U.S.-based Egwim fires back at ‘incompetent’ Nigerian coaches

Nigeria’s Glory Onome Nathaniel (right) hands the baton over to Nigeria’s Emerald Egwim (second left) as Germany’s Nadine Gonska (second right) hands off to Germany’s Svea Kohrbruck (left) in the heats of the women’s 4x400m relay athletics event at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

United States-based Nigerian athlete and member of the Women’s 4x400m relay team at the London 2017 IAAF World Athletics Championship, Emerald Egwim has broken her silence on issues concerning her non-participation in the final of the event.

Nigeria had a golden opportunity of picking a medal in the women’s 4x400m relay, but the chance was ‘blown-up,’ prompting many Nigerians to point accusing fingers at the three coaches that handled Team Nigeria, Gabriel Okon, Tony Osheku and Patience Itanyi.

Okon, a board member of the AFN, had told The Guardian last week that Nigeria’s failed bid to win a last ditch medal in the women 4x400m relay was not his fault, insisting that they uttered the list by bringing in Abike Egbeniyi, who arrived in the camp a few hours to the final because Emerald Egwim was sick.

But the athlete, Egwim, who helped the team to qualify for the final, has stated her side of the story, saying she was fully fit and ready for the race.

In a letter to the AFN made available to The Guardian, Egwim stated: “This letter is to serve as my account of what happened regarding my running at the World Championships 2017 in London. I met Coach Gabe (referring to Gabriel Okon) the morning of August 3rd in the breakfast area of the hotel. There, we went over what my training programme was, and he agreed it was okay but mentioned that he may want to change some things and that he also wanted me to lift weights which would not coincide with what I should be doing so close to a race.

“I don’t know why a coach who does not know my bodyweight would want me to make changes to my workout a week before a major competition. I wondered if he took into consideration the effects of his suggested workouts would have on my body, the possibilities of injuries or soreness or if my body could not adapt to what he wanted. I have a coach who sends me workouts; I felt it was inappropriate to try to change my workouts without him consulting with my coach.”

Continuing, Egwim said: “On Sunday, August 6, coach Gabe asked me to come to his hotel room to meet with the coaches. When I arrived, coach Tony and coach Pat were also in the room. Once again, they asked me to change my workout and decided that I needed to run a 300-meter time trial because they did not trust I could run a good 400-meter leg, and they wanted to see where I was. I agreed after speaking with my personal Coach and said so via WhatsApp.

“Coach Gabe told me he will let me know when they could watch me do the trial. I did the time trial on Monday August 7, and ran my 300-meter in 37.02 seconds in the presence of coach Gabe, coach Pat and coach Tony. The 37.02 seconds would be on pace for a 51 second 400 meter. He told me “nice job today.”

“I felt a little disappointed that they felt like I would come to a meet of this magnitude not ready to perform. It was as if they were looking for a reason for me not to run on the relay; that’s why they made me do the trials, but could not justify removing me as I ran a very good time. On Saturday morning (August 12), the day of the 4×400 prelim, I told Coach Gabe my stomach was feeling funny and he panicked, but assured him that I was ok and this happens every now and then. At no point did I ever say or act like I was sick. I was ready to take care of business on the
track as I felt this is just another day at work. I have run several 4×400 meters relays as a collegiate athlete and I was determined to help the team make the final.

“When we got to the track, I did my full and normal warm up. I did not complain nor express in any way that I did not
want to run. When it was time to perform, I was ready to go out there and run. As seen in the video, I had my hands up in the air summoning Onome Nathaniel to give me the baton so I could go take care of business. If I was so sick in accordance to coach Gabe, I don’t think I would have run that fast.

“We qualified for the final and came second in our heat and gave glory to God. After the race, he said “great job.” Not once after the race did I say anything to Coach Gabe or any other coaches about not being able to run in the final because I was sick. On Sunday August 13, the day of the final, I messaged Coach Gabe via WhatsApp asking what the plan was for the day, and asking if I was running, as I knew they had brought Abike Egbeniyi from Nigeria just the day before. He told me via WhatsApp message that of course I was running. I said, ‘sounds good’ and went throughout my day as if I was going to run.”

Egwim added: “I did my shake out in the middle of the day and got ready to fight for a medal that evening. All five of us went to the track to warm up and did our warm ups. They told us they would announce who is running after everyone was warmed up. I thought I would run as he told me that, and because I am a true 400-meter runner, while Abike runs the 800. She just flew in, and had not practiced with the other three to create a synergy.

“The other 4×400 girls informed me that coach Tony was Abike’s coach. I thought given that we are here to bring honour to Nigeria by winning a medal, that the coaches would put in their best options, and I would be a part of that option. I went through my warm up, in higher spirits than the prelim. I was in high spirits and ready to go out there and fight. When we were all warmed, the coaches informed me that I would not be running and that Abike would run in my place and that their decision was final. I did not want to be disrespectful, so I did not argue and I prayed with the rest of the girls and wished them luck.

“In the final, the team ended up running slower than we did in the prelim and missed out on a great opportunity for not only us as athletes, but for Nigeria. Only coach Gabe and the other coaches know the real reason why Abike ran in my place, but please do not use me to justify your decision. Whatever that reason is, they, the coaches have to live with the decision and the final outcome. They cannot blame anyone but themselves as the leaders of the team they made the final call. I felt sad that I did not run the final but I was honoured and grateful that I got a chance to run the prelims and represent Nigeria.”

Reacting to Egwim’s side of the story, the Athletes’ Representative on the AFN board, Sunday Adeleye said, “I think this is a very important matter and I suppose it will come up in our next board meeting.”

In this article:
AFNEmerald Egwim


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