Declaring a State of Emergency in the throws in Nigerian Athletics ,Nigeria, over the years, has been predominantly regarded as a sprinting nation, going by the exploits of some of the country’s sprinters on the world stage, talking about the likes of Innocent Egbunike, Falilat Ogunkoya, Mary Onyali, Blessing Okagbare and several others. The country has also produced exceptional jumpers in the ilk of Ajayi Agbebaku, Yussuf Alli and Chioma Ajunwa, who won Nigeria’s first ever Olympic Gold medal, having dominated the women’s Long Jump at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
In all of this, not much has been said about the country’s throwers despite having raised the likes of Adewale Olukoju who won several titles at continental level, and also won a Gold medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, or Vivian Chukwuemeka, another Commonwealth Games Gold medalist, and African Record holder in the women’s Shot put.
In as much as Track and Field in Nigeria has witnessed a downward spiral in the past decade, the throws – Shot put, Javelin, Discus and Hammer, are perhaps among the hardest hit events in the sport. In the last few years, the distances recorded in the event, save for the exceptional performances of one or two athletes, have been nothing to write home about.
Taking a look at the National Records (NR) in the throws, especially in the men’s events, it is very clear that a state of emergency may need to be declared soon. The most recent record in the men’s event was set in the Shot put last year by US-based Stephen Mozia whose mark of 21.76m put him on No.4 position in 2016, certainly an exceptional performance. Mozia did not compete in a lot of meets this year and is ranked 27th (20.83m) in 2017.
The NR in the men’s Discus throw (67.80m) was set by Olukoju in 1991. The NR in the Hammer throw (66.92m) recorded by Christian Okoye, is now 31-years old. Former African Champion Pius Bazighe’s NR of 81.08m in the Javelin throw set in 1999, still stands.
The longest standing NR in the women’s event is the Shot put record (18.43m) set by Chukwuemeka in 2003, which is also the African Record. US-based Chinwe Okoro set the NR in the Discus throw (61.58m) last year, while Queen Obisesan’s NR of 63.79m in the Hammer throw, was set in 2013. 2015 All-African Games champion Kelechi Nwanaga bettered the NR in the Javelin throw to 58.15m in July this year.
Whilst it is evident that some progress is being made, it must be stated that some of these marks are still a far cry from global standards. A cursory look at the winning distances from the 2017 All Nigeria Athletics Championships gives credence to this position. Samuel Adams Kure, who is currently Nigeria’s best male athlete in the Javelin throw, won the national title with 71.24m. The best mark in the world this year, set by Germany’s Johannes Vetter, is 94.44m.
Queen Obisesan won the women’s Hammer throw with 58.91m. The leading distance in the event this year is the 82.87m thrown by Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk. USA’s Ryan Crouser tops the men’s Shot put standings with 22.65m; the winning mark at the Nigerian Championships (in the absence of the US-based duo of Mozia and Chukwuebuka Enekwechi), was 16.51m.
In an interview with Athletics website Making of Champions, Feyisayo Daramola who competes in the women’s Hammer event, raised some fundamental issues. She said: “There is a lot that needs to be done. The new board needs to put more attention on the throws event. I know they are trying their best, but a lot more needs to be invested in the home-based throwers. Back in 2014/2015, we recorded better distances because we were throwing over 60m.
“If more attention had been paid to us then, we would have been within the 70m range by now. Because of the lack of encouragement, we are retrogressing instead of progressing. When you do not have any form of push from the federation, it tells a lot. Throwers feel sidelined especially when we consider the attention being given to sprinters. We have good sprinters, but I feel it’s high time attention is being paid to all events.
“We throwers in Lagos move around a lot just in search of a training venue. We used to train at the Police College, but we were stopped after some time. We then moved to the University of Lagos Sports Centre but now we practically have to beg to be allowed into the venue. Currently, we are trying to make use of a tiny space inside the National Stadium, and we have to be very careful so that the Hammer doesn’t go outside of that space because if it does, it’s going to hit someone.
“Things like these do not make one psychologically balanced because you feel like you’re just going to hit someone’s head when you release the implement. People keep complaining about how poorly the throwers are performing, but how do we break records when we do not even have a place to train?”
Good question raised by Daramola! Over time, Javelin throwers Kure and Nwanaga have also made an appeal to be furnished with the right equipment, as the pair currently use training Javelins to compete because they lack the standard Javelins used for competition. With Nigeria’s teeming population approaching the 200 million mark, we are armed with enough human potential to dominate whatsoever event we choose to.