Ojokolo praises Nigerian athletes despite finishing third in Durban
• Lagos to host 2018 edition
Former African track queen, Endurance Ojokolo, is unhappy with Nigerians carpeting the nation’s team for finishing third at the just concluded African Senior Athletics Championships in Durban, South Africa.
Two years ago in Morocco, Team Nigeria placed second behind South Africa on the medals’ table, but this time in Durban, the country slipped to the third position behind the host nation, South Africa and Kenya.
While some Nigerians see the third position finishing as disappointing, Ojokolo is of the opinion that the athletes did a wonderful job, considering the circumstances that surrounded the trip to Durban.
The team to Durban was without some top athletes, including Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor, who was Nigeria’s most celebrated athlete in 2014. Also, Nigeria’s most consistent male sprinter, Ogho-Oghene Egwero, withdrew from the race alongside female hurdler, Tobiloba Amusan, who has the African leading time in the women 100m hurdles.
Speaking with The Guardian yesterday, Ojokolo, who won the 100m title in 2002 and 2004 edition of the championship, said those castigating the athletes for finishing third should have a re-think.
“I am so disappointed in those people who said our athletes fumbled in Durban. In the first place, people should look at the circumstances our athletes travelled to Durban. About one week to the competition, athletes from other countries were already on ground in Durban, but our athletes did not even know whether they would make the trip or not.
“Some of our key athletes couldn’t make the trip due to one reason or the other. Coaches were also affected. I want Nigerians to celebrate the athletes. At this stage of our preparation for Rio Olympics, what they need is encouragement. We must not do things that will make the athletes remember the hard way they made the trip to Durban,” Ojokolo stated.
It would be recalled that only one coach, Gabriel Okon, traveled with the athletes to Durban following alleged failure by the sports ministry to pay visa fees for the coaches.
At the end of the championship, South Africa topped with 33 medals (16 gold, nine silver and eight bronze), Kenya 24 medals (eight gold, eight silver and eight bronze), while Nigeria won 16 medals (four gold, five silver and seven bronze).
The duo of Nwanneka Okwelogu and Chioma Onyekwere were part of Nigeria’s clean sweep in the women’s Discus, just as Commonwealth gold medalist, Ese Brume, retained the long jump gold she won in Morocco two years ago.
One sad moment for Team Nigeria was the injury, which prevented Divine Oduduru from competing in the 200m final, after running the second fastest time of 20.48 seconds in the semifinal. The hosting right for the 2018 edition of the championship has been awarded to Lagos, Nigeria.