Now that this year’s athletics season is over, I wanted to leave you all with perhaps one of the most outstanding performers in Nigeria’s colours in 2013. Given Blessing Okagbare’s double medal haul at the World Champs broke Nigeria’s 14-year medal drought in that competition, one might be forgiven for thinking that Nigeria has become a one-athlete nation. Not so. Regina George is an up and coming star for Nigeria, and I’ve made the following teaser celebrating her performances for Team Naija over the last 2 years – she is “One-to-Watch” for Nigeria in the run up to the 2016 Olympics!
In an era where some Nigerian athletes have switched to compete for other countries over the years, what is amazing about Regina’s story is that she has gone the other way – she was already competing for Team USA at the World Junior (U-20) Championships in 2010. Interestingly, even though there were a couple of Nigerian girls who beat her in that competition in the semi-finals and final (She finished 7th in the final behind two Nigerians), her progression into Nigeria’s best quarter miler today has been impressive to say the least, and could potentially be meteoric, if she continues the same way over the next few years.
What I especially like about her attitude to competing for Nigeria despite some of the obvious challenges is how she has embraced her colleagues in Team Nigeria as family, as she expresses in the following interview in Moscow, which was conducted after her amazing 49.8s split in the 4x400m Semi-Finals at the recently concluded World Championships. Even though her Personal Best in the individual 400m event is still 50.84s, her sub-50 split in the relays is perhaps an indication that there could be much more to come from Regina…
When I caught up with Regina in Calabar during the Nigerian trials in June, she had just broken 51 seconds for the first time, with 50.99s, which brought her a second consecutive Nigerian title – she’s been Nigeria’s best quarter-miler from the moment she switched from the US. Now that she’s lowered it further to 50.84s, her next goal in the next few years will undoubtedly the 50 second barrier. If she can become a consistent sub-50 runner by the next Olympics, then she just could be in the mix for medals by then. Ofcourse nothing is guaranteed in sport, so one can only wish her the best in her continuing progression as a world class athlete! Regina’s ambition is clear – even though Falilat Ogunkoya’s Nigerian and African Record is an incredible 49.10s, she has made that her target – one can only hope that she is able to achieve that in her career eventually. Here’s to hoping that she can even go beyond Rio 2016 and make it all the way until Tokyo 2020!
Hopefully, as Nigeria starts to discover and develop more world class athletes, there will be an increase in corporate endorsements and sponsorships for these athletes. Given the relatively small sums of prize money and appearance fees in Athletics, we should remember that for the elite athlete, the major earning potential over the course of their fleeting careers will come from endorsements. One study shows that the average earnings for a name recognition US Track & Field star will be close to half a million dollars a year, and this mostly comes from shoe contracts. At the very top of the sport, it was widely reported that Usain Bolt made $20 million last year, mostly from endorsements – $9 million came from his deal with Puma alone. In particular, Nigerian companies need to throw their support around athletes like Regina, who have the potential to bring glory to Nigeria on a global stage. Once we look after our own, the international endorsements from the likes of Puma and Nike would come flooding in for Nigerian athletes within a few years!
Thankfully, some people in Nigeria are beginning to take notice of Regina’s performances in the Green-White-Green. Immediately following the World Championships last month it was reported in Nigerian newspapers that Delta State’s sports loving governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, was throwing his support behind her to go for medals at the next Olympics, much in the same way he has provided financial support for Blessing Okagbare. This is a great development, and one can only hope that Nigerian companies will follow suit and throw their support behind our athletes as well!