Governor Rotimi Amaechi
By Duro Ikhazuagbe
Defending champions of the National Sports Festival, Rivers State, Wednesday made good her threat to win the biennial sports fiesta back-to-back, leading the first two days of competition with three gold medals.
According to the official medals table released as at 6pm, Oyo State with one gold and two silver medals is on the heels of the defending champions while another favourite for the top spot, Delta, has so far won just two bronze medals. Host Lagos and Kaduna are tied on one bronze each.
Already, Governor Rotimi Amaechi is reported to have ordered Team Nigeria athletes not to settle for anything below the first position at Eko 2012 to show that winning as hosts last year in Port Harcourt was no fluke.
Rivers Commissioner for Sports, Fred Igwe confirmed Wednesday that the state remains the one to beat at the edition here in Lagos.
“Rivers is the team to beat here at Eko 2012. Our governor has asked for nothing but the top spot from all of us here and we are not going to disappoint Rivers people,” said the youthful commissioner.
Igwe further explained: ''We're here to win but we have respect for all teams in the festival. But we have the competitive edge. We've have a strong team of 701 athletes who are buoyed by our hard-work and welfare package that is second to none. We've a governor who loves sports and demonstrates this with his physical presence at the opening ceremony on Tuesday. We're Rivers and we are ready for a successful title defence.''
When asked to compare the opening ceremony of Eko 2012 with that of Rivers, he bluntly refused and said that the public was in a better position to pass judgement.
''Lagos did well. Their opening ceremony was impressive. But it is left for the public to judge'', Igwe added.
Meanwhile, Head Coach of the Rivers cycling team, Emmanuel Onasanya, has revealed that the state’s target is to win 15 of the 17 gold medals on offer in the event at Eko 2012.Team Rivers won a gold and silver medal from the men and women 200 metres sprint events at the opening day of the Games on November 27.
Onasanya told NAN Wednesday that the state won 14 gold medals at the Garden City Games in 2011.
He said though the state missed the gold in the female 200m narrowly, his cyclists would make up in other events to meet the 15 gold medals target.
“We estimated 15 to 14 gold medals out of the 17 that are available in the sports, but, the one we lost yesterday was not among the one we expected to lose; so, maybe we are going to reconcile that, maybe with another event.
“I am encouraging them (cyclists) now to make sure that those areas they feel they cannot win, they should put in their best there; the impossible can happen there because they have trained already, and they do not know what will happen to other people.”
Onasanya said Rivers would dominate cycling at the festival because the cyclists were well-equipped and worked hard for the Games.
“We camped at Epe for 10 days before the festival began. We completed our training there and perfected our strategies.
“We hope to accomplish our target of 15 gold medals. We urge our people at home to keep cheering us and we will keep pressing the pedals here. We will get there.”