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Nigeria's New American Athletes - Should They Be Allowed To Compete For Nigeria? by bambostic: 11:10am On Jun 30, 2014

The Nigerian Athletics Championships which wrapped up a week ago in Calabar seemed to usher in a new era in Nigerian Athletics - one which could see American athletes who have switched allegiances to dominate Nigerian Track & Field for some time to come, if there continues to be no serious effort or investment by the AFN or the private sector to develop athletes in Nigeria.

Athletes switching from USA to Nigeria has not been uncommon in the past few years. Indeed, Blessing Okagbare aside, most of the top athletes representing Nigeria currently, such as Regina George and Gloria Asumnu, once donned the blue, red and white of Team USA. That said, never has the systematic switch of allegiances of Americans to Nigeria caused as much controversy as it is causing right now, because in the past, the links that the athletes had to Nigeria were plainly obvious - within their names, and for the clear fact that either one or both of their parents were Nigeria. The only difference between them and other Nigerians was being born and brought up in the US.

What we are currently witnessing seems to be a completely new trend. Now, it seems that we're no longer satisfied with recruiting Nigerians who were born and bred in America. The latest swathe of athletes recruited, who waltzed into Nigeria for the first time in their lives to dominate at the Nigerian Trials, would appear to have questionable links to Nigeria at best, completely fabricated at worst. We EXCLUSIVELY interviewed each of these new athletes at the Trials, so every day this week, we will be publishing the interviews with each of them, and asking you the public the questions that will inevitably arise - are these athletes really Nigerian? Were they really eligible to receive Nigerian Passports? Should they really be competing for Nigeria?

Probably the most critical question that arises is this - why are we expending great resources and efforts recruiting athletes who are not good enough to compete for USA, while we lose our best World-Class talents, such as Kemi Adekoya and Femi Ogunode, to the likes of Bahrain and Qatar respectively? Essentially, it would appear that we are mortgaging the futures of our best talents to take in these Americans, most of whom are in the twilight of their careers and will not make it past Rio 2016, even if they make it that far. Tell us what you think about each interview - interestingly, when asked about their family links to Nigeria, the responses we got ranged from parent, to grandparent, great-grandparent and even great-great-grandparent!

A quick check of Nigerian citizenship law shows that there are only 3 ways to obtain Nigerian nationality: (1) By birth (2) By registration (a woman married to a Nigerian man can obtain citizenship) and (3) By naturalisation (must have resided in Nigeria for 15 years). As such, the only way these athletes could possibly qualify is through birth: "A citizen by birth in Nigeria is a person who was born in Nigeria before or after independence and whose parents or grandparents belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria, or any person born outside Nigeria either of whose parents is a citizen of Nigeria."

Essentially, it seems rather unlikely that any athlete who does not have at least one parent who is Nigerian could possibly be eligible to receive a Nigerian passport and hence compete for Team Nigeria. It does appears the law may include a loophole, which states that people born outside Nigeria but with a Nigerian grandparent may be registered (by none other than the President himself) as a citizen of Nigeria if, among other stipulations, the person has shown a clear intention to be domiciled in Nigeria. So at a stretch, any of these athletes with a Nigerian grandparent could possibly squeeze in, but do you really see any of them intending to spend any time in Nigeria, outside of attending the annual Trials to win the right to compete for Team Nigeria at international competitions?

Sit tight, and watch out for these exclusive interviews throughout the week. We will update this post with the links to each interview as they are published!
Re: Nigeria's New American Athletes - Should They Be Allowed To Compete For Nigeria? by bambostic: 11:57am On Jun 30, 2014

30 year-old Mark Jelks, Nigeria’s latest fastest man, talks to the Nigerian press immediately after his win in the 100 metres at the Nigerian Trials at the UJ Esuene Stadium in Calabar on June 20th, 2014…

How do you feel after winning your first Nigerian 100 metre Title?

I’m tired, hungry, sleepy…did I mention hungry? Men, it is breath-taking to be here. Seriously, I’m in awe right now. Words can’t accurately express what I feel right now.

Right, we know that you didn’t just think that you were going to waltz in here and win this. Was there anything special you had to do to win here today?

You know, I just had to keep faith in what my training has been, and I knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy win. These guys are hungry to win out here on the track, so I just kept faith in what my coach and I had been working on.

So next stop for you is the Commonwealth Games?

Yes, yes! I am ready, I am excited.

We are experiencing a time in Nigerian Athletics where our men are not doing very well. Last year at the World Championships our men could not progress beyond the heats. Now looking forward to the Commonwealth Games you are the Nigerian Champion, you’re the new kid on the block, you’ve beaten former Champions Ogho-Oghene Egwero and Obinna Metu to win the title. Are we going to see you perform better with regards to your time?

I am here to win medals. I am here to represent to the best of my abilities. I will go past rounds, I will make the finals, and I will get medals.

Mark, can you tell us what made you decide to switch allegiance from Team USA to represent Nigeria?

The opportunity to represent a great country. Seriously, there are more opportunities here to flourish, to be great and to have the opportunity to get to the bigger stage. So that was the deciding factor for me

So what was the process of switching like? Do you have any parents, grandparents or someone in your ancestry who is from Nigeria? How does it work?

Yeah, my ‘Papa’! I call him Papa, he’s my grand-dad. My uncle still stays here, so I decided to explore that side of my family.

And for Nigerian fans, can you tell us where your Papa is from?

Warri South.

What was your preparation like ahead of winning the Nigerian 100m title here?

The preparation is gruelling, it hurts. That is why I respect all those guys in the final, because they hurt just as much as I hurt. Every day they go out and do the same types of things that I am doing, to make the final, to represent, to get on the team, so it’s humbling and at the same time, exciting.
Re: Nigeria's New American Athletes - Should They Be Allowed To Compete For Nigeria? by bambostic: 10:58am On Jul 01, 2014

31 year-old Nichole Denby, winner of the 100m Hurdles at the 2014 Nigerian Trials (in 13.29 seconds) speaks exclusively to MAKING OF CHAMPIONS on her decision to switch from Team USA to Team Nigeria, and on her family links to Nigeria!

Nichole, how are you feeling about your win?

I feel great. All the girls were really great today. The weather’s great out here, the track is great, so my goal from here on out in my career is to just go for the wins. Don’t think about times or anything else – the wins are what I am going for every time I step on the track. I’m very happy for the opportunity to make the Commonwealth Games with the other girls. I’ve never run at the Commonwealth Games so I’m really excited to do that. I’m really really happy.

I believe this is your second meet in Nigeria, after attending the Warri Relays last week. Can you tell us about the path that led you to competing for Nigeria for the first time?

Well, I’m hoping to come away with a medal at the Commonwealth Games, and hoping to do really well at the African Championships as well, to make the team to the Intercontinental World Cup. That will also be my first time competing there, so I’m getting all these great opportunities and I’m going to take advantage of them. Hopefully, we can put Nigeria on top in the 100m Hurdles once again.

The question we were getting at, and what a lot of Nigerians will be wanting to know, is how you made the decision to switch from the US to Nigeria?

Well I have some family down the line from Nigeria, and I’ve made a lot of USA teams as well to World Championships and Olympics, but it is such a great honour to compete for an African country where my roots come from, and there is no greater honour for me than to do that. The USA is saturated with athletes, they have so many different people, so they really don’t need anyone else. For a country like this in Africa, there is no great honour for me to represent a country like this in Africa, it really is (an honour).

Do you know how far down your family line your connection to Nigeria comes from? Is it from your grandparents or further down?

It’s on my mother’s side. I don’t even know them, I never met them, I have just seen pictures of them and stuff so yeah, my great-grandfather was actually from Nigeria.

So do you have a Nigerian passport now?

Yes, I’ve had it for a while now!

So what are your hopes for the Commonwealth Games and the rest of your career?

I’m hoping to come away with a medal. Obviously the GOLD medal would be great, but any medal would be great for me at the Commonwealth Games. Like I said, to win at the African Championships and go ahead and medal at the Continental World Cup, and just stay a Champion for the rest of my career! I’m hoping to go until after the next Olympics, till the World Championships in 2017 and we’ll see how it goes from there.

What’s your PB in the 100m Hurdles?

12.54 seconds

That’s pretty fast. And how fast are you on the flat? Any chance you could help our 4x100m girls win some medals?

I was on the 4x100m team at the Warri Relays last week, and we won. But I’m not a pure sprinter, and we have lots of great sprinters here in Nigeria, so I’m going to give that job to the real sprinters, and I’m going to stick to my job over here!

Great! So we’ll look out for you in the 100m Hurdles at the Commonwealth Games and the African Championships. Congratulations on the win today.

Thank you!
Re: Nigeria's New American Athletes - Should They Be Allowed To Compete For Nigeria? by bambostic: 10:01am On Jul 02, 2014

28 year-old Tyron Akins, winner of the 100m Hurdles at the 2014 Nigerian Trials (in a time of 13.66 seconds) speaks exclusively to MAKING OF CHAMPIONS on his decision to switch from Team USA to Team Nigeria, and on his family links to Nigeria!

Tyron, how are you feeling about your win here at the Nigerian Trials?

I’m feel pretty good, we had a little delay just before with the women’s hurdles, where something went wrong with the timing system, but I was able to re-focus on the task at hand which was trying to win the race.

Now you were also at the Warri Relays last week – how did you do over there?

Well I felt really good about the Warri Relays but unfortunately I hit hurdles 5 and 6 and that pretty much put me out of the race. Being a hurdler those types of things happen, so I was put out of the race by that – I came fourth though.

So is this your first time competing in Nigeria, and for Nigeria?

Yes it is.

Could you tell us about how you came to switch from the US to represent Nigeria?

Well, it was an opportunity that arose for me, so I was like yeah, I would like to do that. I have always followed Nigeria Track & Field as well, being that I am good friends with Blessing (Okagbare), so I’ve always kept up with what was happening over here. So when the opportunity arose for me to do it, I was able to take advantage of it. So I’m here now!

Do you have any family or heritage from Nigeria?

I do, I do. Uhm…somewhere down the line but it’s there!

A lot of Nigerians will be wondering – how does it work? Don’t you have to have some kind of close parentage or family links in Nigeria to make the switch?

You’ve got to have some sort of proof that you have that family. At least that’s my understanding, and I was lucky enough to go down the family tree to find that.

So how far down the family tree does it go?

I don’t know exactly, but I think it was pretty deep!

So what is your Personal Best in the 100m Hurdles and when did you do it?

My PB is 13.25 seconds, and I did that in 2008. So it’s been a while, but from 2009 to 2012, I was consistently in the 13.30’s, and I had an off year in 2013, so I’m trying to get back to form now, and everything is falling into place it should be.

Now that you’re getting started with your Nigeria career, what are your hopes for the future, starting with the Commonwealth Games?

The goal is to medal, to consistently get on the podium. I think, whenever you represent any country, you want to consistently be on the podium, or in contention for the podium. So everything I am doing is to try to medal at every Championships – Commonwealth, African Championships, All-Africa Games next year, then the World Championships, the Olympics and all of that. So those are my goals for now.

Have you competed before (for Team USA) at a World Championships or an Olympics?

No I have not.

So that’s something to look forward to?

Absolutely, and I can’t wait!

How fast are you on the flat (100 metres)? You know that our guys need some help in that department…

Well, it’s a mix, because on record they’ve got me at 10.78s into a 2.0 m/s headwind, but I think my best was 10.49s

So you think you might try out the flat at some point?

No, can’t do it! Can’t do it!

Ok, congratulations again, and thank you for your time!

Thank you
Re: Nigeria's New American Athletes - Should They Be Allowed To Compete For Nigeria? by bambostic: 9:47am On Jul 03, 2014

33 year-old Monzavous Edwards speaks exclusively to MAKING OF CHAMPIONS after finishing 2nd in the 100 metres (in 10.39s into -2.3 m/s headwind) at the 2014 Nigerian Trials

Monzavous, how are you feeling about your performance?

I’ll take it. I know it’s not my best, but you can never complain when the main focus was to make it to the Commonwealth. I finished in the Top 3, so the main objective was completed. I’m not satisfied, nor happy with my result, but like I said, I’ll take it.

These Trials and the Warri Relays last week – is it your first times competing for Team Nigeria?


Can you tell us about your journey from competing for USA to Nigeria – what made you decide to make the switch?

It was an appreciation for the sport, and more of an appreciation of me as an athlete and a sprinter. In America there’s so much competition that it is hard to be appreciated for all the hard work that you put in. And having the chance to get with my family and switch to Nigeria. Since I’ve made that switch, I’ve felt more than appreciated as a professional athlete. So that was the main reason for it.

You mentioned your family just now. Can you tell us a bit about that – what are your connections to Nigeria, in terms of your heritage?

Oh, the President (of the AFN)! President Solomon (Ogba) is an uncle of mine.

He’s your uncle? Okay…

Yeah. Also, me and Blessing (Okagbare)* are related. She’s a great friend and a family member of mine as well.

So which of your parents is Nigerian?

It’s from my grandparents. Actually, it’s from my great-great-grandparents, if I said that right. Let me see…1, 2 (counts on his fingers)…yeah I said it right.

So what’s your PB in the 100 metres?

9.95 seconds**

Wow, that’s impressive. When did you do that?

In 2010.

What are your hopes for the Commonwealth Games, and competing for Team Nigeria generally – do you think you can take your PB lower?

Actually, I know I can because for the last 2 years I have dealt with injuries so it’s been a climb to get back. I know where my training is at, and I know where I am at. I’ve only been here a week, and it usually takes my body up to 10 days to get acclimated, so I know that I am sub-10 ready. For the Commonwealth Games I am looking to make sure that I win, with something around the 9.8 range, because I will have time to get there and get used to it. Athletes are different and bodies are different. Some athletes can get acclimated quicker, some take longer. I’ve been doing this sport for some years now and it takes me about 10 days.

You better get to Glasgow quickly then?

Yeah I already told them, I need to be in Glasgow like 2 weeks before!

Is this your first time in Nigeria? What has the experience been like so far?

Yes. So far I have loved. I have to be honest with you, I have loved every bit of it. The weather is a bit hot, but other than that it’s been wonderful

Final question for you. Best to get this out of the way now because you will get it later on down the line – can you tell us about the gold teeth?

Well, I had an accident back in 2013 – I actually have a metal plate in my chin, and I lost some teeth in the accident, so I had my mouth wired shut for 3 months, so that’s actually how I got the gold teeth.

Was it a car accident?

No actually I fainted – I had a mild seizure and when I fell, I fell on my face. So this is a metal plate – I lost all these teeth at the top, and the ones at the bottom don’t work as the nerves are dead.

Wow, so there’s a good reason for it.

Oh yeah, yeah. It’s not for fashion! Definitely not for fashion!

* Following the interview MAKING OF CHAMPIONS contacted Blessing Okagbare to verify if she was related to any of the new American recruits on Team Nigeria and she refuted any suggestions whatsoever that she is related to any of them!

* Edwards’ PB from 2010 is listed as 10.00 seconds on the IAAF website, though it is possible that he ran a wind-assisted 9.95s that year that has not been listed in official records
Re: Nigeria's New American Athletes - Should They Be Allowed To Compete For Nigeria? by bambostic: 7:53pm On Jul 04, 2014

25 year-old Alex Al-Ameen speaks exclusively to MAKING OF CHAMPIONS after finishing 2nd in the 110 metre hurdles (in 13.75s) at the 2014 Nigerian Trials

Congratulations for your 2nd place in the 110 hurdles at the Nigerian Trials. How do you feel about your race?

It was an okay race – I didn’t get out as well as I did yesterday (in the semis), but I had to go to the passport office this morning. They made me wait there for an hour, and then when I got here, the race was delayed by half an hour, so considering the conditions, I reckon that I ran an okay race

I can detect a bit of a British accent in your voice? How long have you been competing for Nigeria?

Yes, I am from London. This is my first time competing at the Nigerian Championships. My dad is Nigerian, and my mum is English, and I just recently got my (Nigerian) passport, so I am able to compete for Nigeria this year at the Commonwealth Games and African Champs.

So how long have you been an athlete?

I’ve been doing it since I was 14. I went to the World Junior Championships for Great Britain and made the semi-finals, and I have been doing it ever since. This year, I’ve started taking it seriously with my coach, and ever since then I have been running PBs – I can’t complain

How old are you now?

I just turned 25.

So what made you decide to switch from representing Team GB to representing Nigeria?

Well, to be honest, I didn’t get picked by England for the Commonwealth Games, I was No. 4 for Great Britain. I knew that if I came to Nigeria I might have the opportunity to compete at the highest level, because I know that I can perform at the highest level. That’s how I came to my decision

So your 2nd place here means you have qualified for the Commonwealth Games for Team Nigeria, so congratulations.

Thank you.

How do you feel about going up against the other countries, particularly the England team which you didn’t get into? What are your hopes for the Commonwealth Games?

Well, to be honest, my aspirations are to make the final, and I believe that I can mix it with the best of them. I just got my visa on Monday and booked my flight and come straight here, so my preparation hasn’t been that good for these championships, but I know that I am getting better with every race. Yesterday I ran 13.56s, my second fastest time, so I am getting better with every race.

Ok, well congratulations again and see you at the Commonwealth Games!

Thank you.

* A week after the Nigerian Trials, Al-Ameen also competed at the British Athletics Championships (last weekend) in the 110m Hurdles, finishing 3rd in 13.64s. At this stage it is unclear whether this means he is still in contention for a place on Team England for the Commonwealth Games, after having already been named in Team Nigeria for the Commonwealth Games.

One former Nigerian Athlete who has made his feelings about the recruitment of US and UK athletes to Team Nigeria is Double Olympic Medallist Enefiok Udo-Obong, who did not mince words earlier this week on his blog where he expressed his strong feelings about Al-Ameen's candidacy to represent Nigeria!
Re: Nigeria's New American Athletes - Should They Be Allowed To Compete For Nigeria? by adekzy: 5:30pm On Aug 26, 2016
This is obviously one of the reason for our poor display at the Rio Olympics.

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