STAR INTERVIEW: Olympic legend Chioma Ajunwa rues her 20-year Atlanta record still intact •Opens up on burning issues

By Daily Sports on June 26, 2016

Views: 15,670

Chioma Ajunwa-Opara, a Chief Superintendent of Police, is a Deputy Commandant at the Police Training School, Ikeja. She is a household name in the country and remains the only Nigerian athlete that won individual gold medal in the country’s Olympic Games history. That was    20 years ago in Atlanta, USA in 1996.

After a long chase by Daily Sports, this very busy officer of note finally yielded to pressure and granted this exclusive as well as revealing interview to MANAGING EDITOR, VICTOR ENYINNAYA, in her Ikeja office.

The very jovial, suave, disarmingly unassuming and athletic mother of three says she is not always at the right frame of mind each time she remembers that the record she set is yet to be broken after this long, a situation she attributes to non-evolution of athletics and other sports in the country. She revealed further that the 10.84 seconds Blessing Okagbare broke sometime ago was her (Ajunwa’s) record also not Gloria Alozie as both the AFN and the Media wrongly fed the public and international audience. She said it is necessary to set the record straight so that the future generations would not be misled. Please read on.

Daily Sports: As Nigeria’s only individual Olympic gold medalist do you think we are ready for the forthcoming Rio, Brazil Games later in the year?

Chioma Ajunwa-Opara: Hmmm, that intelligent question would have best been answered if I am in Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) or Sports Ministry. To be honest with you I don’t really know what is happening now because one seems like being phased out by people in the saddle. Let me quickly add that I am not complaining about that. My take is that things should be done the right way so that our athletes will train and prepare well for the games. However, Nigeria has no attitude to spend money on our athletes. It is bad seeing our athletes train themselves at the badly maintained National Stadium in Surulere (Lagos). Where in the world do athletes train themselves to become world champions, things are happening here, you know.

For instance, Blessing Okagbare was here before she went to America. Nigeria has not exploited her rich potentials in track and field. She is suffering from the same fate we suffered during our days. Nothing has changed from the topmost hierarchy. It hinders our potential at the global level. She explained how she was clearly robbed of grand prix gold medal by her white coach who knew her form and ensured she was over stretched some hours to the event even went as far as giving her the wrong time, according to her all was a ploy to make way for their people.

Have you asked yourself why she wins lesser championships and when it comes to Olympics and world champs she would fizzle out. These white trainers deliberately subject you to unnecessary rigor at the wrong time to pave way for their own. Until Nigerian officials face it squarely, our top athletes would continue to suffer it. We must learn how to do the needful. What is the way out?

If Nigerian officials could use their brain well, Okagbare would do better in world and Olympic events by disengaging her coach because all she needs during such period is mentoring in all its ramifications, not engaging in what would deplete her energy. It was what I suffered in that particular grand prix. The mentor would make her not to think about the race; rather she would be reminded of races done in the past. Pep talk from the coach gives you what will reduce your speed. Coaches ruin athletes. I am a typical example at that grand prix, I would have won it.

The point I am making is that the white coaches ruin chances of our athletes. They are not to be trusted one beat. They favour their own more than the others, what l have narrated above are practical.

It looks as if Nigeria is fast losing grip of her track and field prowess in the continent and the commonwealth, what’s the way out?

The truth is going back fully to the grassroots not the lip service kind of. We have for long deceive ourselves. That is the area that holds the ace if we must rediscover our fast fading prowess as you rightly observed. Many things have gone wrong; it is not too late though. Athletes have to be groomed from the grassroots. Our Government doesn’t like looking at the vital direction, due to those that advise them. It has been one of major drawbacks. In short, it’s the bane of athletics in the country.

Have we ever paused and asked why Jamaicans are doing well today, the reason is not because they are bigger. It is the wholly because of the way and manner they do their things. They don’t train in America or anywhere in Europe. That is what made them distinctive and unyielding.

Again they gather their ex-internationals in various specialties and give them the assignments to groom and train the young ones. If Nigeria really wants to harness her full potentials we must emulate the Jamaicans the way they sustain their athletes. It is the true way forward. We must first and foremost stop chasing shadows and ensure we imbibe the best practices. Put the records straight by attributing such to individual that made it happen. Taking my hard earned record to another athlete remains one of the dark spots of AFN  authorities and l am still at a loss to pin point the reasons behind such act of dishonesty which no doubt sent very wrong signals out there. However, it is against that backdrop l had to set the record straight.

Why not try and pass it across to the authorities for implementation, it seems the Jamaican formula would be viable?

How many times would one do such? I can vividly recall that I made incisive suggestions to the committee set up shortly after the country’s dismal outing in London 2012 Olympics, what has happened to it and other equally useful ones from other specialists. The problem here is deep rooted, you are quite aware. There is no developmental progression chart on ground as we speak. There is still much Nigerian factor at work where we wholly rely on foreign legion. It has really been our undoing; however, when we take a break we will definitely get it right. The big unresolved question has been who will bail the cat? Let’s leave all that for now.

… But I would like if you could go on …?

Nothing is moving. Look at the gold medal I won 20 years ago in 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games is there, unbroken. How do you expect me to be happy about such development? It clearly showed athletics is static in the country of over 170 million people where naturally talented athletes are in abundance. Athletics should be as dynamic as ever. That 20 years old record ought not to be intact.

Look at this, you can remember that Okagbare broke my record of 10.84 seconds; they said it was Gloria Alozie’s record. It is wrong attribution. It is my record. That further proved that Nigerians don’t like me. Alozie changed nationality and ran for Spain. Whereas when I finished in Atlanta, I was told to stay back, even the United Kingdom was so interested to make me change citizenship. I vowed to never against my country’s interest. I never allowed money to move me. Head or tail I don’t regret it.

Let me make it clearer that I was mismanaged by those bigwigs administering sports during my time. Just to help me get a first-rate coach, I sat down all day waiting to see any of those tin-gods in our sports arena that time without any success. They blocked all avenues for me to further my bubbling athletics career. Chief Segun Odegbami tried but the powers that be then were so unyielding. They ensured I was not given a chance to fully exploit the potentials of Atlanta Olympics success because self-centeredness that have killed our sports. The raw and open fact remains that I am not happy that my 20-year old Atlanta 1996 Olympics record is still intact, which clearly shows nothing is going on in athletics and other sports generally. It is the way we have been, which is too sad.

What is your advice to the young ones?

The young ones should not relent if they want to make any meaningful impact on their chosen athletics. The frustration from the top has been an age old thing in Nigerian sports. Only those with resilient spirit move on. It is the survival of the fittest. If you decide to wait for any AFN or Sports Ministry official, you are gone. I vehemently believe that ex-internationals can turn sports around in the country if we courageously adopt and implement the Jamaican model or pattern not of course with our usual lip service antics. Sadly, nobody is ready to give the ex-internationals chance to impart what they garnered over the years before retiring.  It is my vehement belief that succour would come one day and our athletics cum sports would excel.

•Photo shows Olympic legend Chioma Ajunwa-Opara.

Source Daily Sports

Posted June 26, 2016

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