Top african female sprinters face tougher hurdles to achieve more medals

September 23, 2013 5:36 pm0 comments by:

In our everyday lives, we are encouraged to participate in sports. Sports participation helps to improve an individual’s fitness or as a distress tool. It can be a powerful tool for cultural change within a society. I will like to throw a statistics to make my point about need for a cultural change.

Nigeria was on 24th on the medal table after 14 years, in the recent 14th IAAF World Championships, held in Moskva Russia. The last time was in 1999 7th IAAF World Championship held in Sevilla,Spain. Nigeria came 26th in the medal table. Gloria Alozie won silver in the 110Metres Hurdles. Francis Obikwelu came third in 200m.
Last year, Amantle Montsho won Gold in women’s 400m but it has been a blank in the 100 or 200 metres, in both men and women finals.

MontshoThis year 2013, Nigeria and Ivory Coast have two medals each. Both won by two women sprinters. In the recent years, African countries have been on medal table. Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa and occasionally one country from the Continent win a surprise medal. Most of the achievements have been in the long distance events, relay events and a few occasions in the middle events such as 800m, 1500m.

Good athletes with African origin and potential medallist, choose to represent other non African countries. They are frustrated at lack of Government funding and recognition. The only viable solution is to canvas for highest bidder for their vest. This is why it was refreshing that 3 female athletes Blessings Okagbara, Murielle Ahoure and Amantle Montsho have won medals representing their country of origin. They have shown promise throughout their junior careers and carried it over to the senior ranks. They prove that the short distance sprints are not reserved for other Continents. The important bit is that they do not wish to run for another country in future events.

The obvious wish for the continent is that they keep the motivation and avoid the temptation to switch alliance. In previous years, it has been a norm for athlete to win a medal and then switch alliance within a year or two years. Gloria Alozie won the last medal in 1999 and then competed for Spain in 2001.

In my view, the main concern is the high hurdles that the 3 athletes have jumped to reach this stage. There is even a higher hurdle for girls born and raised in Africa to achieve this status. Currently, the 3 women athletes Blessings Okagbara and Murielle Ahoure, have taken the challenge to be role models. They have indicated that they wish to continue to represent their countries. This is a good sign for the future and we should in our individual ways help in their quest.

The worry is other sports such as football are way ahead in popularity among kids. Secondly, all 3 athletes train outside africa and rarely visit the country unless to compete for qualification. Thirdly, athletics is a short career especially for a female.

AhoureFor instance, Murielle Ahoure is known as the female Drogba, in reference to the National Team main striker. Whilst, Murielle takes this comparison in her stride, it shows football deep rooted popularity in her country, Ivory Coast.
In other continents, female athletes are known for their exploits and given financial funding to help with their training needs. In Africa, it is even difficult to get basic funding for popular sports like football. I am aware that to be role models, it helps if your audience get numerous chances to watch you train or compete. However, it is not practical for the 3 athletes to train in Africa, if the facilities are not up to scratch. It is also better to train with competitors that you will race against in actual competitions.

The next hurdle is to convince parents and girls, that you can earn a living as a professional athlete. In the last couple of years, there has been a cultural change in girls allowed to participate in sports. The key issue is whether you are able to earn a livelihood. Women footballers lead the way but it gradually getting transferred at a slow pace to athletics.

The final challenge is that athletic is not fashionable sports for girls. They view the toned athletes that have to be careful with nutrition and discipline training regime. Girls whilst conscious about their body prefer to have the option and enjoy a less disciplined lifestyle.

In life, we are faced with tougher hurdles but always find a solution. This should be applied to helping these 3 women athletes pave the way for other African sprinters. This is a new cycle in women sprinting as current world champions look to wind up their career. They should be honoured for winning the first ever medals in a women’s world 200 metres.

The Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is looking to be on the forefront in the cultural change. He rewarded Blessing Okagbara with N3m and her first coach Mr Daniel Esebinimo, with N3.5m. The president also promised them national honours and asked the Ministries of Sports and Finance to assist her preparations for 2016 Olympics.

Blessing Okagbara

I am glad that Blessing Okagbara has been promised financial backing to achieve glory in Rio 2016. My worry is this is one off gesture and does not extend to help in the long term for upcoming sprinters. The Namibian approach to improving the chances of gaining sprint medals in Rio 2016 is the way forward. Five of Namibia’s top athletes have left for Jamaica as part of a long term training programme. They will also study sport management and journalism at the University of Technology of Jamaica.

We should be doing more as continent to lower the bar for role models and even lower for upcoming athletes.

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