Nigeria set to produce sprinters who’ll run faster than Bolt – Aliu - iReporterNG.Com | No #1 News Media in Nigeria

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Nigeria set to produce sprinters who’ll run faster than Bolt – Aliu

Nigeria set to produce sprinters who’ll run faster than Bolt – Aliu

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One-time Africa’s fastest man and 2004 Athens Olympics bronze medallist, Deji Aliu, speaks about his career, Nigeria’s untapped potential in athletics and the 2016 Rio Olympics in this interview with ALLWELL OKPI

How did you start?

I started just like any other kid out there. I started in secondary school. I was so passionate about running that I took it from secondary school to professional level.

Why did you choose to run while others were playing football?

In life, there is something everybody loves doing. Mine is running. Right from when I was a little child, I loved to run. While every other person was playing football, running was my thing.

Which would you describe as the greatest moment in your career as an athlete?

I had a lot of wonderful moments as an athlete. Some athletes will tell you that Olympics is that highest sporting fiesta in the world. Just going to the Olympics is an honour. If you go there and win a medal, it is like the best thing in the world.

The medal is the icing on the cake. For me, because of the magnitude of the competition, I’ll say my greatest moment was winning the Olympic bronze medal in 2004. However, I’ll say winning gold at the 2003 All Africa Games, right here in Nigeria, was one of my happiest moments in life. It meant a lot to me. But then in terms of the quality of the medal, Olympics was the biggest.

What about other competitions, including those at the junior level?

Those ones were equally big moments, as far as I’m concerned. My first major competition was the World Junior Championship. I came back home with a gold medal. That meant a lot to me at that stage in my career and it was a turning point for me. It propelled me to put more interest in track and field. After winning that medal, I said if I could go that far at that level with the level of preparation I had, if I put in more effort, I would be able to do more on the global stage. That was really the turning point in my career.

There seems to be a clear difference between your active days and now in terms of the performance of Nigerian athletes on the world stage. What do you think went wrong?

In my opinion, there was no transition. In anything you do in life, there must be transition from one generation to another. If there is no transition, there is going to be a stoppage. I think there was no proper transition from our generation to the next generation. I’ll give you an example. When the likes of Chidi Imoh were at the top, we were still at the junior level preparing to take over from them.

So when they left the stage, we graduated to the senior level to fill the gap. But then when we were at the senior level, nobody was grooming junior athletes to take over from us. So when we left the stage, a vacuum was created and up till now that vacuum has not been properly filled. Until we go back to the grassroots and groom the abundant young talents that we have across the country, we will not retake our place of reckoning in athletics in Africa and in the world.

Does this in any way mean we lack talents?

No, talents still abound in Nigeria. They are everywhere. When I walk the streets of Lagos, I see talents everywhere. Talents abound in the country. We don’t lack talents. What we lack is the ability to identify these talents and groom them into world class athletes. We don’t have clear avenues to discover these athletes and take them to greater heights. There is the lack of competition. We don’t have competitions like we used to have in those days. Now, athletes get to compete about two or three times in a year and these competitions are mostly for senior athletes. There are no competitions for junior athletes, where we can discover athletes for the senior level. We don’t have platforms where young athletes can showcase their talent and get support.

Currently, we don’t have male sprinters who can comfortably run 100m in less than 10 seconds, the way the likes of Usain Bolt do. Why is this so?

Track and field is all about support. If you have all the support you need, you will do well and there is no level in sports that you cannot attain. It’s easy for people to make reference to Usain Bolt but then before he got to the level he is today, he got a lot of support and right now he is getting maximum support. Nigerian athletes are not getting the support they need to excel. I have to be honest with you, track and field is one of the most capital intensive sports. You need a lot to succeed as a sprinter. In terms of how we get athletes prepared for major global competitions, we are still far behind. When people talk about our athletes running 100m in nine seconds as if it is as easy as saying it, I just laugh. I can sit down here and tell you what it takes to run nine seconds. And you can ask: Why are Nigerian athletes not running nine seconds? The answer is: We have not gone near it in our preparations. We still have a lot of athletes in different parts of the country who can run nine seconds, but if we don’t get it right in our preparations, we will not run it any time soon.

Speaking in terms of talent, do you think Nigerian can produce a sprinter as fast as Usain Bolt?

I strongly believe we can produce somebody faster than Usain Bolt. Someone bigger and faster than Bolt is somewhere in one state in the country. It is just for us to discover that person, nurture him and take him to the greatest height in track and field.

Now we have the 2016 Rio Olympics coming up in a few months. What do you think about our chances of winning medals, considering we won no medal at London 2012?

From 2012, when we competed at the London Olympics, till date, what difference has been made in the way we prepare athletes and in terms of our organisation? If we answer this question sincerely, then we will know whether or not we stand a chance of winning medals at the Olympics. In my opinion, I’ve not seen any difference between what we did in 2012 and what we are doing now. In terms of preparations, I’ve not seen anything yet. In terms of organisation, I’ve not seen anything. But the good thing about Nigeria is that you will still see one or two athletes who will come out and put up a commendable performance and at the end of the day, everybody will smile and go back to sleep and feel that everything is okay. The question is: when will Nigerian authorities begin to support athletes the way they should. When will they begin to see sports as a money-spinning venture? When will a Nigerian athlete get the maximum support he needs to compete with his counterparts from other countries? Olympics is the greatest sporting carnival in the world. You don’t want to go there half-baked. You want to go there ready and the question is: How many of our athletes are ready?

Are your children toeing your path? 
Despite the shortcoming and the shabby treatment, if my children say they want to go into sports, I’ll give them maximum support. The choice is theirs. I started running because I loved doing it. So if they say they want to run, I’ll support them.

You talked about shabby treatment. Do you want to speak more on that?

I don’t want to go into that. But like I said, I don’t think Nigerian athletes are getting what they deserve.

Source: Punch News

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