I only gained fame, not money from marathon races, says Abbas Mohammed
• Recalls exploits at Seoul ’88 Olympics, Sicily ‘97
From mid 1980s till the late 1990s, there was perhaps no more beloved and famous marathoner in Nigeria and the entire West African sub-region than Abbas Mohammed. The guy was almost the sole reason why many Nigerians followed long distance races.
And for almost three decades, Mohammed’s national record of 2:16:06 seconds, which he set on September 11, 1990 at a full marathon race in Lagos, remains unbroken.
Apart from dominating the national scene, Mohammed was able to stamp his authority at the international level, competing with world’s best marathoners at the Seoul ’88 Olympics Games, Rome ’95 World Military Games in Italy, as well as the 1997 Summer Universiade Games held in Italy’s famous city of Sicily.
Before then, Mohammed had participated in the great London Marathon in 1981 alongside another Nigerian runner, Great Ishaku, and the Los Angeles ’86 Marathon, where he competed alongside Umaru Bukaboni.
The marathon legend, who is currently the Director of Sports, Nigerian Army in Borno State, was among top dignitaries present at the Government House, Kaduna, at the weekend, where Governor Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai rolled out the state’s plan for the maiden Kaduna half marathon slated for November 21.
Speaking with The Guardian, Abbas Mohammed said that marathon and road races are not encouraged in Nigeria due to ignorance.
He recalled: “When I was running, the World Record (WR) in marathon was 2.06.50 held by Ethiopia’s Belayneh Dinsamo. And my time then was 2,16:06, which I set in Lagos on September 11, 1990. If I had a sponsor then, and competed regularly around the world, I would have returned a better time and competed for the World Record.”
Mohammed revealed that one major thing that is working against Nigerian athletes is lack of planning. “We don’t plan in Nigeria, and that is killing our sports. That is why I always encourage our athletes, particularly the marathoners, not to wait for what somebody will do for them. If you continue to wait, you won’t go anywhere in your career.”
Looking back to his active days as an athlete, Mohammed, said: “I didn’t make much money from marathon races. What I gained was the fame and nothing more.”
At the Seoul ’88 Olympics Games held in South Korea, Abbas Mohammed competed alongside another Nigerian, Yohanna Waziri, in the men’s marathon event. Though, not much was expected from them, considering the pedigree of their opponents they were able to register their names in the hall of fame.
While Waziri finished 60th with a time of 2.29:14 secs., Abbas placed 70th in 2.35:26 seconds. Italian marathoner, Gelindo Bordin, won the race beating two Africans, Kenya’s Douglas Wakiihuri and Hussein Ahmed Salah of Djibouti to the second and third positions.
MEANWHILE, Abbas Mohammed has urged Nigerian athletes to give the maiden Kaduna half marathon the attention it deserves.
“With this initiative by Kaduna State government, I see a situation where the culture of marathon races will spread rapidly to other northern parts of Nigeria. It will lead to the revival of our sports industry. The athletes should start their training now. I am also appealing to other state governors and political leaders in Nigeria to take a cue from what Governor El Rufai has done. This will go a long way in arresting unemployment, youth restiveness, as well as solve the problems of criminality across the country.
“Even if they don’t have the resources to organise a full marathon with global elite athletes in attendance, they can organise five or 10 kilometre road races, cross country races and the half marathon. The corporate bodies should key into it as well. In my days, I made that national record in 1990 because of the Milo marathon that took place every week.”