‘Our Gains In Bahamas’ World Relays’
Though, Nigeria’s male athletes could not win any medal at the just concluded IAAF World Relays in the Bahamas, one athlete who is not in a hurry to forget their exploits in the Caribbean Island country is World Junior Championships silver medallist, Divine Ejovwokoghene Oduduru.
Oduduru was in the country’s 4x200m men’s team, which included Nicolas Imhoaperamhe, Orukpe Erayokan and Robert Simmons.
They dazzled Bahamas’ fans in the 4x200m race with what could have been a National Record (NR) of 1:22.46s in the semifinal, but were disqualified after one of the athletes exchanged baton in the ‘forbidden’ area.
They contested alongside athletes from top countries like Jamaica, France, Germany, Antigua & Barbuda, Namibia and Cayman Island in the race.
Oduduru and the ‘gang’ had initially placed fourth in their heat, and was optimistic of making it to the final in the 4x200m to erase the sad memory of not featuring in the 4x100m event.
Team Nigeria was forced to withdraw from the men’s 4x100m relay due to visa issues and ill health of some athletes, including Ogho-Oghene Egwero, Oghenetega Odele, Rilwan Fasasi and Tosin Adeloye, who could not make the trip to Bahamas.
“Since we could not participate in the 4x100m, we really wanted to make up with the 4x200m, but there was mistake somewhere along the line,” Oduduru told The Guardian during the week.
“Before I traveled to the Bahamas, I told myself that nothing would make me fear anybody on the track, even if I am placed side by side with the world fastest man, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt or Tyson Gay of the United States. It was the first time I would run with top stars at that level, but I didn’t really see anything different in those Jamaicans and Americans.
“I see Usain Bolt as a human being like myself, and my feeling was that, if he could beat other top stars on his way to this level of athletics, I could also upset some people on my way up. Those who watched our 4x200m race will agree with me that we deserved to be in the final because we actually ran a great race. Maybe, if we had a complete squad, we would have done better in Bahamas,” he said.
The 19-year-old Oduduru sent notice of his promise in 2013 when he ran a fantastic race in Mauritius in the Boys’ 200 metres race.
Till date, athletics lovers in South Africa are yet to forget what Oduduru did to one of their rising stars, Mokofeng Fana James, in the boys’ 200m event at Mauritius 2013 African Youth Championship.
It was the final day of competition and the South Africans relied so much on the ability of Fana James to stop Nigeria from winning the title. To them, no other athlete would outclass James, so their supporters moved to the finish line drumming for the anticipated gold. It didn’t come their way, as a divine intervention from Oduduru rescued the gold for Nigeria in a sensational way.
Oduduru knew that the expectation was much. Losing the 200m gold would mean Nigeria losing the title to South Africa. The race started and the South African athlete (James) took the lead. But a resilient Oduduru did a wonderful job at the curve and took control with the taller and much bigger James pushing.
The Nigerian continued with the pace and crossed the line first, though the opposition from Mauritius and South African athletes was so much. If Oduduru had lost the gold in the 200m, Nigeria’s hope of winning the title in 2013 would have slipped.
Oduduru won Nigeria’s only medal (silver) last year at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Oregon, USA. A few days later, he was moved to Glasgow, Scotland, for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, where he contested with senior athletes. He was also part of Team Nigeria’s contingent to the African Senior Athletics Championship in Morocco.
He was Nigeria’s saving grace once again two months ago in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where Oduduru, in his usual element in the 100m, sped past his opponents to take the race in 10.44s, the fastest time of the championship.
The Addis Ababa feat gave Oduduru the double title of African Youth and Junior 100m Champion. He also won the 200m gold to take Nigeria to the top of the table in Addis Ababa.
For Oduduru, the giant stride he has recorded in athletics within and outside the continent would not have been possible, if not for the moral support he got from the Solomon Ogba-led Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN).
He said that Ogba has torched the life of many athletes saying: “whatever we are enjoying today came from him.”
“Sincerely speaking, I doubt if some of us would have achieved any meaningful thing in athletics without the personal sacrifices and contributions of Ogba. I pray for him on daily bases, and I hope that one day, he will reap from the good fruits he had sowed in some of us,” Oduduru said.
But Oduduru wants the government to pay more attention to athletics this year, especially by preparing them adequately for both the All African Games in Congo Brazzaville and the IAAF World Championship in Beijing, China.