Nigeria’s winning quartet: (l-r) Odiong Edidiong Ofonime, Adewale Adewunmi Deborah, Cecilia Francis and Jumaid Abimbola celebrating their gold feat in the Medley relay Saturday in Warri
He was here when Nigeria was up there in track and field. In fact, he was part of the success story of the 1970s and 80s when Nigeria dominated the continent and was even struggling with world powers like the USA and Europe. Lee Evans needs no introduction. If you remember Mexico ’68 Olympic Games. Evans was part of the quartet that won the event. His new past-time of helping to develop talents from the grassroots has seen him work with Cross River State and now Lagos.
In this chance meeting with DURO IKHAZUAGBE, Evans believes that Nigeria is on the march again to reclaim her position in track & field.
Over distance races and several youth competitions like the D.K Olukoya, the All Nigeria Schools Sports Festival in Port Harcourt.
I think these are some of the best ways to really look for talents at the grassroots. Nigeria not winning a medal at the last Olympic Games has forced most states to begin to look inward and initiate programmes at the grassroots levels. It is good efforts worth commending if Nigeria is to get back to the good old days. As for the over distance races, it is nothing new. That is the culture during the indoor season in America so as to prepare the athletes for the outdoor season. It helps the athletes to develop their endurance levels ahead of the new season.
What Nigeria should do in this World Championships year as part of the build up for the 2016 Olympic Games?
I don’t want to sound as all knowing because I believe that the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) has its own programme. They don’t have to wait till after the Nigerian Trial in June or July before starting preparations for the World Championships scheduled to hold in August in Russia. They certainly know what to do to avoid a repeat of the failure in London.
But having been part of the glory days of Nigeria’s track & field, you cannot shy away from diagnosing what you think is wrong with our athletics. What is your recipe for Nigeria to avoid repeating same mistakes in future competitions?
I will like to say here that the talents of the 1970s and 1980s are still here. However, what I found funny now is that athletes are motivated by money to run rather than the patriotic instinct to do so. That is the only difference between then and now. Just looking for money will not take any athlete anywhere.
In addition to that, some unscrupulous fellows have now gone ahead to mess up the opportunities that used to be available for Nigerian athletes in America with visa racketeering.
Now, getting those opportunities for athletes to go and school in America and improve on their track careers are now so slim. The American Embassy hardly allows Nigerian athletes to go to the States any longer for the purpose of training anymore because you don’t know the genuine from the fake athletes nowadays.
So, Nigeria lost the training grounds that the American universities provided for athletes in the 1970s and 1980s.They are very reluctant to give visas like they used to do in the past. So for the AFN to get out of this situations of not able to get as many as possible Nigerian athletes into American universities, having several youth programmes like the D.K. Olukoya, National schools Sports Festival etc will help to get fresh talents and then can develop programmes that will aid their growth.