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Fabrice Zango: Lesson for Nigeria athletics

By Yemi Olus

Less than a week ago, 2018 African Champion in the men’s Triple Jump, Hugues Fabrice Zango from Burkina Faso took the world of Athletics by storm when he leapt to an African Indoor Record and World Lead of 17.58m to win the event at the Meeting de Paris on January 27th. Zango’s new African Record places him on 20th position on the all-time Indoor list.

•Fabrice Zango

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A couple of years back, not much was known about the 25-year old who was eliminated in the qualification rounds at the Rio 2016 Olympics where he finished 34th overall out of 47 athletes. At the 2015 World Championships, he failed to record a valid jump.

However, in the build up to the 2019 World Championships in Doha come September, Zango will be regarded as a major contender if he keeps up this brilliant form he has started the year with. It is no surprise that he has improved tremendously, seeing that he is now trains with former World Indoor and Outdoor Champion, Teddy Tamgho of France. Tamgho is also the current World Indoor Record Holder in the men’s Triple Jump with a mark of 17.92m.

Zango’s mark of 17.58m supersedes the Nigerian Record of 17.26m set by Ajayi Agbebaku in 1983 at the World University Games in Edmonton, Canada. That same year, Agbebaku won a Bronze medal in the World Championships in Helsinki, Finland. The following year, he finished 7th overall at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Almost 36 years later, Nigeria is yet to produce an athlete that can surpass Agbebaku’s National Record. If Burkina Faso can boast of a Triple Jumper who is currently No.1 in Africa and one of the best in the world, what stops Nigeria that has produced the likes of Agbebaku from doing same now?

The only Nigerian athlete that has come close to Agbebaku’s record is Tosin Oke who set a Personal Best of 17.23m at the National Championships in Calabar in 2012 and along with Blessing Okagbare, was Nigeria’s most consistent face at the IAAF Diamond League from 2013 to 2016. He is also a seven-time Nigerian Champion and three-time African Champion: 2010, 2012 and 2016, settling for Silver in 2014. He also won the African Games in 2011 and 2015 respectively.

Oke was crowned Commonwealth Games Champion in 2010, and won Silver four years later in Glasgow. His best performance at the Olympics was 7th place at London 2012, while he finished 8th at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing, and 6th at the World Indoors in 2016.

Oke’s last outing for the country was at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London where he was unable to go past the qualification round after placing 25th overall in a field of 30 athletes. He later revealed that he was not expecting to compete in the championship because his name was initially left out of the list of the Nigerian contingent, only to be added six days before the championship.

In his years of representing Nigeria, Oke had been involved in a fierce battle with administrators of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) and Sports Ministry over issues bordering on funding.

In an interview with BBCSports in 2017, Oke claimed that he hadn’t received significant funding to prepare for competitions. He talked about being denied an IOC scholarship despite winning Gold for Nigeria at the 2015 All-African Games.

Also, he had written the then Director General of the National Sports Commission, Alhassan Yakmut, requesting for funds to help him win a medal at Rio 2016. However, the request was declined after Yakmut claimed that Oke did not do the usual victory lap after winning Gold in Brazzaville, despite Oke sending pictures of his victory lap as evidence.

Oke eventually paid his way to Rio for the Olympics but had to spend the run-up to his event trying to get back funds he had spent in buying a return ticket. He said, “At this point my mind was definitely not on competing, it was on ‘this is a huge amount’”. It is no wonder he finished 23rd overall in the qualifying round and didn’t advance to the final.

Oke is 38 now, so it is expected that he would have hung his boots. However, the much younger Olu Olamigoke who finished 2nd to Oke at the 2015 All-African Games and 4th at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, was regarded as a successor to the latter.

In 2015, despite not qualifying for the World Championships, the IAAF gave Olamigoke a wild card to compete at the 2015 World Championships, having noticed his potential. However, Nigeria didn’t take him for the championships. Last year, he was listed for the African Championships in Asaba yet officials had not been in touch with him for several months to confirm his availability or readiness for the competition. He chose to stay away, and will only reconsider returning to international action when Nigeria begins to treat its athletes like they really matter.

Zango finished 5th at the 2015 All-African Games, which was won by Oke, while Olamigoke placed 2nd. However, the Burkinabe has now overtaken the duo and will be one of the people to watch out for this year. How sad for Nigeria!

 

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