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Will Ebewele be second time lucky with Team Edo ?

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Team Edo athletes and official during the opening ceremony of Abuja 2018 National Sports Festival<br />

One of the high profile sports administrators that will lead Team Edo to the 20th National Sports Festival, which will flag off next week in Benin City, is former Olympian, Brown Ebewele.

Ebewele, a Nigerian former national champion introduced decathlon into the nation’s athletics in 1978, while competing as an athlete for the then Bendel State.

Highly reputed athletics coach, Ebewele rose to become a Director and ultimately a Commissioner of Sports in Edo State during the administration of former Governor Lucky Igbinedion.

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As Director of Sports, Ebewele, against all odds, piloted Team Edo to the top of the medals table, when the state hosted the 2002 edition of the Sports Festival.

The stage is getting set for the 20th edition of the Sports Festival, and Ebewele, who is the Technical Director of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), is again the focus of attention. He is the Coordinator of Team Edo.

In the build-up to the 13th edition of the festival in 2002, the slogan was ‘Hosting To Win.’

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Then, the State Governor, Igbinedion and his Delta State counterpart, Chief James Ibori were the best of friends, running things together under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Before Edo 2002 sports festival in Benin City, Team Delta had gone to Bauchi to re-write history by beating all contenders to top the medals table for the first time since the creation of Edo and Delta from the old Bendel State. It became a big challenge to Governor Igbinedion.

At the state’s executive council meeting chaired by Governor Igbinedion in Benin City, the dominant question was who could stop the rampaging Team Delta?

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Ebewele, who was then a Director of Sports, was brought into the picture for a rescue mission. And at the end of hostilities, the Jujuman, as Ebewele is fondly called, delivered, leading Team Edo to the top with the highest number of gold medals ever recorded in the history of the National Sports Festival.

Team Edo got an astonishing 179 gold, 107 silver and 88 bronze medals against Team Delta’s 91 gold, 55 silvers and 80 bronze. Lagos garnered 36 gold, 62 silvers and 86 bronze medals to finish third.

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Some of the athletes, who competed for Team Edo at the 2002 sports festival, later revealed the secret behind their success, saying that Ebewele’s never-say-die-attitude gave them the zeal and determination to become champions.

Patience Okoro, a heptathlon, who emerged as the star athlete at the end of Edo 2002 sports festival, recalled in a chat with The Guardian: “Under Brown Ebewele, you can’t be lazy. The athletes just have to give their best. He will pet you when necessary, yell at you when necessary and psyche you up when you are down. Ebewele has unique ways of getting the results.”

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At the beginning of his athletics career, Ebewele competed for Lagos State as a junior athlete in the maiden edition of the National Sports Festival in 1973. He was a junior hammer thrower then. He also represented Lagos State at the second edition of the fiesta in 1975. The two editions of the sports festival were held in Lagos but were won by the then Midwest state.

Ebewele’s first competition for the then Bendel State was at Kaduna ‘77 edition of the National Sports Festival. Competing as a mature athlete, Ebewele won a gold medal for Bendel State and also set a national record in the hammer event in Kaduna.

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That same year, Nigeria hosted the West African Games in Lagos, and Ebewele, who also competed in the hammer event, came across a coach who introduced him to the decathlon event.

That marked the beginning of his journey into decathlon. Ebewele went on to represent Nigeria at 1978 All African Games in Algiers, and grabbed a silver medal in decathlon. He also represented the country at many international competitions.

Edo 2020 National Sports Festival is around the corner and Ebewele is confident of running a successful race as he did 18 years ago.

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Like Edo 2002, the slogan for this year’s edition is ‘hosting to win.’ Ebewele says he would do everything possible to take Team Edo to the top of the medals table when the curtain falls on April 4.

At the last edition of the sports festival, tagged ‘Abuja 2018,’ Team Delta won with an astonishing 163 gold, 88 silver, and 101 bronze medals. Delta had won all editions of the festival but two (Edo 2002 and Garden City 2011) since the return to democracy in 1999.

Ebewele is of the opinion that things will change this time. “Delta has quality athletes and coaches, but we are ready for them,” he told The Guardian at the end of AFN Classics in Ado Ekiti two weeks ago.

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He revealed that Edo State government had employed more than 600 athletes for the sports festival.

“We should be able to make good use of the services of the athletes,” he said. “My job is to put in place a structure for us to win the festival, and as far as I am concerned, I have put that winning structure in place, especially with the employment of the needed athletes.

“Sports is my business and we have capable coaches and personnel who are familiar with the terrain. We did it in Edo 2002 and I think we can still go for it again,” Ebewele said.

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Today, organizers of the Edo 2020 will test run the various facilities for the Games with a track and field meet at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium.

Ebewele confirmed that some of the best home-based athletes would feature in the meet ahead of the opening ceremony of the festival on March 22.

Already, some selected athletes have arrived in Benin City to run in the 100m, 400m, 800m and the relays (4x100m and the 4x400m).

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According to Ebewele, field events like High Jump (women), Long Jump (men) and Shot Put would compete for honours today’s test run meet.

Technical officials and some lawmakers from Abuja had arrived in Benin three days ago to inspect the facilities provided by Edo State to host the 2020 Games.

Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki and his deputy, Philip Shaibu, joined the inspection team shortly after the state’s Exco meeting on Wednesday.

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The Governor had earlier on Tuesday night done an unscheduled visit to the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium to check some of the facilities the contractor was putting finishing touches to. He expressed his happiness at the speed with which the contractor was working day and night to meet the target of delivery one week before the opening ceremony.

Unlike the 2002 edition, when some of the facilities were not ready before the Games, Edo 2020 may be different. From the ultramodern gymnasium hall to the squash courts, boxing, and the tartan track, the government and people of Edo look ready the nation’s youths in what Sports Minister, Sunday Dare has described as Nigeria’s own Olympics.

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Perhaps, one of the key aspects that might determine victory at Edo 2020 could be the interest shown by the various state governors.

Governor Obaseki has demonstrated that he has capable men who can deliver. His Delta state counterpart, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa is thinking of winning the fiesta a second time (after Abuja 2018) to equal the two titles the state won during Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan’s tenure. If Team Delta wins, the next edition in 2022 will give Okowa the chance to equal the three titles Delta won under Governor Ibori’s tenure.

Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and his Rivers State counterpart, Governor Nyesom Wike, maybe waiting for a chance to ‘steal’ the show at Edo 2020.

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