Gloria Alozie remains one of the greatest athletes to emerge from the continent of Africa. Before switching nationality to Spain in 2001, Alozie brushed aside a strong challenge to grab a silver medal in the 100m hurdles for Nigeria at the Sydney 2000 Olympics Games. She narrowly missed the big one, no thanks to Olga Shishigina of Kazakhstan, who came from nowhere to snatch the gold medal.
Since Alozie left the Nigerian athletics scene in 2001, no other athlete has been able to meet the Nigerian and African record of 12.44secs she left in the 100m hurdles more than 18 years ago.
Though, US-based hurdler, Oluwatobiloba Amusan came close to it when she stormed to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) title by smashing her Personal Best, and replacing it with a time of 12.57secs, making her the second fastest Nigerian and African of all-time in the 100m hurdles behind Alozie.
Alozie returned to Nigeria three years ago to take up a position as hurdles coach at Making of Champions (MoC) Track Club. Her job is to explore every nook and cranny of the country to fish out raw talents and nurture them to become world-beaters.
For Alozie, the task appears huge, but is achievable. She believes that the structure already laid by MoC Track Club offers Nigerian athletes all they need to build a great career for themselves rather than dump the country for other climes like she once did. Alozie, who is working with another ex-Olympian, Deji Aliu at the MoC, told The Guardian, when the Club unveiled 16 new athletes for the 2019 season that those saddled with the responsibility of re-positioning the country athletics went to sleep, especially in the area of identifying and harnessing promising athletes from an early age.“I believe Nigerian athletics will be great again,” she said. “It may take a while for us to produce Olympics athletes, but I strongly believe we are on the right track.”
Alozie traced the problem affecting the nation’s athletics to the ‘dearth’ of age-grade competitions, which raised her and other great Nigerian athletes like Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya, Endurance Ojokolo and Mercy Nku to stardom.
In the good old days of Nigerian athletics, there were several age-grade competitions, including national school sports, national U-15 as well as athletics at local, zonal, state before national level. Like some aspect of the nation’s economy, those age-grade competitions disappeared one after another.
From the administration of AK Amu to Tony Urhobo, Adeyemi Wilson, Dan Ngerem and the regime of Violet Odogwu-Nwajei as well as Solomon Ogba, Nigerian athletics benefited from age-grade competitions. The MKO Abiola U-18 and Yinka Folawiyo U-15 Athletics competitions provided the platform for the young athletes to display their talents some years back, while the Mobil Track and Field Championship was the Nigerian version of the Olympics Games. With the disappearance of MKO Abiola U-18 athletics competition after the dearth of the sponsor, Dan Ngerem came with his age-grade competition (Dan Ngerem U-15), while the Solomon Ogba regime as AFN President saw the emergence of the Nkoyo Ibori U-18 championship. It gave birth to some of the athletes who still dominate the nation’s athletics scene till date, including Blessing Okagbare, Ese Brume and Divine Oduduru.
“So many athletes made their mark through age-grade competitions in different parts of the country, but I can’t see them any longer,” Alozie stated. “Having a surplus of grassroots competitions for young athletes ensure that they have multiple avenues and opportunities to test their abilities just as it was back in our days.
“As I said earlier, the MoC is trying to re-build the system for a better and brighter tomorrow. Everything is perfect unlike the situation on ground when I moved to Spain. Now, the athletes are getting the best of support, from accommodation, sponsorship to competitions and kitting. Our athletes are being taken good care of. They have good coaches as well.”
“In my days, there was the U-15, U-18, U-20 and the Classic for school sports. If you can’t make one, you have the opportunity of making the other. They are no more, and there is no way our athletics can grow without grassroots competitions,” Alozie stated.MoC Founder and CEO, Bambo Akani said that unveiling of 16 new athletes was their highest intake of athletes since they began operation five years ago. The body, according to him, runs a male and female Athlete House in Lagos to support the athletes’ academics, training, competitions, accommodation, nutrition and healthcare.Among the new athletes was Kelechi Christian, who is the reigning African Junior 100m champion and 200m bronze medallist for Zimbabwe. Kelechi was ten years old when she moved to Zimbabwe.
As a result of cash crunch, Team Nigeria was absent at the 2017 African Juniors, and Kelechi, 18 at the time, was completely unknown in Nigerian Athletics circles, despite both her parents being Nigerian.“I first learnt of Kelechi when she emailed us at Making of Champions in 2018 to make enquiries about joining MoC Track Club,” Akani told The Guardian. “You could imagine my surprise – for an African Junior 100m Champion for Zimbabwe to contact us saying she is now in Port-Harcourt, Nigeria and wants to join our team.
“We invited her for the 1st MoC Grand Prix in Lagos in June 2018, and though she was rusty, having been out of the sport for a year after she had to move back to Nigeria in difficult circumstances, I knew we had to give her a chance to get back to her best.”Also in the fold is Ifeanyi Christian, MoC’s first Para-Athlete. “I’ve known about him for a couple of years and I always felt he had the potential to be a Paralympic Champion, who knows, maybe even a World Record Holder. He called me a few weeks ago saying that he wanted to go University. He finished Secondary School in 2012 but hasn’t been able to further his education since then. He competes in the T46 Category, for Athletes who are single arm amputees below or above the elbow,” Akani said.
“Ifeanyi’s desire to further his education resonated really deeply with me, since at MoC we’re all about combining Education and Athletics. It’s amazing that he’s not yet represented Nigeria, considering he’s the fastest in the country in T46 100m, 200m and 400m. I have a feeling that things will change this year. He has great potential to be a household name in Nigeria for years to come.”To give the athletes the best sports therapy, MoC has engaged the services of Kehinde Adeyo, who has moved from her base in England to Lagos.
“With over six years professional experience in musculoskeletal physiotherapy in the UK, and a BSc in physiotherapy from Kings College London, Kehinde has joined MoC full-time in what is a historic moment for MoC, and an important step for supporting the development of Athletics in Nigeria, given the importance of Sports Therapists in Integrated Support Teams for High Performance Programmes in Sports,” Akani stated.