Exclusive Update from Nigeria’s Olympic & World Junior Champs Camp at Uniport’s High Performance Centre

Former Delta State Director of Sports and Athletics coach Seigha Porbeni is the Coaches’ Coordinator at the High Performance Centre in Port Harcourt where about 20 athletes are currently being camped in preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. In this EXCLUSIVE interview with Making of Champions, he gives some insight as to the conditions in camp and how the athletes are faring.

The national camp has opened for the Olympics and World Juniors. When did the camp open and how has it been going so far?

It opened early November. Immediately after the board had their meeting in Abuja, they came up with a memo that we are moving to camp immediately for the first phase of preparation for the Rio Olympics called the ‘Foundation Training Camp’. We’ll have a second phase which will be for specifics, then everybody will now go into their different events and work towards time and distances in the throws and jumps.

This foundation phase, how long will it be and what does it entail actually?

It’s actually for 12 weeks, but we will have the first eight weeks because of the Christmas. We’re going to give them a break of about eight days, not more, because we don’t want them to lose what they have developed and improved upon. The emphasis is on muscular strength and aerobic capacity development, flexibility and dexterity, that is, ability to change.

You know we have so many components that make a top Olympic Gold medallist. We’re trying to get at least six of those components, so that come Rio Olympics, we should be thinking of the podium at least in four events.

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How many components are there, and what are those six that you’re thinking about?

Flexibility, muscular strength, aerobic capacity, reaction time, power and strength which we call dynamics and explosive power. They’re quite more, about seven, and some of them are interwoven.

So when does the second phase start, and what does it entail? Is there a third phase?

No..no..no…in the third phase, we’re already in Rio. This current phase will end by January, then everybody goes home to work with their various coaches, and they would be introduced by their various coaches, because of the hand-outs we’re going to give to them for their specifics.

And when they get into their specifics like starts, sprints, short sprints, full sprints and short distances, hurdles, going over the hurdles, from the blocks, over three, five hurdles, jumps; three strides, five strides; nine strides; full approach, gradually, we’re getting into the competition stage.

Immediately, we’re through with that, while we’re there, the competitions begin. We have four major Golden leagues this year. Immediately after that, we go for the Grand Prix in Warri and then the National Trials.

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Any word on where the Golden Leagues will hold this coming year?

This coming year, the states will actually bid for it, unlike the previous one where we go and almost impose it on them. They (the states) will bid and then we’ll go. But if only one state wants to take it, then fine, but we’re waiting as they (the board) have contacted most of the sports loving governors to take the bid. Immediately after the trials, we’re back into the second phase that takes us into Rio, or World Junior Championships, and those going to Rio will all be in this camp.

Who is in charge of this camp? Is it the AFN or NOC, or the Sports Ministry?

That is a very fantastic question! As we are right now, we are under the AFN. The NSC steps in in January, and when NSC steps in of course NOC is indirectly involved. Because they’re the final carrier, they’ll take us out of the country.
NSC will produce the finest athletes, hand over to NOC, for the final dispatch. For now, it’s the AFN, but in January, NSC takes over because that’s when their own program for Olympic Trials will kick off with the other sports.

There have been some comments in the press, about the state of the camp, maybe some of the athletes are not coming…and about the condition of the camp. Can you speak about some of the things we’ve been hearing?

Yeah, I believe that anyone here should regard him/herself lucky and opportune. Nigeria is big, and for you to be recognised by a national body to be invited, kept in a place, fed taken care of medically and given some remunerations at the end of the day for your own good. When you go and win an amount such as $50,000, who do you give it to? It’s an individual event!

You’re now invited and some of you are complaining that the competition you ran last year, you have not been paid. Some are saying letters have not been sent to their place of work or to their schools. I look at these complaints as frivolous. A well-meaning, determined athlete, that is thinking of his or her own future would not look at all those things, because in the first place, the AFN that is owing you will not run away because you’re under them and training under them.

Everybody knows the Government can hardly pay salaries; you’re talking of allowance from a small federation. Where do they get their money from? Most cases it’s still from the same government. For now the change in the issue of the TSA (Treasury Single Account) one account has affected everybody; even if it’s a governor that wants to give us money for the federation, he’ll be affected with this one singular account.

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Don’t the athletes have any fair gripe that they are being owed monies? Some of them cannot afford to look after themselves; some of them have families to look after. When can they expect to get paid?

We (coaches) are here too. We’ve only been told we will be paid. We also have families and responsibilities. And if we also behave like them, who will be here? And this is our country; if we have other nations coming here happily to train under our watch, you, in your own country are giving excuses. You’re not going to get younger, and of course these athletes that are going through this training, I do not think you can beat them after this type of training.

We coaches believe with what they’re going through, if they successfully go through this phase, every part of their body is now prepared to take whatever training programs are required in their specifics. Nobody is saying they don’t have the right, but what we’re saying is we should all learn to sacrifice.

Some of the athletes, even those that are not in camp have said that the food here is not up to standard, it’s not up to what they can expect. Some of them talked about going to buy their own food, even though they are being fed in the High Performance centre. Have you heard any of these from any of the athletes?

I have, in fact every day; it’s not easy. When we were in camp before we went to Congo and Samoa, a lot of wastage was recorded based on the quantity of food, and I’m sure based on that, when we came back, the same caterers decided to reduce the size in order to curb wastage, and of course we don’t want them (athletes) to build up here. We want tight and fit muscles and not obese muscles riddled with fatty tissues, so some of them may not get used to that yet. It’s not all of them that will complain about the food.

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There’s an impression that the quantity they’re getting is nutritionally insufficient for the kind of work they’re doing here at the moment.
I do not understand what they mean by that, because we (coaches) also eat there. What they need right now is more of carbohydrates and few proteins to replace broken cells. Fruits are also given to them. It’s not easy too; they that are complaining don’t even know what is being given to them in terms of the real nutrients they are getting out of it. It is later they’ll start to understand what they have been given.

Because of the challenges, we’ve not been able to sit down, and report what you’re now hearing because it’s now becoming louder, which means there’s a need to look at it. When Professor Ken comes back, we’ll discuss. I don’t have the power to discuss with the cafeteria. If we are complaining, they can’t change it until the man in charge, who gave them the contract to do what they’re doing talks to them.

How many athletes are currently in camp? How many for the seniors and how many juniors?

We have 18 athletes and 3 seniors: Divine Oduduru, Funke Oladoye and Kelechi Nwanaga the Javelin thrower are the three seniors we have here. The rest are juniors.

It seems that a lot of the seniors have decided to train in their own locale, feeling that maybe it’s better for them to stay there for now. What can you say to them to convince them to come and take advantage of this opportunity?

If I’m speaking to anyone of them, I’d say this is a season or periodizational training session that you cannot get again. By January, we’ve moved on; by February ending we will be having competitions. You can never get this phase again, which we have been lacking. They’ve been doing the same thing over and over again with their coaches.

If you have not improved with your coach, we’re offering you the chance to come and try something new, something different, the only thing that can change your performance. That’s why I’m advising that they should forget whatever grievances and sacrifice in order to grab this opportunity because everything here is measured.

This is a question for Prof Ken but can a private body/state have their athletes in the High Performance Centre and bring their own coach to coach their own athletes?

No. You see in the High Performance Centre, we have a curriculum/program. A coach that is not working with us will not understand what we are doing. The coach may come and want to do something different, which will only give a wrong signal to our own athletes.

This is like a closed-circuit camp and being the first, we want to use it as our own model. Let’s see how they will do against those who are not here; the trained against the untrained. The training program is a daily schedule. With what we have here, except we explain, you’ll have to go through a whole lot of explanation for a coach to understand why we are doing certain things.

There are some Gambians here…How did that work?

IAAF and CAF may sponsor athletes from every country in Africa. They’re to decide which is near to them. Nigeria being so good in the sprints, other countries in the sprints will now bring most of their athletes down here.

Thank you so much for your time.

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Bambo Akani

Bambo Akani is the Founder and CEO of Making of Champions (MoC). He is an avid sports writer and photo-blogger, and has quickly become an internationally recognized Athletics Expert. He appeared in a new weekly Athletics segment on the Sports Tonight Show on Channels TV during the 2014 Athletics season and has also appeared on Jamaican Television and Radio to discuss the MoC "The History" Film that he Produced and Directed, and to review and analyse key events in world athletics.

Bambo holds an MEng and BA in Chemical Engineering from Cambridge University in the UK and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management in the US.

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