders from the Nigerian team either. All the talks in Abuja on few athletes centred on the London 2012 Olympics.  Is there any hope of Nigeria winning a gold medal from track and field? Can the sport fetch Nigeria about five medals of any colour?

In  Berlin, Nigeria had two bronze medals from track and field, the women’s 4X100 relay team and Blessing Okagbare in the Long Jump. Athletics  also gave Nigeria two bronze medals in Athens from the relays. Sydney gave two silver medals, from men’s 4x400m (which should be gold now following the withdrawal of USA’s gold for doping reasons) and Gloria Alozie’s 100m hurdles.

The retrogression has been on after Chioma Ajunwa’s gold from the Long Jump in Atlanta. There was no hope for Nigeria until the new board arrived. Even at that, nobody can bet for the sport. The rot is deep and not what the AFN alone can clear. This was also the message Dan Ngerem tried to send across when he laboured to bring life to athletics.

Blessing Okagbare also said last week that she saw no hope in Nigeria because “Ogba cannot do everything alone.” Interestingly she is one of those track and field people are banking on for a possible gold in London. If she cannot leap from Berlin Bronze to London gold, she has the great potential to help the relay team for a possible stunner.

Everybody described her as a potential 10.9 secs runner after she coasted easily to an 11.16 secs to beat Damola Osayomi in the 100m. Damaola is another cool headed athlete who can hit her peak in London. Obinna Metu and Egwero Ogho- Ogehene are largely home athletes and running low 10 secs. With a good programme,  they are potential sub 10 secs runners. There are signs Olusoji Fasugba could be another Uchenna Emedolu whom you could not trust with a baton when he is agitated, so many have chosen not to bank on him although what Lee Evans said of the sprinter will interest all. Watch out for the story.

Seun Adigun is another hope in the hurdles and Adetayo Adesanyo jumped 2.15m to win the High Jump for men. It was no World Championship mark and he will not be in Berlin. But he is among the athletes born of Nigerian parents who were coming home for the first time and who could grow and develop to be stars. Daniel Ogidi, a star in his time and now a member of AFN technical committee, commended the potentials in all these athletes but picked special interest in Amaechi after showering encomiums on Blessing.

“For a guy who went through the difficulties of a first time visit to Africa, feeding and all that, changed from hurdles to 400m  to run a crazy final  and returned 46.10,  you can imagine if he had been working only on 400m; you can imagine if he was 100 per cent alright, if the vagaries of weather did not affect him. I see a great Olympian in him. Watch out. He has age on his side, he is ready to work hard and he is ready to keep going,”

Ogidi said in what seemed a song. He continued: “I think that we may have another Olympic good outing in London. But we must have good programmes for these young athletes who may not be something now but will be great tomorrow. I look at Blessing, Damola and a few others and I’m hopeful. Watch out for this Amaechi boy. I think one can pull stakes on him.”


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