By all standards, the 2019 season was Usheoritse Itsekiri’s best as he went from winning all of his eleven 100m sprint races in Europe, to securing the 100/200m double at the Nigerian Athletics Championships held in Kaduna.

Be it as it may, he wasn’t a stranger to winning national sprint titles as his wins in Kaduna ensured that he had won at least one national sprint title for three consecutive years, having won the 100m U-20 National title in 2017, and the men’s 100m at the 2018 National Sports Festival (NSF) which took place in Abuja.

He capped that year off with a Bronze medal in the men’s 100m at the African Games in Rabat, a performance that secured him a berth to the Tokyo 2021 Olympics as he returned a time of 10.02s, making him one of three Nigerian male sprinters and also one of the seven Nigerian Track & Field Athletes to have secured qualification to the Tokyo 2021 Olympics since 2019.

When Itsekiri travelled to the United States to join elite training group, ALTIS in February 2020, it all was with one thing in mind – brimming optimism of preparing to make a mark at his first ever Olympic Games. Little did he know that most of the sporting facilities globally would be shut down mid-March due to the outbreak and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the pandemic’s global spread, the Games only hung in the balance for a while, as athletes in general didn’t have to wait long for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee to announce that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics had been postponed, specifically in a statement released on March 24th.

Like many athletes around the world, Itsekiri’s plans for the year were shattered and he couldn’t hide his disappointment over the development. “I felt terrible because there were so many plans and pushing it by a year is pushing all the plans one year back,” he says on the postponement of the event.

Even while the lockdown meant that Itsekiri’s training group split up and he was limited from engaging in a full training programme, he acknowledged that for some athletes, the movement of the Games boded well as it meant more time to prepare; it also meant regrouping and starting all over again.

“Some people say it’s more time to prepare but regrouping and starting all over again, making the same plans you made for 2019 in 2020 and not knowing if it will work, waiting for long and doing the same thing is very difficult. And when you’ve got athletes who are not funded by shoe companies, it’s really difficult,” he explains.

Stuck in Arizona during lockdown, if he had the foresight that COVID-19 would happen, Itsekiri would have preferred to have been in Nigeria with his family. “I would have probably remained in Nigeria as it’s important to be with family, compared to being alone in the US.”

During lockdown, he did his workout which he said took about half of the day and didn’t come without stress at a park five minutes away from his housing complex and a track 20m short of standard. When he got back home, he turned into a ‘minor chef.’ “I was either cooking or watching Netflix,” he said on developing quarantine hobbies.

On a side note, although Itsekiri’s plans for the year took a sharp turn, he understood it was in the best interest of everyone to postpone the Games, safety wise. In his words, “It was a good decision because no one would have been able to go to Japan, considering the pandemic that was raging and a lot of people were on lockdown and could not even train.”

Itsekiri who still works with ALTIS, has since returned to Nigeria and is currently in Sapele in Delta State, training hard for the 2021 outdoor season’s kickoff. He will be looking forward to defending his 100m title at the much-anticipated National Sports Festival billed to hold in Edo State should it hold as planned.

Speaking about how his preparation for the year is going, he said, “For me, things are good. I am currently in a good space.”

Beyond that however, he says he has no special plans, especially with the situation of things globally. “Someone just has to be ready at anytime,” he added.

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