With the National Sports Festival over, Atlanta ’96 400m bronze medalist, Falilat Ogunkoya-Omotayo, is optimistic of Nigerian athletes performing well at the next Olympic Games, Tokyo 2020.
How will the investiture of patrons by the Nigeria Olympics Committee impact on our chances in the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo?
It is going to help our athletes a lot to have people like former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, other former governors and senators, Oba Elegushi and others, supporting them. It’s a big boost.
It has not been particularly good for Nigerian athletes at the Olympics in recent years. But with Mary Onyali and her group working on the Elite Athletes programme, and now the NOC getting new patrons, do you see Nigerian athletes climbing the podium in Tokyo?
We hope so, to be on the podium is not a day’s job. It’ll take a lot of hard work, but what I believe is that the athletes need support. They should not have to worry about how to get to the training ground, what to eat and so on. If they get the required support, they will succeed.
In your days, foreign-based and home-based athletes competed during trials. Now, the foreign-based stars are dominant. Do you think athletes must travel abroad to excel?
I was trained in Nigeria. When the foreign-based athletes arrived in 1985/86 before we prepared for the Commonwealth Games, we (the home-based) beat all of them and when we got to the World Junior, myself and Tina Iheagwam beat Mary Onyali and others who came from the US.
So, it’s how they want it and how much help they are getting from people that are in the country to support them in achieving their dreams.
It’ll take a lot of hard work, but what I believe is that the athletes need support. They should not have to worry about how to get to the training ground, what to eat and so on. If they get the required support, they will succeed.
It was a historic moment for you at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games where you won two medals, and individual bronze medal in the 400m and also the 4x400m relay team. Could you tell us other highlights of your career?
Atlanta ’96 Olympics remains evergreen for me because the 400m race was a very tough one and it was one that was called the Real Woman’s race. The training, prior to the competition, was not an easy one but at the end of the day, I was very elated that I could participate.
The climax for me was when I won the bronze medal and became the first Nigerian female athlete in the Olympics to win an individual medal. That alone was the icing on the cake for me because no athlete in Nigeria won an individual 400m race and I was able to set a new African record.
Some young athletes like Rosemary Chukwuma, Joy Udo-Gabriel, Enoch Adegoke and others are making waves around the world at the moment. Do they represent the hope for Nigeria’s future?
There is need to monitor them very well. My advice for them is that they should not be afraid to change coach. Some of them want to stay with a coach all through their lives. If Nike wants to give you a contract, they will ask for your coach and if such person cannot take you to the level they wanted, they will advise you to go to another coach because they know that they are paying you.
These young athletes should be ready to change coach, it is not that they don’t like the coach again, but they need to look at the future. The coach they started with will still be involved because when you make more money as an athlete, you will be able to take care of yourself and also your pioneer coach.
Another promising Nigerian athlete, Onome Nathaniel, was caught taking banned substance recently. What’s your advice to others as regards doping?
They just have to be very careful because they will be held responsible for their actions. We have anti-doping agency in this country, they should go there and ask questions, if you need something or someone wants to help you. Ask questions and don’t just take anything. What happened to Onome is unfortunate, but she will have to face the music.