Saturday, April 27, 2019

Divine Odurudu: Reviving Nigeria’s Hope in Sprint

In recent years, Nigeria’s performance in the sprints has dwindled and the country could no longer count on its sprinters for medal in major competitions like the Olympics and World Athletics Championship. The country’s athletes now only thrive in competitions such as the All African Games and to some extent, the Commonwealth Games. However, with sprint sensation- Divine Oduduru finding his groove, hope is now back on the horizon for medals at the world stage   
Though Nigeria may not have won medals in the sprints at the1980, 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games in Moscow, Los Angeles, Seoul and Barcelona respectively, the country paraded mind bogling names such as Chidi Imoh, Innocent Egbunike, Yusuf Ali, Mary Onyali, Ajayi Agbebaku, Gloria Alozie and Falilat Ogunkoya among many others, most of them emerging courtesy of American scholarships. The order continued up till 1996, in Atlanta when the country won its first Olympic gold medal.
However, since the Beijing Olympics in China, our hope for a medal at major international competitions is largely dependent on Okagbare. With a silver medal in Beijing Olympics, another silver and a bronze medal respectively at the 2013 World Athletics Championship, until Okagbare passed her peak. She indeed failed to qualify for the semifinals of the women’s’ 100 metres at the 2017 World Athletics Championship in London.
She had similarly failed to make the final of the event at the last Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Since then followers of track and field in Nigeria can only look forward to medals at minor competitions such as the Commonwealth Games and All African Games. That may have changed however with the emergence of Nigerian-born sprinter,  Divine Oduduru.
Oduduru broke Nigeria’s 13 years sub-10 seconds jinx in the 100 metres race after breaking his personal and season best records to set a world leading record of 9.95sec to win at the Michael Johnson Invitational in Waco Texas, USA, last Saturday. He also broke Francis Obikwelu’s national record of 19.84sec set in 1999 in the 200 metres , with a new world leading of 19.76s, thereby becoming the ninth Nigerian to ever run sub-10 in the 100m, and the second to go sub-20 in the 200m.
“I worked for this. My coaches have always been telling me that I have to get into the moment where I can feel everything. I want to say thank you to Coach Calvin Robinson for getting me to this point in my life and my career.
“We have a great team, and I want to say thank you to everyone for their love and support,” Oduduru said after the race.
Just 122 sprinters in history have broken the 10-second barrier in the 100m, and only 72 sprinters have gone sub-20 in the 200m.
“It’s something we do in practice. We run, time the rest, then come back and run another race. He (Robinson) said to just run it the way I do in practice,” he added.
Oduduru shattered his personal best by over a tenth of a second with a time of 9.94 seconds and exactly 55 minutes later, he graced the track again in the 200 metres and ran a blistering personal best of 19.76 seconds, breaking Paul Obikwelu’s 19.84 seconds mark which was set in Seville in 1999.
His time is also the second-fastest time ever run by a collegiate athlete.
Meanwhile, former Sports Minister and Chairman National Sports Commission (NSC), Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, has commended the new sprint sensation on his impressive performances at the Michael Johnson Invitational where he ran a 9.94sec in the men 100m, Nigeria’s fastest since 2006 when Olusoji Fasuba ran a time of 9.85 sec to set a new African record.
Abdullahi who was Minister of Sports and Chairman of NSC when Oduduru was discovered at the 2013 African Youth Championships in Warri, Delta State, said he followed Oduduru’s progress since then and he was not surprised by his feats over the weekend.
“I was not surprised by his achievements, I never for a moment stopped following since we discovered him at the Warri 2013 AYAC which we hosted, I knew he was a world beater in waiting.”
Abdullahi posits that Nigerians and indeed the world have not seen the best of Oduduru as he has the potential to run faster and better.
“For him to start the season with such a fantastic time, I know he will get better and chances that he will make podium appearances at the All African Games in Morocco and the IAAF World Championships in Doha.”
Abduallahi also commended the Delta State Government and for their huge investment in sports and Solomon Ogba for his uncommon passion for athletics and investment of personal resources in Nigerian athletes irrespective of where they come from.
In 2016, Oduduru ran in the 200m semi-final of the Summer Olympic Games, in a time of 20.59, but missed out of a place in the final. His semi-final time was well short, falling behind his brilliant performance in the heat of the same event, where he finished behind the only eventual 200m champion, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt.
Oduduru ran a personal best of 20.34 in the race and his exploits attracted a chat from one of the greatest Olympian and Sportsman the world has seen, Bolt.
Bolt went on to win the 200m final in a time of 19.78 to set a season’s best in what was a competitive field but with a slow time.
Fast forward three years, with Oduduru now taking tutelage at the prestigious Texas Tech Raiders, the former African Junior champion and African Games silver medal winner is posting incredible times, shattering his own personal best (20.08) in the 200m, his time would have won him gold at the 2016 Olympic Games 200m event, with Bolt in the field.
The 22-year-old ran the best time in the 200m as well as the 100m in 2019 at the invitational competition, boosting Nigeria’s chances of a return to dominance on the continent with the African Games only four months away.
Meanwhile, Texas Tech assistant coach, Calvin Robinson is happy to see Oduduru running well once again and says it is all due to the lad’s ability to rebuild his confidence level and develop happiness.
Robinson noted that Oduduru had put all agony and gloomy emotions behind him, to bounce back stronger and start executing techniques he learnt on the training ground, as he goes running faster than ever.
Oduduru, who is also a leading member of Texas Tech’s relay team and reigning 200m champion, tied the school record set by Andrew Hudson at the institution’s classics meet. In recognition of Oduduru’s return to the top spot, Robinson hailed the lad for being able to execute such results after just one week of training.
The assistant coach disclosed: “We went back to work and fixed some things to make sure he was confident with what he was doing. We talked about coming out and running two fast races because that’s what it’s going to take at Big 12s and NCAAs. And, that’s what he did. He had a good execution, he looked fluid and I’m happy with the way he did.”
It, however, remains to be seen for how long Oduduru would stay at the top level.

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