Athletics And The Squandering Of Opportunities!
Posted: Sep 04, 2011
THE STORY OF KELLY-ANNE
I have been watching the events at the ongoing IAAF World Athletics championships in Daegu, South Korea. I observe that a great many of the athletes, including several winners, are in their early 20s. I just finished watching the finals of the women’s 100m won by Jeter of the USA I believe. I am particularly happy that there is a Nigerian in the line-up.
It is an indication that even without a clear and well organised development programme in place Nigeria continues to produce athletes that showcase its best potentials. Nigeria and the sprints are made for one another. The Nigerian girl came fifth in the 8-woman line up. But of particular interest to me is the girl that won the Bronze medal.
Her name is Kelly-Anne Baptiste. She is from the little Island country of Tobago with a total population of 55,000! Yes, I mean the entire country has a population of 55,000! A country the size of a village in Nigeria produced an athlete that bested our own Blessing Okagbare, from a population of 150,000,000 people, about half of them women, and naturally endowed with the genes that produce speed and power.
By the way, Kelly-Anne is only 21 years old! That sets me thinking. I do some arithmetic. When did my tenure as Chairman of the National Institute for Sports (NIS) end? That was in the year 2004. That is 7 years ago. Okay, deduct 7 from Kelly-Annes age. The answer is 14. That means several things to me immediately. Come with me.
In 2004 an important document was handed over to the then Minister of Sports by officials of the Australian Institute of Sports (AIS) in Abuja. The document had taken over two years to put together by experts. It was privately funded by communication giants, MTN, who invested some 60,000 Dollars spread over three years on the project that was supposed to provide the intellectual response to the neglect the NIS had suffered for decades through the visionless-ness of those that took over sports development from the early 1990s.
Following the unprecedented success of Australia in the 2000 Olympic Games, the world took an interest in how the country achieved their phenomenal transformation. The answer was the work going on in the Australian Institute For Sports. That’s why under my chairmanship, the NIS headed Down-Under to drink from the fountain of Australia’s knowledge and experience.
Amongst other things it took several specialist training trips by six staff of the NIS to understudy different aspects of the organisation and programmes of the Australian Institute; two trips by directors of the AIS to Nigeria collecting and peering through several memoranda submitted by relevant stakeholders in sports in Nigeria; a Memorandum of Understanding signed by both Institutes; and the endorsement of President Olusegun Obasanjo, who had ‘coincidentally’ been present at the signing of a working agreement between the institutes during his official visit to Australia in 2003.
The final document was a comprehensive programme titled ’10 Years Elite Athletes Development programme’ It was a document that charted a clear and visionary pathway to Nigeria’s guaranteed success at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games should it be followed!
It has been 7 years since that document was presented and adopted. In 2004, following the organisation of an All Nigeria Schools Games by the Nigeria School Sports Federation, several young Nigerians, boys and girls, in primary and secondary schools, were discovered and selected by officials of the NIS, camped in the new hostels given to the NIS inside the National Stadium Complex in Abuja, to kick-start what everyone thought would be the beginning of an authentic grassroots sports development programme leading to the Olympic Games of 2012 and 2016.
I recall attending a programme organised for the 10 to 16 year-olds assembled to form the first crop of elite athletes in the new programme. There were plenty of speeches and promises. Even the then Minister was present and delivered a great speech, full of hope and promise. And then nothing! I mean, I never heard anything about the programme any more.
That is not to say that nothing actually took place about it in the national institute, after all the programme could have been run quietly and no Nigerian knew about it. What I am sure of that did not happen is that any one of those young athletes from that programme, seven years after it started, is at the ongoing IAAF World Athletics Championship attempting to win a medal.
What I am also sure of is that in the year 2011, that programme like the NIS itself, has expired! The 10 year elite athletes development programme designed to produce Nigeria’s next generation of athletes has been abandoned through a lack of interest, lack of funding, or even a simple lack of appreciation of the vision.
Any way, which way, the project ‘pretended’ to take off but then fizzled out of existence! Meanwhile, in a little Island in the Pacific Ocean, in the West Indies, another 14 year old Kelly-Anne must have been discovered, selected and taken through a developmental programme that has brought her and her country the first medal in their history, even if it is Bronze. For a country of 50,000 people that is a monumental achievement that contrasts sharply with the inability of the ‘Giant of Africa’ to achieve anything!
WORLD ATHLETICS NEWEST SENSATION IS ONLY 18!
I was just thinking of what next to write about when, my friend, Ron Davis’ mail popped up in my mailbox. It is uncanny that it reinforces my earlier story. Needless to comment about it. Read and enjoy! It is the story of 18 year-old Kirani James, the newest track sensation from tiny Grenada with a population of only 100,000!
LaShawn Merritt of the United States, the defending world champion in the men’s 400, came off the final turn with the sort of two-stride lead that he once converted into victories only to lose his advantage in the final five meters to 18-year-old Kirani James. The margin of victory: just three-hundredths of a second as James finished in a personal best of 44.60 seconds and Merritt in 44.63.
James, track’s newest sensation, seems particularly delighted to represent Grenada, with its population of just over 100,000. He grew up in the fishing village of Gouyave.
Like so many athletes from the Caribbean, James developed his talents in the American university system, attending Alabama, where he was coached by the former Olympic sprinter Harvey Glance, and where he won the N.C.A.A. 400 title the last two seasons.
Though James is an ethereal, explosive talent, Jacques Borlee said that he was concerned that his biomechanics were awry and that he risked injuring himself if he did not correct flaws in his technique.
“That’s a coach’s opinion, but he has one foot that is really off balance when he lands, which could create some real stresses,” Borlee said.
For now, though, the 400 has a new and exciting leader, one who his boyhood coach Albert Joseph thinks could break Michael Johnson’s world record of 43.18.
WHERE ARE NIGERIA’S REAL YOUNGSTERS?
Where are Nigeria’s genuine 17 and 18 year olds? They are around, in schools and higher institutions, denied the opportunity to develop their talent by unscrupulous coaches and their conniving administrators who think that winning can only be achieved by cheating, falsifying documents and using old men and women to compete in youth competitions.their talent by unscrupulous coaches and their conniving administrators who think that winning can only be achieved by cheating, falsifying documents and using old men and women to compete in youth competitions.using old men and women to compete in youth competitions.
The ugly and unproductive practise must be stopped by all means NOW!
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