At the 2018 Nigerian Sports Awards which was held last week, a winner emerged from the three athletes who made the final cut in the Track and Field Star of the Year category. Incidentally, all three nominees are female: Ese Brume (Long Jump), Joy Udo-Gabriel (100m/200m), and Tobi Amusan (100m Hurdles). All three nominees had a phenomenal 2018, but it was Amusan who eventually won the award.
Amusan ended the 2018 Athletics season as joint 12th on the world rankings with former Olympic Champion and reigning World Champion in the 100m Hurdles, Sally Pearson. Both hurdlers recorded Season’s Bests (SB) of 12.68secs.
Amusan, who set a Personal Best of 12.57secs last year while winning the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) title, was Nigeria’s biggest Track and Field performer this year. Her season started early as she competed in the 60m Hurdles at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham in March where she made the final.
Her next stop was the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast where she narrowly missed the Games record enroute her victory in the 100m Hurdles where she struck Gold ahead of former World Champion Danielle Williams of Jamaica. Amusan was Nigeria’s only individual Gold medallist in Track and Field in Gold Coast asides Suwaibidu Galadima who also won Gold in the Para-Athletics event.
She also made history by becoming the first Nigerian to win a Gold medal in the 100m Hurdles at the Commonwealth Games. She later teamed up with Blessing Okagbare, Udo-Gabriel and Rosemary Chukwuma to win a Bronze medal in the 4x100m in Gold Coast. The hurdler who signed a deal with Adidas after her exploits last year, also made her IAAF Diamond League debut this year.
She competed at the Rome Diamond League in May where she placed 3rd. She also raced in the Drake Relays in the US where she finished 2nd to World Record holder in the event, Kendra Harrison.
Amusan was favoured to clinch the African title in Asaba and she did just that, winning Gold at her first African Senior Championships. She ended her season at the IAAF Continental Cup where she placed 5th. Amusan is Africa’s second ever fastest athlete in the 100m Hurdles, with only Glory Alozie ahead of her with the Nigerian and African Record of 12.44s.
For Brume, 2018 was the year she made her debut at the prestigious IAAF Diamond League – the series of elite meetings for the best athletes in the world. Sometime in July, Brume competed in the eighth leg of the series held in Lausanne, Switzerland, finishing 4th in the women’s Long Jump with a leap of 6.66m.
Brume’s best distance this year is her jump of 6.82m (just 1cm off her Personal Best), which she recorded at the Jamaica Invitational in Kingston where she set a Meeting Record to win the event. She went on to compete at the African Senior Championships in Asaba where she retained her title, making her the first athlete (male or female) in African Championships history to win three consecutive Long Jump titles.
She ended her season at the IAAF Continental Cup in Ostrava where she represented Africa and placed 4th with 6.61m. Brume is ranked No.11 on the 2018 world rankings and No.1 in Africa. She was also Nigeria’s best individual performer in Track and Field at the 2016 Olympics in Rio where she finished 5th in the final.
Having highlighted the achievements of both Amusan and Brume in the course of the 2018 Athletics season, I would want to ask, what plans do the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) and Ministry of Sports have for these two talented athletes and their counterparts ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo? With the right investment, these athletes are medal hopefuls at the World Championships and Olympics any day.
Despite both winning Gold for Nigeria at the African Championships in Asaba, it is sad to say that Brume and Amusan, along with Okagbare and Divine Oduduru, had to reject the allowances given to them at the end of the championships as the money that was eventually offered to them was less than half of all that had accrued to them. As of today, none of these athletes have been awarded any bonuses or prizes for winning medals in Asaba, even though promises had been made to that effect. How then do we motivate these athletes to give their best for the nation?
Tokyo 2020 is already around the corner, and it appears that we feel no sense of shame from not winning a single medal at London 2012, or returning home with a meagre Bronze medal from Rio 2016. Going by the ‘body language’ of the Ministry of Sports, it seems we have no plans of making an impact in Tokyo as the ministry is yet to provide a blueprint ahead of the Olympics.
Recently, President of the Nigeria Wrestling Federation – Daniel Igali, a Gold medallist at the 2000 Olympic Games, and one of the best performing sports federation presidents, had to make a clarion call: “SOS to President Buhari: please declare a total emergency in the Sports sector and the preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. I have seen enough from Rio 2016 to warn that if the needed funding and preparations are not effected immediately, ‘the Giant of Africa’ may not even celebrate a Bronze medal in Tokyo!”