ASABA, August 7, 2018 - The 2018 African Athletics Championships in Nigeria had its disappointing and embarrassing shortcomings, but as it came to an end on Sunday there a sense of celebration prevailed.
Stars - Athletes went from enduring a show of shame on arrival at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, to making a name for themselves on the track and field of the newly renovated Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, Delta State.
The gold medallists from Asaba 2018 will now go on to represent Africa at September’s IAAF Continental Cup in Ostrava, the Czech Republic, but most importantly many school children in Delta State have been inspired to consider a future in athletics.
Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa saw the 21st African Athletics Championships as a perfect platform to prove his commitment to the development of youth through sports. He ensured that school children thronged the stadium to watch the championships for free.
Interest - In a studio interview with the official broadcasters of the championships, Kwesé Free Sports, Okowa said: “They (the children) are very interested, very committed. In fact, on every day there was an increase in number (of spectators) from day one to day five and I think that that is what we need to actually stir up the youths.
“I believe that a lot of young ones here are going to take onto athletics and we are looking forward to developing them. That, actually, is the main reason we decided to spend some money to host this competition because we want to be able to stir up our youths to actually put in their best towards taking athletics as a career.”
Competition – The governor further revealed that plans are underway to organise an athletics competition for schools before the end of the year.
“This year, before December, we are going to have an all athletics competition for our primary and secondary schools because we want to be able to get the talents at the time that they are young and then find a way to help them develop.
“We are doing quite well as Deltans, a lot of Deltans have done well for Nigeria and we want to beat the records of the past and ensure that Delta State continues to set the pace for Nigeria as a nation.”
Role Models - Delta State, located in the South-South region of Nigeria, has produced some of the country’s finest athletes including, Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor, Divine Oduduru, Ese Brume and Ogho-Oghene Egwero. All four athletes were medallists at the just concluded championships on home soil.
Beijing 2008 silver medallist, Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor, who had to withdraw from the 100m and 200m events due to injury, led Team Nigeria to gold in the 4x100m. 2018 NCAA Champion in the USA, Oduduru clinched a silver medal in the men’s 100m before claiming another silver in the men’s 4x100m which also featured Egwero. Brume became the first athlete (male or female) to win three individual Long Jump gold medals in the history of the competition.
For the children in the stands, many of whom were watching a live international championship for the first time in their lives, Asaba 2018 has been engraved in their memories. One can only be hopeful for the future.
Advice - Oduduru has a piece of advice for them, “No matter what happens don’t ever give up on your dream. I think one thing about life is, for you to be great you have to pass through certain challenges. Those challenges should not weigh you down but build you. I remember when I started my career I never got support from anyone. I pushed and pushed because I’ve always believed in whatever I do and in God."