Okon Defends Team Nigeria Coaches on 4x400m Relay Quartet



Head Coach of Team Nigeria to the just ended 16th IAAF World Championships in London, Gabriel Okon, has insisted that most of the people commenting on the selection of the quartet that ran in the final of the women’s 4x400m final in London were ignorant of what happened in the lead up to the race.

Many critics blamed the coaches for fielding Abike Egbeniyi who arrived London from Nigeria for the competition barely 32 hours to the race and insisted Emerald Egwin who ran in the semi-finals where the team ran 3:25.40 seconds should have been retained.

Some others also criticised the coaches for running Nigeria’s pre-championships fastest athlete in the pool, Patience Okon George in the first leg, arguing that she should have anchored the team.

“I can understand the ordinary people on the streets but not former Nigeria internationals who should have strived to find out why Egwin did not run. The truth is Egwin was not fit to run on the day as she complained of stomach upset among other complaints.

“The problem started in the semi-finals and she barely warmed up for the race. We decided to gamble on her because there was no alternative. This informed our decision to ask for Abike to come so that we could at least have an alternative if Egwin does not recover on time.

“Unfortunately, she didn’t and we had to use the only option available and she didn’t disappoint. Our chances of getting a medal were reduced the day we lost Margaret Bamgbose, one of the three girls who competed in the open 400m to injury. We knew it would be a herculean task because some of the other teams rested athletes for the final but we couldn’t.

“So people used the time ran in the semi-final to automatically assume we could have won if the time was repeated in the final. Britain ran faster in the semis (3:24.74) than in the final (3:25.00) and still won a silver medal despite of the fact that they brought in a fresh leg,400m hurdler, Elidih Doyle in place of Perri Shakes-Drayton while Poland who came third (3:25.41) introduced two fresh legs, Aleksandra Gaworska and Justyna Swiety in place of Patrycja Wyciszkiewicz and Martyna Dabrowska.

“Two years ago we ran 3:23 in the semis but ran 3:25 in the final and we didn’t change any athlete. If we were able to rest George and Yinka Ajayi for example the result may have been different but we didn’t have that luxury. My colleagues who should understand better should not turn to armchair critics,” said Okon who also reacted to the criticism that the best athlete in the pool should have anchored the team.

“From what happened in the open 400m, Bamgbose and Ajayi were clearly our fastest legs. Bamgbose ran 51.57 seconds in the first round heat while Ajayi ran 51.58 seconds against Okon George’s 51.83 seconds. In the semi-final Ajayi ran 52.10 seconds to emerge the fastest against Bamgbose (52.23 seconds) and Okon George (52.60 seconds). So we fielded our fastest athlete to anchor the team,” concludes the ex international who is also AFN board member.