Weightlifting On Front Burner
• As Race To Rio 2016 Olympics Begins
At the 9th edition of the African Games held in Algiers in 2007, weightlifting contributed a total of 17 gold, 12 silver and seven bronze medals to Team Nigeria, though the country placed fifth overall on the medals table. That was its worst performance since the Games began in 1965.
Four years later, the host country, Mozambique, played politics by excluding some key sports, including weightlifting and wrestling from the Games. At the end of Maputo 2011 Games, Team Nigeria placed third behind South Africa and Egypt with athletics being the saving grace for the country, contributing 10 of the 31 gold medals.
With the return of weightlifting and wrestling for Congo Brazzaville 2015, Team Nigeria was so hopeful of conquering all oppositions.
In fact, the Vice President of the Nigeria Weightlifting Federation, Yahaya Mohammed, had projected that no matter what happened in Brazzaville, the lifters would haul not less than 15 gold medals for Team Nigeria.
“We will win the highest number of gold medals for Team Nigeria in Congo,” Mohammed told The Guardian shortly before their departure for the Games.
But things didn’t work out well for NWF in Brazzaville, as Nigerian lifters could only pick eight gold, 18 silver and nine bronze medals at the end of hostilities in Congo, a far cry from the 17 gold, 12 silver and 7 bronze they won at Algiers 2007. Weightlifting hauled 14 gold medals for Team Nigeria at 2003 edition of the African Games held in Abuja.
In preparation for Congo 2015 Games, some stakeholders in Nigerian weightlifting raised the alarm over what they termed ‘unhealthy’ relationship between one of the board members, Steve Olarinoye and some of the coaches.
Olarinoye, a representative of the National Sports Commission (NSC) on the board of weightlifting, was said to have used his position to ‘edge out’ some of those he perceived as ‘his enemies,’ including Technical Director, Lawrence Iquaibon, a two time Olympian, and Coach Emmanuel Oshomah, also an ex-Olympian.
Coach Oshoma was the assistant to former Technical Director, Cosmos Samson (now retired), to Algiers 2007 Games, where weightlifting recorded the highest number of gold medals (17) for Team Nigeria and many were looking up to him to stir the ship in Congo.
In the absence of Iquaibon and Oshomah, the Federation settled for Andrew Ekanem from Akwa Ibom as head coach for the lifters to Congo.
The poor result recorded by weightlifting in Brazzaville has left tongue wagging, as some stakeholders now point accusing fingers at Olarinoye for ‘destroying’ the house they labored to build over the years.
But the board member (Steve Olarinoye) has washed his hands off the exclusion of some coaches for the Games in Brazzaville 2015.
He said: “The weightlifting Federation did not drop Lawrence Iquaibon from the trip to Congo. The National Sports Commission (NSC) did not approve fund for Technical Directors of all the Federations to be part of the African Games and Coach Iquaibon was affected. Coach Oshoma was dropped because he had a pending case with the federation. Some of our athletes defected at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and Oshomah is being questioned for it. But now that the African Games are over, the federation will try and look at his case to see if he can be part of our preparation for Rio 2016 Olympic Games,” Olarinoye told The Guardian in a telephone chat yesterday.
Coach Oshomah reacted angrily yesterday to points raised by Steve Olarinoye, describing his exclusion from Congo 2015 African Games as a ‘gang up’ against him by few ‘loud speakers’ in the weightlifting federation, who succeeded in shouting down the technical committee chairman owing to his closeness to the federation’s President.
On the defection of some Nigerian athletes at Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, Oshomah asked: “Did the case of athletes’ defection at Glasgow 2014 start from my team? Is it not possible the federation’s secretary concluded arrangement for defection of the athletes before depositing their traveling passports with me? I am asking this question because it is not part of my usual schedule to handle athletes’ passports during and after competitions.
How come nobody invited me for questioning over the issue? The simple truth is that Steve Olarinoye is looking for a way to paint me black. He attempted to be a member of the Commonwealth in 2014 when he contested election, even as he had never contributed to development of weightlifting in Nigeria.
He came to weightlifting federation as secretary in 2005 and NDDC gave the federation N11 million in 2006 for our various competitions. But he spent all the N11 million just in one competition with substandard platforms. He is from Kwara State that produced Ruth Ogbeifo, a silver medalist at Sydney 2000 Olympics.
The game of weightlifting has gone into extinction in Kwara now. During his time as secretary in weightlifting, we never had competitions unless government supported us because of the overbloated estimates he carried about. Six of my athletes were in the national camp preparing for Congo 2015 Games, but Steve brought Andrew Ekanem who had only one athlete in the camp to head the coaching crew,” Oshomah alleged.
Weightlifting is the first focus for Team Nigeria, as the race for Rio 2016 Olympics begins soon.
Director General of the NSC, Al Hassan Yakmut, told The Guardian yesterday that Nigeria’s preparation for Rio would commence in November, but weightlifting will resume camping early October in readiness for their qualifying campaign in the United States. He also hinted that the NSC would soon step into the ‘crisis’ in the weightlifting federation.