Onochie Anibeze’s special diary on the Nigerian team

August 8, Mixed Zone, Olympic Stadium:

“To hell with anybody who says I have done badly.”  Did Ajoke Odumosu say this?

I like this girl, Joke Odumosu, a graduate of South Alabama University. She works hard and, by all standards, she is an elite Nigerian athlete.

As far back as 2007 Joke improved her Personal Best to 55.27 to win the 400m Hurdles Drake Relays in USA. At that time of the season, it was a world-leading mark.

Before this time, in 2006 to be precise, Joke was a silver medallist in the World Junior Championships. With Folashade Abugan, Joy Eze and Sekinat Adesanya she won silver in the 4x4m relay, setting a new African junior record of 3.30.84 in the event.

Joke was to win bronze in the 2007 All Africa Games in Algiers and in 2008 she won gold in African Championships, the same year that she competed in her first Olympics where a personal best of 51.39 seconds in the 400m pushed her to the semi-final in Beijing. Joke runs both in the 400m flat and 400m hurdles. She was born on October 1987.

Here in the 2012 London Olympics, Joke ran the race of her life to reach the final of 400m Hurdles, setting a national record with her 54.40 seconds performance. It was a rave moment for her and Nigeria who were yet to win a medal here.

The best we have done so far was getting to the final of some events. And that credit goes to Blessing Okagbare, Joke and Tosin Oke in  the Triple Jump. All are track and field athletes.
Joke screamed when she won her semi-final heat to reach the final. She knew it was no mean achievement to be in the top eight in the world. Apart from what she did for Nigeria  she will gain from invitation to big meets.

Yes, Joke is in the top eight in the world and she knew what she did to get there. And that’s largely why she was extremely happywith herself when she finished last with a time of 55.31 in the final. It was far from her 54.40 seconds in the semi-final and far from what she could do. she had hit a hurdle and lost balance and composure. She never recovered till the finish line.

Joke put in so much to get this far. She trained and trained and when she ran out of money she borrowed to train for the Olympics. Which other athlete did that? What did Nigeria do for the athletes coming here for the Olympics? For sports like weightlifting and boxing they waited till the last minute to camp them abroad.

Before then they did not go for competitions that could have exposed them to modern techniques. even those they camped were no world class athletes because Nigeria has had no plan to develop sports. The sports ministry doesn’t get it and the states don’t care.

Daily, everybody says we should return to the grass roots but nobody does anything to start the journey. Joke knew that she would fail if she relied on Nigeria for the Olympics and tried to help herself. About three months to the Olympics there was news that a thousand dollars was earmarked for each Olympic bound athlete as a training grant. That must be a huge joke to those who know what the Olympics are.

Athletics Federation of Nigeria President told me something in a personal discussion in Calabar during the Olympic trials. It was not meant for publication but Joke’s mood and remarks after her performance in the final here have compelled me to share this with you so that you can appreciate her position.

I hope Ogba understands. Said Ogba:  “I’m very impressed with Joke Odumosu. She has a good heart and she is very serious with her training. She called me from US and said ‘President, you know that I have run some races this year and made some little money.

But you know that it takes time before the payments will begin to come in. Can you lend me about $7,000 for my training for the Olympics?. I will definitely pay back. There are things that I need to be doing and cannot wait for my payments.’

This touched me and I said this is a serious athlete, an athlete who wants to win for herself and for the country. Of course, I sent her the money.”

It is clear Ajoke Odumosu put in so much for these Olympics. She even borrowed money to prepare when her country was lagging behind. The Athletics Federation of Nigeria did their best to prepare their athletes but they knew they didn’t have the resources to offer Olympian preparation. The Federal Government totally failed our athletes and should take all the blame for the outing here. They released N2.3 billion at the last minute and nothing could be done with it other than what we know Nigeria for.

I was with Joke at the Mixed Zone after her 400m Hurdles race and she told me the following: “I have done my best and I’m happy with my performance here.
I reached the final of my event in the Olympics, the only African to do so. For me, that’s a medal.

To hell with any person who feels I have done badly. I wanted to win. I don’t like losing and I put in so much to win but I hit the hurdle and lost balance and couldn’t recover till the end. It can happen to anybody. That’s sports for you. You prepare for a competition for years but in one second the whole dream crashes. But I really feel good. I’m not disappointed.
I leave here feeling good.”

Based on her personal sacrifice and her feat of being a finalist in an Olympic event, Joke has every reason to feel good. And she knew why she said “to hell with anybody who feels I have done badly.” Solomon Ogba should know and I know as well. I like this girl, Ajoke Odumosu.

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