By Tony Ubani, Maputo
ATHLETICS guru, Innocent Egbunike has saluted the performance of Team Nigeria’s athletes at the 10th All Africa Games, closing here tomorrow. Team Nigeria is second on the medals table as at last night’s tabulations and looks set to finish in that behind South Africa, in the final medals count.
The ex-international who would lead the Nigerian team as coach to the London 2012 doffed his hat for the Nigerian athletes but cautioned that the Olympics would be a bigger stage.
“The Nigerian athletes here have done pretty well but we still need to buckle up because the Olympic is a bigger stage. It is not yet Uhuru. There is a lot to be done but my joy is that it can be done. All we need to do now is to empower the coaches and provide the tools for them to get on the track before the Olympics”, said Egbunike.
Egbunike was placed on a special mission in Maputo as an assessor of the Nigerian athletes. He would report back to officials of the National Sports Commission, with a position paper on how to imrprove the performance of the athletes for the bigger assignment of winning medals at the London 2012 Olympics. If his paper excites them, he might be drafted into the squad to tinker the athletes.
“We have what it takes to rule the African scene and make a great impact at the world scene. Some smaller countries have proved that and we know that with the right attitude we can even do better. The athletes are good but they have to look into their inner selves and give their best. The athletes are running for Nigeria but they are also running for themselves. If they win, the glory first goes to them before the country. That is why I said that the culture and attitude must change for optimal results. There is not special area for any country anymore. Many countries are moving into new areas in sports. We must follow suit.
“Another key area we have to look into is education for coaches. Knowledge is power. We have very good coaches but we have to invest on them and in sports. That way, it will eliminate idle minds. We have to go into the grassroots to discover young talents and educate them. Education and sports co-exist.
“Take your mind back to how Chidi Imoh, Sunday Uti, Henry Amike, Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya were discovered. School sports hold the key. And that is the real grassroots program. I am blessed to have coached athletes to win gold, silver and bronze at international meets. It will be a thrill for me to give back to the nation that gave me the platform to excel in life.
Asked to compare the standard of events now and when he was running, he sighed and said that the standard now was a bit lower than when he was active. “The standard is a bit lower. I did 44.2 but they are running 45.2secs. But you also have to look at their tight calendar, too. In all, I think that Team Nigeria has done well under the circumstance but can do better”, the assessor emphasized.