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Ofilispeaks Success Showcase: 4 Nigerian Olympic Medalists Overcome Obstacles To Become Champions

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Tajikistan a landlocked sovereign country in Central Asia with a population of barely 8 million won a bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympics. However Nigeria, with a 170 million plus people did not win a single Olympic medal! With facts like that, it’s easy to forget that Nigeria once won Olympic medals and they did so despite many obstacles.

Cue Glory Alozie (Silver medallist 2000 Sydney Olympics), Deji Aliu (Bronze medallist 2004 Athens Olympics), Francis Obikwelu (Under Portugal Silver medalist Athens 2004) and Uchenna Emedolu (Bronze: Athens 2004), all Nigerian born athletes who will tell us how they overcame their obstacles to become champions.

However, it’s not easy to catch up with 4 of the fastest Nigerians in the world. But thanks to Making Of Champions I was able to get all four of them in the same room to talk and here’s what they had to say…

Francis Obikwelu: The Fighting Warrior
Francis-Obikwelu
In 2004, Nigerian born Francis Obikwelu won a silver medal at the Athens 2004 Olympics game running for Portugal. While his switch from Nigeria to Portugal was mired with nationalistic controversy, Francis Obikwelu had to overcome a lot to be able to stand on the podium…

In his teenage years, he moved to Portugal with hopes of joining an athletic club but after getting rejected by two top clubs he had to pick up work as a construction worker before eventually joining the Belenenses sport club.

And then in 2000 after competing at the Sydney Olympics for Nigeria, he injured his knee and required surgery. With no support from the Nigerian sports ministry, Francis underwent a self funded reconstructive knee surgery in Canada.

However, the doctor/surgeon informed him that he would not be able to run again. But Francis Obikwelu, true to his fighting spirit, did the impossible.

“I don’t give up on anything. Right from when I was a kid, I always live to fight another day… I can do anything no matter what happens.”

And he did just that … throwing away the crutches as well as the doctor’s advice. He looked at himself as an athlete and not a disabled person. This mind shift and belief pushed him to want to succeed and even with his bad leg he began training aggressively …

Abandoned by many, discouraged by his doctor but yet motivated by a want to succeed, Francis was able to not only win the Diamond league that season, but he was able to win a 100 m silver medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Approximately 4 years after his doctor said he would not be able to run again!

“You have to know how to win and how to lose. Be strong and disciplined because having an injury can weigh one down, but having these things (belief) would pull you through.”

FACTS: Francis Obikwelu still holds the Nigerian 200 meters record with a time of 19.84 seconds. He is still the only Nigerian to ever run the 200 meters in less than 20 seconds.

Glory Alozie: Wonder Woman

Glory-Alozie

In 2000 Glory Alozie was one of the favorites to win the 100 meter hurdles at the Sydney Olympics.But just a few days before the games began, Glory Alozie lost her fiancé Hyginus Anugo, a fellow member of the Nigerian track-and-field squad in a ghastly car accident.

Stunned by his death, Glory could not eat and barely trained for day… she had become so frail from loss of appetite she had to be spoon-fed by her Spanish coach, Rafael Blanque. She lost 13 pounds.

While many would have given up, Glory powered on to win the Silver medal in the Sydney 2000 Olympics …her secret to Olympic medal success was trusting in God to give her the victory. He did – embellishing her with a shimmering silver medal.

Sometimes when people go through tough times, they quit but it shouldn’t be so. Situations around might be frustrating but that’s why you need a goal, because you must remained focused. If you do that, you will surely make it.

Her final word of advice to upcoming athletes “Be focused and disciplined, because you can’t go far without discipline. That’s the only way they can get to the top.

Discipline and a focus on God, recipes to overcome hurdles no matter how tragic!

FACTS: Glory Alozie still holds the African 100 m hurdles record with 12.44 seconds. A time she has run 3 times.

Uchenna Emedolu: The Focused Motivator

Uchenna-Emedolu-2

As one of only 8 Nigerian men to run below 10 seconds in the 100 m, Uchenna Emedolu is a running force to be reckoned with, but it was not always that rosy for him.

It was the 2008 Beijing 4X100m Olympic relay race …the baton exchange between Uchenna Emedolu and Chinedu Oriala and that’s when it happened. Uchenna dropped the baton, dashing Nigeria’s hope at a medal. This was not the first time Uchenna had encountered failure.

In 1998 he travelled to Malta to try out as a footballer but failed … eventually returning back to Abia state to try out athletics. His mother also pushed back on his dream to be an athlete, but he persevered and credits his early success to being focused on God

When I started track I was born again, so I didn’t really have girlfriends to discourage me, because that kind of lifestyle does not help you focus.

The focus worked because at the IAAF World Cup in Madrid, 2002 he ran against Francis (Obikwelu), Jon Drummond (USA), Dwain Chambers (Britain) to win gold. And won an Olympic Bronze medal in the Athens 2004 Olympic games.Today he coaches other upcoming Nigerian athletes. Uchenna is a constant believer in his ability and ultimately the ability of Nigerians.

We have so much talent in Nigeria. Our athletes should not be afraid of competing with other athletes from other countries. All we need is the right kind of support and our athletes would be the best in the world.

Every Nigerian has the potential to be great!

FACTS: Uchenna Emedolu is one of only 8 Nigerians to run the 100 meters in less than 10 seconds.

Deji Aliu: Passion Wins

Deji-Aliu-square

At the 1996 National trials, a relatively unknown runner Deji Aliu, lined up against Nigerian greats Chidi Imoh, Davidson Ezinwa. It was his first major race locally and he came second losing only to Davidson Ezinwa.

Since then he has gone on to represent Nigeria at the highest stage, winning a 2004 Bronze Medal at the Athens Olympics. But with such success, it is easy to forget that Deji once faced many obstacles.

First from his parents who were initially disappointed by his choice of athletics; but when he started winning and succeeding, his parents eventually gave in and decided to support his move. His story is one of pushing back against the Engineering/Doctor status quo for Nigerian parents.

A lot of Nigerian children don’t push back enough about their passion. Even friends tried to convince him to reconsider, but luckily he did not, leading Nigeria to that rare Olympic medal and running below 10 seconds in 100 meters 3 times, one of the few Nigerians to ever do that.

At the end of the day, passion was key to Deji’s success in overcoming obstacles.

“The passion I had for the sport was just too much for me to turn back; I just kept going.”

FACTS: Deji Aliu holds the Nigerian 60 meters indoor record with a time of 6.48 seconds.

Conclusion: Keep Moving Forward

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Words from civil rights activities Martin Luther King. Words that aptly describe the 4 amazing Nigerian athletes above. Their lessons show us that success is not easy and comes with the inevitable obstacles … from losing a loved one, to being discouraged by family and friends but still never quitting on your dream and eventually rising to the top! Words from champions to live with. No matter the size of the obstacle, keep moving and keep pushing!

Interview of the athletes was made possible by Making of Champions who are working to revive athletics in Nigeria, visit www.makingofchamps.com for more details on their athletic projects or to see how you can participate.

Research done by Bambo Akani and Soluzo Ekenta of makingofchampions.com

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Okechukwu Ofili is a trouble maker, the author of 4 books and speaks at organizations that are tired of hearing the same old stuff and want the truth. He is also the founder of okadabooks.com and blogs daily at ofilispeaks.com You can follow him on Twitter or stalk him on Instagram You can also read his funny books on konga or okadabooks

15 Comments

  1. bruno

    March 19, 2015 at 8:23 am

    our glory days.smh

    pls lets be truthful, deji aliu and the relay team that won the bronze medal were disqualified in 2005 because of one of the runners in the team failed a doping test.

    if u didn’t wear the green white green to win an Olympic medal, it doesn’t count as a nigerian achievement even tho the person is nigerian. Francis was representing Portugal when he won the silver medal, so the medal belongs to polutgal, the achievement belongs to Portugal.

    the london Olympics outing was embarrassing.see small small countries, I have never heard of winning medals. it was a very poor outing, that they even had to lie on the radio that nigeria has won a silver medal in weight lifting, BIG LIE. I checked the table, nothing, no sign of nigeria. the foolish minister for sport came out and started talking about money, blaming everybody here and there. shameful

    aunty blessing did well, she tried. 3 gbosa for her.

    we should forget about football and start focusing on other sports like basketball and swimming, this last Olympics, our basketball team tried even tho america flogged us well well. I watched the match, I was close to tears.

    our problem is, we never practice adequately before the Olympics. next year is Brazil 2016, apart from blessing who else is in training?

    • ada nnewi

      March 19, 2015 at 9:08 am

      I don’t blame Francis for switching to Portugal, the fact is he’s still of Nigerian descent so he can be included to the list to make a point…The problem is who helps fund their training, who helps them pay their coaches in Nigeria? You think it’s easy to represent Nigeria in any sporting category when we have had governments that have refused to invest in our athletes. Wasn’t it last week that blessing okagbare was ranting about having to fund her own training and the deplorable state of sporting “development” in the country before “GEJ” shut her up with dollars and turned her into a zombie sycophant….

    • Bambo

      March 20, 2015 at 6:13 am

      Hi Bruno,

      while you are being truthful, please also check to make sure that you have your facts right. The Relay Bronze that they were disqualified from in 2005 was the 1999 World Championships 4x100m Relay, NOT the 2004 Olympics. Ofili has done an awesome job putting together these interviews with our Olympic Greats, so no need to spread mis-information and accuse anyone of being untruthful…

      As others have pointed out, his article also clearly states that Obikwelu won the Silver for Portugal, so again, nobody is trying to make tell people otherwise. He and Alozie are here with Aliu and Emedolu in Enugu conducting the Nigeria East leg of our Top Sprinter Auditions, and the passion they continue to exhibit for Nigeria, notwithstanding their switches when they competed, is inspiring…

  2. ada nnewi

    March 19, 2015 at 8:27 am

    I duff my hat to these very brave men and women who succeeded against insurmountable odds, I am inspired! Succeeding in sports in Nigeria is a big struggle…..I loved to run long distance races and play contact sports in secondary school where being an all-rounder (Academic, sports and socials) was highly encouraged and rewarded, university life in Nigeria was so different and killed all my sporting ambitions..

    • Ba

      March 19, 2015 at 1:15 pm

      I agree with you more Ada. University life is full of nonsense in the area of sport. Most Uni or tertiary institution don’t support sport

  3. Blue

    March 19, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    ….When people are good at talking and analysing situation, but do not get up to do something, they are just as bad.
    The purpose of this article shouldn’t be lost on [email protected], @ada nnewi. There are a group of people, who have seen the deplorable state of athletics in Nigeria and have stood up to do something about it. They are not hiding behind their computers and posting about who is Nigerian or Portuguese….They are rising up to the situation..(making of champions)….so lets channel our energy towards supporting them.

    • tunmi

      March 19, 2015 at 2:07 pm

      Does not mean you take what is wrong as right. He ran for Portugal, fact. He got the medal for Portugal, fact. Yes they worked hard but please accord appropriately.

    • Bambo

      March 20, 2015 at 6:19 am

      Hi Blue,

      many thanks for the support – it’s not been easy but slowly and surely the Making of Champions movement is gathering pace! After Auditions in Lagos and Ibadan, all four Olympic medallists featured here are with us in Enugu this weekend for the Nigeria East Auditions! It’s gonna be awesome so watch this space…here is a clip from the Lagos Auditions – youtube.com/watch?v=n0Ns9Tj1DFY

  4. tunmi

    March 19, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    And we certainly supported our paraolympians when they cane back home after earning medals

  5. juddy

    March 19, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    thank you Ofili for this article. it brought tears to my eyes. will definitely check ‘making od champions ‘ out

    • Okechukwu Ofili

      March 19, 2015 at 4:05 pm

      Thanks Buddy. It was a really tough article to write. We have not treated pur athletes well at all. Its very very sad.

  6. NaijaPikin

    March 19, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    I had to go back to read if the author stated Obikwelu rwon the medal for naija. It clearly states he is naija born, and won a medal running for Portugal. So what is the issue?

    I remember the Glory Alozie issue. Naija govt was even refusing to cover the bill to send his body back home. This was someone that was there to represent his country.

    It’s a shame naija continues to lose great talent. I hope we learn to develop talent and support our own better.

  7. bruno

    March 19, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    watching the london Olympics in 2012, I noticed so many nigerians with “strong” nigerian names were representing other countries.

    I don’t blame them. when nigerian government will not train them, will not pay their allowances, why won’t they be migrating to other countries.

    look at Great Britain, they come to africa to steal our athletes. they offer them money, citizenship etc. these athletes have no choice but to take their offers. GB trains them properly and they go on to win medals for Britain.

    I swear this coming Olympics, if we don’t win anything, I am packing my bags and I am leaving this foolish country for good.

    only football we focus on every time, the so called football when last did we win a medal for football at the Olympics. why can’t we focus on other sports. swimming, horseback riding, archery, judo, basketball, cycling. the basketball team that represented us at the london Olympics didn’t recieve any encouragement from the foolish government. they tried, the coach tried.

    long distance races, instead of people from the north joining boko haram and blowing themselves up, why can’t the government pack them and take them to lagos and train them properly to run long distance races.

    people in the villages who can swim, who can survive under water, why can’t they scout them and train them properly so them can represent us in swimming.

    instead the government is focusing all its energy and money on football.

  8. Tosin

    March 20, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    kisses. yeah. that’s my Naija – we can!

    newsbuka.blogspot.com/2012/08/naija-anthem.html

  9. chi-e-z

    April 21, 2015 at 1:41 am

    Honestly there were so many people with strong nigerian names running for other countries I was seriously perplexed @ the amount sha… like most of the european countries sprinters were nigerian.

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