By Nneka Ikem Anibeze

It’s not all the time that National Federations get commendations from their international bodies. Recently, the Athletics Federation of Nigeria received commendation letters from the IAAF President Sebastian Coe, the President of the Confederation of Athletics Hamad Kalkaba Malboum and the President Nigeria Olympic Committee Engr. Habu Gumel.

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In his mail, Coe thanked the President of AFN Ibrahim Shehu Gusau for Nigeria’s active participation at the World Athletics Championships in Doha from September 25 to October 6, 2019 .

“It is now clear from statistical analysis that we have just experienced the most successful World Championships  when measured against athletes’ performance.

“For that, I want to thank you and your delegation for the work behind the scenes that made these championships so outstanding. Our athletes have excelled themselves with a record number of championships, continental and national records and personal bests. More countries than ever before have won medals and, in many cases for the first time. We leave Doha stronger as a sport than we have for many years.”

On October 16, 2019, the President of the Confederation of Athletics Hamad Kalkaba Malboum also felicitated with the Athletics Federation of Nigeria. His mail partly read:

“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on Ese Brume’s bronze medal in the Long Jump event. This medal not only honours Nigerian Athletics but the continent of Africa as a whole.

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“While reiterating my sincere thanks and congratulations, kindly accept, Mr President and Dear Brother, the expression of my highest consideration”.

Back home, Engr Habu Gumel thanked the AFN for their hard work and dedication and for putting Nigeria back on the medals table.

“I have no doubt in my mind that as we plan ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games, you will leave no stone unturned to see that our athletes receive the most adequate training to enable them to perform better than Rabat 2019”.

These  three mails show that Nigeria did well at the World Athletics Championships in Doha.

One was Ese Brume’s Long jump Bronze medal. Two, the thumbs up for first time winners including National, Personal and Season’s Best record holders and making it to the medals table after  six years.

The World Championship is a competition ground for world beaters! It is not an all comers championship.  Not all athletes qualify to go to the World Cup. The standards for qualification are even higher than the Olympics so winning a Bronze medal at a World Championship is a big deal!

The fact that Nigerian Wrestlers or Powerlifters go to World Championships and sweep almost all the medals available doesn’t make it an easy task.

Imagine if the Super Eagles won  bronze at the last World Cup in Russia!

Oh! Story for another day!

I remember when Nigeria failed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations twice and back to back. I also remember Nigeria’s first qualification for the World Cup. We all know how far Nigeria has ever gone in the men or women’s football World Cup. ( Not trying to throw stones here but trying to drive home a point)!

Here is an athletics team that arrived in Doha on the eve of the Championships. ( I’m not willing to go through the administrative bottlenecks that the team faced before the championships).

For the records, Nigeria’s Athletics team were ranked 31st out of 213 member Federations at the recently held World Athletics Championships in Doha.

They won Bronze! This means that the third best female long jumper in the whole world, Ese Brume, is a Nigerian!

Amusan Oluwatobiloba came 4th in the 100m hurdles with a Personal Best time of 12.48secs in the semi final. She would have won a medal but for the distraction before her race. The eventual winner of the race didn’t even run 12.48secs.

Her fourth position also means that the fourth best female hurdler in the world is a Nigerian!

Also note that Chukwuebuka Enekwechi placed 8th in the men’s shot put final. He’s the 8th best thrower in the world.

There were quite a number of achievements recorded at the Doha World Championships which may not have translated to medals but definitely, progress was made.

Favour Ofili, a debutant at the World Championships set a PB of 51.51secs in the heats of the women’s 400m. Previously ranked 63rd, she’s now 21st.

What is a PB or SB? It is an Athlete’s BEST PERFORMANCE EVER. SEASON’s  BEST is the athlete’s best performance during the season in place.

Chioma Onyekwere, also competing in her first ever World Championships in the Women’s Discus throw set a PB of 61.38m. She was  ranked 36th before Doha. Now she’s 13th.

The 400m specialist Patience Okon George was ranked 62nd before Doha . Though she didn’t win a medal, her ranking has progressed to 19th in the world.

These are some of the positives to take away from the just ended World Athletics Championships in Doha.

The team could have done better with the right preparation but all the same, they did well with a bronze medal and three PBs.

In addition, seven athletes have already qualified for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Blessing Okagbare and Divine Oduduru have already made the Olympic mark to run in the 100m and 200m. Whether they will run is another thing.

Tobi Amusan will do the 100m hurdles while Ese Brume will compete in the women’s Long jump.

Raymond Okevwo and Isekiri Usheoritse will also do the men’s 100m while Chukwuebuka Enekwechi has already qualified to compete in the men’s Shot put.

So far, not bad.

However, there is need to instill discipline in the team. An athlete can never be too popular to be disciplined and can’t be bigger than the country.

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It is also imperative to note that some of these elite athletes ‘burnt out’ before the world event. This means that having competed in Diamond leagues and other Grand Prix where they get paid for even showing up, they were tired and had already ‘peaked’ by the time they came to Doha.

To forestall future occurrences, we  must begin to look at welfare packages and grants for Grade A athletes to help them with their training, supplements, bills and sundry. This will ensure that athletes don’t burn out their energy before competing for Nigeria at international competitions.

However, after  a six-year drought since Blessing Okagbare won a Silver medal in long jump and Bronze in the 200m at the  2013 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Moskva Luzhniki Russia, a Bronze from Ese Brume in the Long jump and three Personal Best records at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha are surely a lot to gloat over.

Take a bow, Nigerian athletes.

NNEKA IKEM ANIBEZE is a Journalist and  SA Media to the former Minister of Youth and Sports

Vanguard

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