Delta 2022 … Festival of upsets, new records, tears
Major sporting events across the globe provide athletes the opportunity to launch themselves into the reckoning. From the All-Africa Games to the Commonwealth Games, World Championships, and the Olympics Games, most athletes go the extra mile to prepare themselves with the hope of not only winning medals for their countries but also booking their slots in history books as record breakers.
The Delta 2022 National Sports Festival (NSF), which ended on December 10, at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba, proved to be one such event.
On the opening day of the multi-sports fiesta, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State threw a challenge to the athletes, not only to compete fairly but also to take extra steps to break old records.
“I welcome you to Delta State, but I want to see old records broken in this 21st National Sports Festival,” Okowa said.
For some of the athletes, Governor Okowa’s challenge meant a lot. And so, when the race for medals started on November 30, their focus was not only to win medals for their states, but also to equal, or break existing national records.
From track and field events to swimming, weightlifting, boxing, volleyball, hockey, and table tennis, records tumbled at Delta 2022.
For 36 years, the national record in hammer throw was untouched. As far back as March 1986, Christian Okoye threw 66.76m to set the record, and every attempt by compatriots to erase the record has been unsuccessful over the years.
But Okoye’s reign as the national record holder ended in Asaba, as his name was replaced in the record books by Chukwuebuka Enekwechi, who is now the new record holder. He did not only break the 36-year-old hammer record, but he also won a gold medal in the process.
Enekwechi, representing Delta State, was a class ahead of other competitors, as he heaved 67.45m. Okoye’s long-standing record was 66.76m.
Mostapha Al Gamel of Egypt holds the African record with a distance of 81.27m.
Perhaps, one event that many Nigerians will live to remember from the Delta 2022 sports festival, is the scrabble event, where some African champions were dethroned.
Akpos Malafakumo Best created a major upset in the event, as she dethroned current African Women Scrabble Champion and two-time defending champion of the NSF, Tuoyo Mayoku, in the Women’s Singles Category.
The Bayelsa State-born player won a total of 14 games and carded accumulative points of 1, 782 to win the gold medal, while Mayeku, representing Delta State, got the silver with a total of 12 games with accumulative points of 680.
Mayeku came into the Festival as the clear favourite, having won gold medals at the Abuja 2018 and Edo 2020 editions of the NSF. She also emerged as the women’s champion at the African Scrabble Championship in Lusaka, Zambia, two months ago.
Best attributed her achievement to determination and hard work adding that she was determined to win the title even before the commencement of the festival.
The records in the scrabble event also extended to the men’s category, where Olatunde Oduwole from Lagos State won gold in the singles category ahead of current African Scrabble champion, Enoch Tochukwu Nwali, also of Lagos State, and former world scrabble champion, Wellington Jighere of Delta State.
The President of the Scrabble Federation of Nigeria, Toke Akah, described the sport in Africa as a unique and unpredictable game.
“There is also some element of luck in the game. Invariably, the victory of Akpos Malafakumo Best is upset, but not completely out of place when it comes to the game of scrabble,” he said.
The Delta 2022 NSF was the fourth attempt for United States-based long jumper, Joseph Oreva Edafiadhe, a student of Newman-Carson University in the United States, who jumped 7.70m to clinch the gold medal for Team Delta.
According to him, improving his performance and being among the world’s best jumper is now his target.
“I feel good winning the gold medal, and I’m overwhelmed because it has been a long time since I started coming to the festival,” Edafiadhe said.
“My first outing was in 2011, where I did three foul jumps in the final and got no medal. My second festival fetched me a bronze medal, while the third time I won a silver medal. So, it is somewhat personal for me to be elevated to gold. I feel great that God did it.”
Edafiadhe said his next step is to take down Yusuf Alli’s 8.27m national record, which has remained unbroken for 33 years.
“Records are meant to be broken; when the right time comes, Yusuf Alli’s 33-year-old record is going to be broken. But for now, qualifying for the world and Africa Games are my targets,” he said.
In cycling, Ese Ukpeseraye of Team Delta emerged as one of the star athletes of the sporting fiesta, winning a total of eight gold medals.
Ukpeseraye, who was Team Delta’s leading cyclist, became the first female rider in recent times to achieve the feat.
Speaking with The Guardian, Ukpeseraye: “I am happy to have won eight gold medals. I give God the glory and thank my coaches and teammates for their support.”
In Dart, Team Ogun athlete, Lolade Adeyemi, set a new record, winning four gold medals. At the 20th edition of the fiesta held in Benin City, Edo State, Adeyemi grabbed one gold and one bronze medal.
The final race in the 100m even at major sporting events usually comes with high expectations. It was not different at Delta 2022 NSF.
At the last edition in Benin City, Enoch Adegoke won his first 100m title and was crowned the festival’s speed king. He was tipped for the title in Asaba, but lost out thereby failing to defend the two titles he won within the last 24 months.
It was Adelakun Fakorede, who emerged as the fastest man at the Stephen Keshi stadium in Asaba, that soaked all the limelight.
The Rivers State athlete came out of the blocks strong and coasted home to win at 10.25seconds, pushing Sunday Akintan of Oyo State to settle for silver with a time of 10.32 seconds, while Mabilo Nicolas of Team Edo State won bronze in 10.34secs.
In the women’s race, Tima Godless of Team Bayelsa State outpaced the field to clinch the gold medal in 11.32secs, ahead of Team Delta’s Okwose Faith (silver 11.50secs) and Ofoku Praise (bronze in 11.57sec).
For the first time in the history of the NSF, two American coaches were in Delta State to witness the athletics event.
The Head Coach of Mississippi State University (MSU), Chris Woods, and his assistant, Mark Quis, were at the stadium throughout the duration of the event.
The visiting coaches, according to the President of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Tonobok Okowa, were in Asaba to identify talents, who would be awarded scholarships to Mississippi State University.
“This is a good development for the National Sports Festival because any athlete that is discovered by these two American coaches will enjoy a better career in both education and track/field,” Head Coach of the AFN, Seigha Porbeni, told The Guardian.
Delta 2022 NSF was not about the able-bodied athletes alone, as special athletes also had their day in the sun.
Team Ogun’s para-athlete, Omolola Akinbode, won two gold medals, which fetched her a N2m reward from Governor Dapo Abiodun.
Akinbode, whose two gold medals came from athletics and shot put events, opened up on the challenges and disappointment she had to endure to be reckoned with in society.
Physical disability is any impairment, which imposes a limitation on a person’s physical dexterity, mobility, or functioning. People with disability generally encounter difficulties in making ends meet.
In some cases, they rely solely on assistance from others to survive. Their living conditions are quite challenging and their employment prospects are lower than their able-bodied counterparts.
About 95 per cent of physically challenged people tend to have psychological reasoning of being poorly treated, or downgraded in society.
Educational facilities for the physically challenged are usually provided with the different standards across the globe. Some families cannot even afford the expenses, while some believe that investment in education for the physically challenged constitutes a waste of resources and time.
But some families will go the extra mile to ensure that equal treatment is given to the physically challenged and able-bodied in their families, and those living around them.
At Delta 2022 NSF, some physically challenged athletes achieved what their able-bodied counterparts could not achieve.
While many able-bodied athletes returned home empty-handed from Asaba, some of the physically challenged athletes smiled to the bank as medalists.
Among them are Akinbode, who got a gold medal in shot put T37-37; Latifat Tijani (powerlifting 45kg category), Isau Ogunkunle (table tennis 4-5class), Kafayat Olaitan (table tennis class 9), Dauda Ibrahim (59kg class), Yakub Adesokan (49kg class para powerlifting), and Hakeem Rasaq (F40 para athletics).
The Head of Public Relations/Information of Ogun Sports Council, Bola Giwa, told The Guardian that para-athletes are examples of irrepressible spirit, gender equality and sports excellence.
“The real challenge associated with disability in Nigeria is not a physical disability in itself, but the retinue of unfavorable societal response or attitude towards disability,” she said.
She continues: “We should stop the stigmatisation of people with special needs in all spheres of life if we must be counted among developed and developing nations, where physical disability does not impair the ability of people. We have to help them to rise to the top in any chosen career, especially as sportsmen and women.”
For Team Oyo, the Asaba outing was a new landmark as the state’s athletes broke new ground by producing the first-ever gold medalists in four sports in which Oyo State had never done well in past.
First, it was Adekunle Adeyemo, who broke the jinx in golf, as he became the first-ever Oyo State golfer to strike gold in that event.
Adekunle, who is popularly known as “Lati,” was unstoppable as he won in the eclectic category.
That victory opened the floodgate of success for Team Oyo, as members of the team in three other sporting disciplines achieved good results on the same day.
The scrabble team achieved great success when the duo of Mosope Muyiwa and Kareem Jamiu, combined to win a gold medal in the male doubles category thereby becoming the first-ever gold medalists for Oyo State in the event.
In canoeing, Olasupo Temitope paddled to glory to become the first Oyo State athlete to ever win a gold medal in canoeing.
The first time appearance in over 40 years in cricket became a memorable outing for the state, as its men’s cricket team won gold, beating its Kaduna opponent in the final.
The weightlifting event provided the thrills and frills, particularly for the host Team Delta.
The event was barely two days old when defending champions, Team Delta, won a total of six gold medals to consolidate its top position on the medals table.
In the 49kg women’s category, Monica Uweh, of Delta State won the gold medal in the snatch with a lift of 75kg. She also claimed gold in total, with a 165kg lift, as well as, a silver medal in clean and jerk with a 90kg lift.
Fellow Deltan, and Ebele Agbah, won gold in clean and jerk with a 90kg lift, and silver in total with a 163kg lift
Ruth Asuquo Nyong of Nasarawa State won the silver medal in the snatch, with a 74kg lift, while Ebele Agbah got the bronze with a 73kg lift.
Augustina Nwaokolo of Lagos State settled for the bronze medal in total with a lift of 153kg.
Lagos State went home with all three good medals in the 55kg men’s category, leaving Akwa Ibom and Kano states to settle for silver and bronze respectively.
Didih Onome was dominant, as he claimed gold medals in the snatch, clean/jerk, and total for the Centre of Excellence with 86kg, 103kg, and 189kg lifts, respectively.
Theresa Daniel of Akwa Ibom State won all three silver medals after lifting 78kg in snatch, 102kg in clean/Jerk, and 180kg in total.
Journalists, who covered the Asaba event were unanimous in praising the organisers of the festival, describing it as one of the best-ever in the history of the multi-sports fiesta.
Some of the journalists, who have covered previous editions of the festival, expressed their satisfaction, particularly with the quality of facilities, as well as the day-to-day administration of the festival’s activities.
“Delta State, indeed, beat my expectations, starting from the upgrade of the sporting facilities, to the welfare of media practitioners, athletes, and spectators,” George Akpayen, a former Bayelsa United Media Officer, and NTA reporter said.
“… For what I saw in 10 days, I salute the government of the state and Delta State’s Sports Commission. The welfare that was extended to the visitors was very important. Imagine working in a comfortable atmosphere without missing the World Cup because it was brought to us even when the sports festival was also going on.”
“I rate Delta State very high. Other states need to take a cue from here,” said Hananeel Jackson, the current media director of Bayelsa United, who also works as an On-Air Personality (OAP) at Creek Fm).
“The hospitality given to us here is first of its kind. Delta State has done very well,” Oyo State sports journalist, Sunday Agunbiade, said.
“No doubt, every big event like this must have challenges, but what I have seen here, ranging from the facilities, timing, organisation, and welfare, I will rate Delta State 90 per cent,” said Ikye Nwoike, a former FC Ifeanyi Uba Media Director.
“This is beyond hosting an event. It shows the world that the people of Delta State are peaceful and friendly hosts. From the organisation to the reception, the verdict is satisfactory, Delta State won fair and clean on the medals table, and nobody complained because they prepared for it even with the short timing.
“This made me a proud Deltan, which many people don’t know,” said Francis Archi, who is the CEO of Totori Sports, as well as, the media officer of the national U-17 team.
The journalists also commended the professional approach of the Delta State Commissioner for Information, Charles Aniagwu, who daily checked and addressed journalists on their welfare.
Team Delta won the festival with a total of 320 gold, 200 silver, and 128 bronze medals. It was the biggest record of medals won by any state in the history of the festival.
And for the first time, Team Bayelsa came second with 132 gold, 115 silver and 90 bronze medals, while a previous, Team Edo, finished third with 78 gold, 94 silver, and 167 bronze medals to make the top-three spots the exclusive preserve of South South states.
The win in Asaba was Team Delta’s eighth victory in 10 appearances since the state made its first outing at the Benue 1996 edition.
However, the death of Imo State boxer, Chukwuemeka Igboanugo, left a sad mark on the Delta 2022 milieu. The 25-year-old Igboanugo represented the state in the 81kg category.
The Chairman of the LOC Media Committee, Aniagwu, described Igboanugo’s death as “unfortunate.”
The committee chair who said that the state has the best medical centre, personnel and ambulances, explained that where the sad incident took place, we had ringside medical personnel that usually check whether athletes are fit to continue the fight. A day before the fight, Ibanugo came and was examined by the medical team. When his blood pressure was found to be abnormal, he was asked to leave.
“Thereafter, he returned, and after a while they discovered that his blood pressure had normalised, and he was asked to come again for another test. And by the time the game started, they discovered that he had a little bleeding from the nose. The medics wanted to stop the fight, but of course, he was desirous of victory because if he stopped it at that time, his opponent had won.
“His coach and his team were desirous of victory, not knowing that other issues may have occurred internally. At this time, it was suspected that intracranial bleeding may have occurred by the time punching commenced, and this possibly led to some internal bleeding within his head.
“If it were to be a stroke, it is called an emoralic stroke in which the blood flows into the brain and it does take a long time for such a person to pass on. He was immediately rushed with a prepared ambulance to Asaba Hospital, and he subsequently passed on. We were so pained and in grief. As organisers of this event, we did all that we could. He wanted to be patriotic and he died not only for Imo State, but for the entire nation,” Aniagwu added.