I hawked bread on the streets –Obikwelu | Independent Newspapers Limited
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I hawked bread on the streets –Obikwelu

Posted: Apr 12, 2015 at 6:07 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Nigerian-born Portuguese sprinter, Francis Obikwelu, has paid his dues in his chosen sport, athletes. The Anambra State born athlete believes that passion leads to achievements that stealthily erases the rough and tough beginning.



The Olympian who narrated how fate scooped him from the bread-hawking business on the street of Owerri in Imo State, said, “I used to sell bread on Mbaise road, Owerri back in the days and one of the coaches saw me and said you are running faster why not come and try. When I got there I saw other youths. I ran with them and I was faster. He picked me up and brought me to Enugu, where I started my athletics career.”

Speaking further, he said, “I was running 400m then, I wasn’t running 100 by 200m then at 9.86 seconds. My greatest achievement was winning an Olympic medal, I dreamt about it and I achieved it. My testimony is that when I had injury in Sydney in 2000 and because I couldn’t recover quickly I went for a surgery and the doctor said I can’t run anymore, I told him you are not my God. That was the lowest and toughest time of my life.”

Obikwelu, 36, ceased to represent Nigeria 16 years ago, following an alleged unjust treatment by officials of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) when he incurred a career threatening injury at the Olympics.

He said, “If I start saying reasons why I stopped competing for Nigeria, perhaps, I wouldn’t be home, its better I leave that aspect, but I’m here to forgive, I think it’s an example for Nigeria, my decision was based on what happened to me. I’m happy to be home and I’m here to support, to help and make the youths that understand that they could make it even in Nigerian and other countries.”

Obikwelu was injured competing for Nigeria at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. He had to go for knee surgery in Canada, where he was allegedly abandoned by AFN and had to bear the cost of the surgery all by himself. At the hospital, he suffered complications due to blood clot, from which he almost died, leaving him hospitalised for two months afterwards. Following his discharge from hospital, once it was still clear that he wasn’t going to get the support he needed from Nigeria, he went back ‘home’ to Portugal (where he had already been living for up to 6 years prior to his injury), completed his naturalisation, and made the switch to compete for them in 2001. At the Athens 2004 Olympics, he won what many would have considered a surprised silver medal in the 100m, beating the likes of Maurice Greene, Shawn Crawford and Asafa Powell to 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively, and in the process setting the European 100m record of 9.86s which stands until today.

Obikwelu became the very first Nigerian man in history to win an individual sprint medal, and he won it competing for his new national colours of Portugal. However, this is a tragic tale for Nigeria, a stark example of how over the years we have contrived to waste away our immense potential to dominate Track and Field, not just on the African continent, but globally.  Obikwelu’s 100m silver medal ended up going a country that could really appreciate what winning an Olympic medal in sprinting meant to them, after all it was the first and only Olympic medal in the sprints that Portugal has ever won.  On the day of the race, the President of Portugal gave the whole country a day off to watch Francis run in the final. After winning the silver medal, a private jet, along with the armed forces were sent to take him directly back to Portugal, where crowds of people waited at the airport to cheer his triumphant return.Obikwelu won a silver medal for Portugal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in the 100 meters. He was a soccer player in Nigeria before becoming a runner and moving to Portugal.