SURPRISE: My 10-year-old Son Set to beat my World Record---Olympics Medalist

Bronze medalist in 4 x 100m at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Uchenna Emedolu, speaks about his career and retirement in this interview with Allwell Okpi
You had a successful career in track and field. How did it begin?

Though I did athletics in school, I wasn’t serious with it. Later, when I wanted to travel abroad, I said to myself that, ‘It will be good for me to have a skill or be seriously involved in sports so that when I get there I won’t be jobless and resort to hiding from authorities.’ So I decided to go back to football. I played football for a while and eventually, I travelled to Malta to play professional football. I stayed there for about one year and things didn’t really work out. I had to come back. But before I travelled, I had met Tobias Igwe, an athletics coach, who inspired me to run. He told me I had talent in track and field, that I should not waste it. I had started training in track and field before I travelled to Malta. After my venture into professional football in Malta didn’t work out as I expected, I decided to switch to track and field. About one week after I returned to Nigeria in 1999, there was a trial for the All Africa Games. I got to the final at the trial but I finished fourth so I didn’t make it to the Games. I trained hard and the next year, I was in the Nigerian team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. From Sydney, everything about my career in athletics began. In 2001, I won medals at the Commonwealth Games and the athletics World Cup in Madrid. I continued to shine in track and field until I retired. I worked very hard and I was determined to be the best I could be. And I know I had the talent. A lot of people wondered where I came from because I didn’t compete as a junior athlete and just shot into limelight as a senior athlete. In fact, one coach told me that I could have been the fastest man only that I didn’t start on time and I lacked some techniques that I ought to have learnt as a child. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to my children. I have decided that if they are going to do sports, they will start early. My boy has started running little by little. He is very talented and I know it. The other day he said, ‘Daddy, I’m going to do better than you’ and I believe him. He is 10 years old. They saw the clips of some of the races, and he said, ‘Daddy is that you? I’ll be better than you’. One day I took him to the stadium and he ran with me round the pitch; the entire 400m. I told him, ‘You must be very strong’.
Have you trained other athletes?
Since I stopped competing, I’ve tried to train athletes. Even before I retired, I trained about four athletes that made the national team for the Beijing Olympics but there is no encouragement for coaches and for athletes. The present leadership of the Athletic Federation of Nigeria has spoilt a lot of things. Nothing seems to be happening now. Nigeria is no longer a country to reckon with in track and field. Nobody is sprinting again on the global stage except Blessing Okagbare.

Is it that the athletes are not working hard enough or is it a systemic failure?

The problem is that nobody is committed anymore; the athletes and the administrators. Those managing athletics in this country today are not committed. The athletes need to be inspired to believe they can do it but they are not getting that. I quit track and field when I saw what was happening when Solomon Ogba (AFN president) came on board. Go and check my records, I was still running fast when I quit.

What have you been doing?

Now, I’m working with Bambo Akani on the Top Sprinter Genesis project. We are trying to see what we can do to revive track and field in Nigeria. I thank God that Akanni is passionate about producing new track and field champions for Nigeria. I believe the athletes we are grooming will be more committed than those who are representing the country now.

Do you regret not continuing with football?

I played football well but at a point I concluded that since it wasn’t working out the way I expected, God didn’t want me to play football. I believe God prepared a way for me in athletics. I don’t regret quitting football for track and field. I don’t go backward, I go forward.

Why do you think Nigerian female athletes are doing much better than their male counterparts?

I think the present leaders of the AFN focus more on female athletes than their male counterparts. That is why the female athletes are excelling more than the male athletes. If the federation becomes more committed, it will help the male and female athletes alike and the country will perform better at international competitions.

Realistically, with barely five months to go, do you think Nigeria can win medals in athletics at the 2016 Rio Olympics?

Winning medals at the Olympics is not by talking. You must work hard for it. There must be signs that you are ready for it. I don’t really think we have the kind of athletes that can win Olympic medals except Blessing Okagbare and maybe the female 400x100m relay team. I don’t see the possibility of Nigerian athletes getting to the podium at Rio but I’m praying for them to succeed. It’s easy to know those who have the chance of winning medals at the Olympics. If you check the ranking of most of our athletes, you will see that the possibility of getting medals at the Olympics is very slim. You can’t be ranking 100 and hope to win medals at the Olympics competing with athletes who are ranked in the top 10. For you to stand a chance of winning a medal in any event at the Olympics, you should be in top 10 in the world in that event, maximum top 15. When you are not in this range, it is virtually impossible. We need to sit down and find young athletes, who have great talent and groom them into high quality athletes who will represent Nigeria well. We can still find athletes who will be like Francis Obikwelu, Gloria Alozie, Mary Onyali, Olusoji Fasuba and others or even better. When we find them, they should be encouraged to bring out the best in them.

The likes of Obikwelu have said the way they were treated by Nigerian sports administrators led to their switching allegiance to other countries. What was your experience like?

I never thought of representing any other country. I always loved to represent Nigeria. I had the opportunity to become a citizen of Australia but I didn’t take it because I love my country.

Apart from your involvement in the Top Sprinter Genesis, what else do you do?

I’m a business man. I have a company that I manage, which produces interior d├ęcor and a host of other things. I’m also a farmer.



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