Nigeria won an unprecedented 1-2-3 in the 100m Hurdles at the African Championships this week, and MAKING OF CHAMPIONS exclusively caught up with the three medallists, Tyron Akins, Alex Al-Ameen and Martins Ogieriakhi, trackside immediately after the race.
In recent weeks, we have spoken much about the controversy surrounding the Americans who recently switched to compete for Team Nigeria. Though Akins was initially reluctant to speak to us again following what we’ve written about them on these pages, he decided to use it as an opportunity to air his grievances on our coverage of their stories, and to let ALL Nigerians know what it means to him to have been given the opportunity to run for Nigeria! See the full interview transcript below:
Akins: When I read what you guys had written, I was so taken aback because when I did the interview with you it was all out of love. I was like mehn I’m happy; this is my first time of being here; like this is unbelievable and then I read the thing and it came off as so negative, like these guys are just coming in and there is controversy and all that. The Nigerian people have done nothing but openly welcome us, so it hurt me to read it, honestly.
MoC: We appreciate this and we’re glad you can talk about this and we respect that. There are a lot of people hurting in Nigeria as well because they feel like they are losing their opportunities to develop because you guys are coming in to take their spots, and they don’t seem to be getting even nearly the same support as you guys are. We appreciate that you’re still willing to speak up on this issue, because you will need your voice to be heard in Nigeria, otherwise you may have an uphill battle in winning over the masses…
Akins: Absolutely! I know that and I don’t have a problem with that because I’m dedicated to Nigeria – that is why I have this shirt on. There are people who are missing out on opportunities but the thing about athletics is this – what this does is that the people who are missing out on opportunities have to go back and re-evaluate and say hey, there is something I’ve got to change. This guy here (Martins Ogierakhi), when I came in he could have said we have Ty here and all that, but he stepped up to the occasion. This guy ran a PB (Personal Best) two weeks back to back. He beat me in Warri, you see what I’m saying? He stepped up to the occasion and its paying off. We are together on the podium now. I just want you to know that I love Nigeria.
Al-Ameen: I know that there is a lot of controversy and in my situation, people say they don’t know my background and stuff. The reason why I switched was not because I couldn’t make the team in England; it’s because I’m Nigerian, my father is Nigerian, and I would want to represent Nigeria. This year I ran a PB coming into these championships. It wasn’t so last year so I’m grateful to be running with these guys. We are the best in Nigeria at the moment; it’s a good day for Nigeria.
Akins: Like I said, even Martins (Ogieriakhi) has run his PB this year, because we’re all pushing each other. You see what I’m saying? We swept the hurdles in the African Champs. I’m giving my all to Nigeria. As a matter of fact, me and my coach are trying to do something where I can come to Lagos and Warri and talk to some of the kids about maybe coming to school in the US, so when you wrote the negative stuff it really hurt me because it was borderline disrespectful – I would never take advantage of a place or come to Nigeria because it is an easier way or something like that. Every time you step on the track it’s gonna be hard. Competition everywhere. Anybody could have won that race today so I never take track and field for granted.
MoC: So let’s get to the race. Congratulations! It was a clean sweep for Nigeria in the 110m hurdles. Tyron you won that race with 13.57s. Talk us through the race, how did you feel?
Akins: Well I feel good because our goal when we were coming here was 1-2-3. We never said Tyron you win, and this guy second or any of that. It was strictly 1-2-3. We were going to push each other like we always do. I knew I had a pretty good start so those guys know I was going to get out of the blocks, so once I get out, you come with me and we gonna be good to go. I know that these guys are going to come towards the end. Martins is a strong competitor so he’s going to be there all through the race. Our goal was accomplished, it was 1-2-3. It could have gone either way; he could have won, we could have run 14s as long as Nigeria won the medals, that was what we were worried about but the focus was 1-2-3.
MoC: Do you feel like this makes up for just missing out on the finals at the Commonwealth games?
Akins: Missing out on the finals in the Commonwealth Games was because I didn’t have any races. My last before the Commonwealth Games was trials, so I went a whole month without races, so I wasn’t really sharp. It hurt me dearly because I want to really represent the country to the best of my ability and I couldn’t do it because I wasn’t in the finals, but this is a sort of redemption so I’m pleased with it.
MoC: Alex, let’s come to you very quickly, you were in the final at the Commonwealth Games, and 2nd here, which is your first silverware for Team Nigeria, a Silver medal in Africa. How does it feel?
Al-Ameen: Well it feels good and I would say it was great that we did a 1-2-3. I was coming here to win but I’m happy that my teammate got it. I did make the final at the Commonwealth Games and it was a great achievement of mine because I put it down as one of my goals for the year, and to get silverware as well. I didn’t do as well as I could have in the final today, but I am so happy that I can win a Silver medal for Nigeria and myself.
MoC: Martins I’m going to come to you very quickly. You were the National Sports Festival champion in 2012, and won the title twice before that as well?
Ogieriakhi: I have won it three times back to back: 2009, 2011 and 2012.
MoC: Wow! So is this your first medal for Nigeria at a global competition?
Ogieriakhi: Yeah, this is my first medal and I am very happy. I was going for the first position. Seeing Tyron by my side, I had to push forward and I had to tell myself ‘I won’t let him go, I won’t let him go!’ Both of them pushed me to place 3rd in this very race, so I am very happy.
MoC: Where do you go to from here now? More medals for Nigeria?
Ogieriakhi: Yeah! We said it yesterday that we were going to place first, second, third here, so hopefully we can do more.
MoC: Tyron, we’re going to end with you. We know that the Nigerian press including ourselves have given you guys a lot of heat since you switched to Nigeria. Can you tell us what this medal means to you?
Akins: It means so much because I expect to get the heat; you’re doing your job and I respect that but at the same time I just want to let you know that this is not just something that I take for granted. I’m very very serious about this. This is something that is very dear to my heart so. Like I said when I read what you had written I was so shocked because when I did the interview I didn’t get that vibe at all, but to get this medal and not only that, to get this 1-2-3 sweep for Nigeria is so overwhelming; it’s hard to put it in words. I think we were so close in the medal count and this medal just put us over, I’m not sure.
MoC: Thank you for still taking the time to talk to us. We appreciate it.
Akins: You’re just doing your job man. I just want you to know that I’m very serious about this.