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Nigerian athletes at the Games

Omolara replays relay magic By Emeka Obasi

Those who see miracles in soccer apparently cannot grasp the magic moments delivered by Nigerian relay teams across the globe. Omolara Grace Ogunmankinju came out with a bold statement at the Accra 2024 African Games.

In the finals of the 4×400 mixed relay, from a position of disadvantage, she ran the race of her life to place her country on top, leaving Botswana and Kenya with silver and bronze respectively.

The Nigerian quartet started with Ifeanyi Ojeli who put his team in the lead, a position maintained by Patience George. The tide turned when Botswana’s Bayapo Ndori, a Tokyo Olympic Games 4x400m relay bronze medalist, erased the Nigerian lead, relegating Adeyemi Sikiru.

Then came Omolara. She could not even see the back of Obakeng Kamberuka. Progressively, the Nigerian anchor developed cheetah feet, gaining altitude and before Gaborone could say Setse Khama, she cruised to gold.

That was like the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games 4x 400m men’s relay final when Enefiok Udo – Obong took Nigeria from zero to hero. Gold was delayed but it was not denied, after the International Olympic Committee stripped the United States of the medal.

The Nigerians, managed by Innocent Egbunike, left Australia with the silver medal but the real winners got their gold twelve years later, when Antonio Pettigrew confessed that he enhanced his performance with banned substances.

That was the America of Michael Johnson, the Harrison twins, Alvin and Calvin, and Pettigrew against greenhorn, Udo – Obong and the more experienced Sunday Bada, Clement Chukwu and Jude Monye.

Omolara made the crowd sing, ‘ Tra la la la’ in Legon. The Kenyans who won bronze were anchored by world 800 metres champion, Mary Moraa. Not many remember that the last time the Nigerian took part in a competition, was in 2016.

She took time away from the tracks to make babies and she got two, with her husband who is also into sports. Queen of the Track, Mary Onyali, says we must respect women who hit the lanes after childbirth because they are unstoppable.

Egbunike is always  part of the relay story. The country’s first Olympics Athletics medal, a bronze, came  in the 4x400m at Los Angeles ’84. Sunday Uti created a comfortable lead. By the time Rotimi Peters took the baton from Moses Ugbisien, Australia’s Darren Clark had an edge.

Alonzo Babers put the Americans ahead and as Egbunike took the last lap, it was difficult to catch up with Antonio McKay. Philip Brown of Great Britain ensured Nigeria was left with bronze. One of the British quartet was a Nigerian, Kriss Kezie Uchechukwu Duru Akabusi.

Kenya won the 4x400m Mixed Relay bronze in Ghana. Nigeria set a record in Nairobi, at the 2021 IAAF Under 20 Championships. It was the first time the Juniors would take part in the race. The Nigerian team of Johnson Nnamani, Imaobong Nse Uko, Opeyemi Ope and Bamidele Ajayi,  were champions.

The University of Ghana, Legon does not sound Latin in the ears of Nigerians. It reminds everyone of the 1961 Triangular Games, involving Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. The man who won bronze in the High Jump event, Alex Okoli, was a Nigerian but represented Ghana.

His sisters, Edith (later Mrs. Mojekwu) and Amelia (later Mrs. Okpalaoka) were part of the Nigerian contingent. They knew their brother, Alex, a student of the University of Ghana, Legon was nursing injury. The young man braved it and gave the Ghanaians bronze.

Edith and Amelia were at the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales. Alex was not there. The man who represented Ghana in High Jump, Ebenezer Kotei, won bronze. He later joined the Air Force and rose to the rank of Air Vice Marshal. In 1979, he was executed by the Jerry Rawlings government.

Amelia was at the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games and won gold at the Brazzaville ‘ 65 All Africa Games. Another sister, Adaobi Okoli (nee Nwaneri) won silver in Discus at the Lagos ’73 Second All Africa Games. Their younger brother, Mike represented Nigeria in Volleyball at the Algiers ’78 Third All Africa Games.

Omolara’s outing in Legon is pregnant for the future. It is early to expect the kids to follow her footsteps and do what the Okoli family did, take part in three consecutive All Africa Games.

In soccer, Ghana turned magicians, becoming the first country to win gold in the men’s and women’s soccer event at the same time. Nigerians believe in Miracle. They saw it in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, in 1989. Unfortunately, Falconets were dwarfed by the Black Princesses in Cape Coast.

You win some, you lose some. Omolara could not be used as a substitute by the Falconets. Coach Chris Danjuma, probably knew her not, until she coasted home to gold. Paradoxically, while Omolara saw gold in Gold Coast, Falconets lined their pockets with silver.

There is a consolation though. Falconets wore gold at the last edition in Morocco. Omolara was making babies at the time. Who knows, her kids may grow beyond Nigeria and Africa, to bring more precious gold home.

About Global Patriot Staff

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One comment

  1. Nice compilations. Interesting stories, all round.👏👏👏

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