‘Athletes are trained to see positives in all situations’
Competing in his first senior tournament for Nigeria, Raymond Ekevwo braved the odds to win the 100m for men at the 2019 African Games in Rabat, Morocco. Speaking with CHARLES OGUNDIYA in Rabat, Ekevwo said moving to the United States changed his career as an athlete. Excerpts…
2019 has been a good year for you, capping it up with the African Games gold medal in the 100m, how do you feel?
It’s a great feeling that I can’t really explain. It’s been a rough and good year, I just want to thank God for the season. With the gold medal, you have now joined the league of other athletes like Chidi Imoh, Davidson Ezenwa, Deji Aliu and Olusoji Fasuba who all won gold at the African Games.
What does this mean to you?
I am happy, just that it is putting your head around what you want to do and keep working towards achieving it; one day you will get it right. That has been the thing between my coach and myself. Just pushing me on the track each day to go for the best I could ever be. He did his best for me to come to Morocco, to do what needed to be done and the result was the gold I won.
Along with another Nigeria sprinter, Divine Oduduru, do you think it would have been a clean sweep for Nigeria with your compatriot, Usheotitse Itsekiri, winning the bronze medal? It is basically the same thing but I cannot really predict the outcome of the result if he had run.
Seriously, it is a good thing running alongside all these great athletes; they are great competitors, running against them is an honour and great opportunity for me to even come out as a winner. I am happy to be among them and hopefully in the future, it will keep on getting better and better.
This was your first senior championship for Nigeria and you won the gold medal: what your words do you have for the country?
I just want to say God bless Nigeria.
I just hope our federation, the ministry and the country as a whole will come out with better plans of supporting the athletes because when they do that, they will be getting better performance and results from the athletes. I just hope they can do more for the athletes than they are doing at the moment. We need a lot of support to perform better.
With the performance in Morocco, would you say this will be what to expect at the IAAF World Championships next month in Doha?
The thing for me is that I don’t go for any race with much expectations. I just go there, execute what I learned in training, what my coach taught me before the race and I know when I do the right thing, I always get results. Going for the World Championships, I will be going there to do what I need to do to get a good outing and result.
How did track and field start for you?
I started track and field as a career in 2014 after I finished from secondary school. Before then, I was competing in my school during inter-house sports and the likes, but I didn’t take it seriously as a career. Since 2014 when I started fully, it has been a steady progression for me and I really want to say a big thank you to God for the opportunity and the talent given to me.
What has the support been like from your parents?
I want to say thank you to them; they have been there for me in every phase of my life. They have been there for me all these years right from school and also my career as a track and field athlete. They gave me the best life could offer.
Their support financially, their prayers and all took me to where I am today. They have been my greatest supporter.
You moved to the United States two years ago, how does it feel returning home to compete for Nigeria, meeting old and new teammates?
We are Nigerians, we are always a family. Anytime we are together as a team, we just show love to one another as a family.
Anytime we are around to compete for the he country, we are always there for one another in anyway we can. It’s amazing that anytime you come to camp, you meet someone you didn’t even know before and you relate with each other. It’s always a good thing. We give each other support and encouragement. I will love to appreciate my teammates for their support always.
How difficult or easy was it for you competing in Nigeria before moving abroad?
It was never easy trying to make it as an athlete in Nigeria. But as a Nigerian, we were trained to adapt to any situation we found ourselves in, whether good or bad. We always sees positives in all situations and we give it our best. That’s the spirit that has been helping me to the level I am at today.
Would you say going to the USA has helped in shaping your career?
It has been really fantastic for me. Going to the University of Florida has been a major change in my life. I want to say thank you to the school for that great opportunity; the school is part of the success story alongside my coach, my trainer, and teammates in school. What would you tell those athletes back at home still struggling to make ends meet and want to make it in track and field?
They should never give up no matter how difficult it is. They should continue to work very hard and very soon, they will get the results. Hard work pays and they just have to continue the good work. I want to tell everyone out there to keep working hard, not just athletes alone, but all people trying to achieve one thing or another.
Why did you choose track and field and not any other sport?
It has always been my passion. It all started when I was a child, I loved running and chasing people and things around. Track and field is interesting. There is more to it because it teaches you a lot of things: how to be alone, to be strong, interact with people and so on. It teaches you basically about life.
How do you combine education and athletics?
It is tough but in my school, there is a sort of platform whereby you could easily marry the two together.
They provide everything needed to make sure you perform well academically and on the track and field.
So what are you studying at the moment in the US?
I am at the moment studying African/ American studies but I am trying to change to criminology. Why didn’t you choose something close to sports? Sports is an angle and my life is another. They are two different things entirely.
When I get out of track, I am out of it all together and my life will begin.
While growing up, I always want to be a lawyer.
That has been my ambition as a child, but with track and field, it is very difficult to do that. However with criminology, I am a step closer to achieving my goal of becoming a lawyer.
Although after my track and field career, I still have the mind of going back to pursue my first dream, to become a lawyer.
Out of the guys in the US, who are your favourite friends?
I don’t call them friends anymore, they are my family because they are the closest I have as a family out there.
The likes of Aniekeme Alphonsus and the rest.
What does the future hold for you as an athlete and as an individual?
Honestly I don’t know how it is going to be, I just want to leave everything to God, I want to continue to work hard and also be prayerful.
Mikel: Hazard’s a lazy player, Lampard hardest working
Eden Hazard has been brandished the “laziest player I have played with” by former Chelsea team-mate John Obi Mikel, while also insisting Hazard remained an “incredible talent”.
Obi Mikel, now playing in Turkey, spent 11 seasons at Chelsea, five of them alongside Hazard, but was far from complimentary of the Real Madrid forward’s work ethic, while insisting Chelsea boss Frank Lampard was the hardest working, reports Sky Sports.
Hazard’s start to life in Spain has not gone to plan, with injuries hampering his progress.
Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has questioned the fitness work Hazard has put in earlier this month, with former team-mate Mikel the latest to question Hazard’s methods.
“The laziest player I have played alongside is Eden Hazard,” Mikel told ‘beIN Sports’ in Turkey.
“Hazard has an incredible talent, maybe not as good as [Lionel] Messi, but he can do whatever he wants with the ball at his feet.
“He didn’t like to train hard. While we were working he was waiting for us to finish training just standing there. But on Sundays he was always man of the match, it was unbelievable.”
When asked who the hardest working player he’s played alongside was he said “Frank Lampard,” with no hesitation whatsoever.
Euro 2020: van Dijk to miss Holland’s final qualifier
Virgil van Dijk will not play in the Netherlands’ final Euro 2020 qualifier against Estonia in Amsterdam for personal reasons.
He played the whole game as the Dutch drew 0-0 in Northern Ireland on Saturday to qualify for the finals.
But the captain left their training camp and will not feature on Tuesday, reports the BBC.
A statement released by the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) said Van Dijk’s absence for the Estonia game was due to “personal circumstances”.
The 28-year-old Liverpool defender has not missed a minute of Premier League football this season, with the Reds eight points clear.
The next league match for the leaders is away at Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Van Dijk, who cost £75m when he joined from Southampton in January 2018, has featured in 64 of Liverpool’s 66 league matches since then.
Brazil rallies to win U-17 World Cup
* France beats Holland for bronze
Hosts Brazil staged a remarkable comeback for the second time in a week on Sunday to beat Mexico 2-1 in front of their own fans and win the Under-17 World Cup for a fourth time.
Just three days after they recovered from being 2-0 down to beat France 3-2 in the semi-finals, Brazil scored two goals in the last 10 minutes to overcome their Latin rivals.
Although Brazil had more of the early chances, Mexico took the lead at 66 minutes when Bryan Gonzalez rose between two defenders to head a cross from the left into the net.
Kaio Jorge equalised from the penalty spot with six minutes remaining after the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) advised officials to pull play back following a challenge on Veron.
Then three minutes into stoppage time, substitute Lazaro ran on to a cross ball and calmly fired home, to the delight of the home crowd.
The Flamengo forward had also come off the bench to score the winner in Thursday’s last-minute win over France.
“They use the VAR when it is convenient for them,” said an unhappy Mexican coach Marco Ruiz. “We had the game under control until the VAR decision. They grew after that.”
The win was revenge of a sorts for Brazil, who lost 3-0 to Mexico in the under-17 final in 2005, as well as to their under-23 team in the final of the 2012 Olympics.
Earlier in the day, Arnaud Kalimuendo-Muinga scored a hat trick to help France come from behind to beat the Netherlands 3-1 and take third-place.
Dutchman Sontje Hansen won the golden boot for the top goalscorer with six goals.
Ronaldo vows to break international goals’ record
Cristiano Ronaldo vowed to break the world record for men’s international goals after scoring his 99th Portugal goal in a 2-0 win over Luxembourg to clinch their place at Euro 2020.
He is 10 behind Iran legend Ali Daei’s tally of 109, after his most prolific year for Portugal with 14 goals.
“All records must be broken and I will beat that record,” he said.
Bernardo Silva’s ball over the top allowed Bruno Fernandes to fire them ahead and Ronaldo scored a late second, reports the BBC.
Holders Portugal needed to beat Luxembourg to make sure of a place at next summer’s tournament.
Fernando Santos’ 2016 winners finished second in Group B, three points clear of Serbia who drew 2-2 against Ukraine.
Ronaldo must wait until the next international break in March for the chance to become just the second male player to reach 100 international goals.
The Juventus forward struck his ninth international hat-trick – and the seventh since he turned 30 – on Thursday against Lithuania to set up the opportunity to hit a century on Sunday.
He says he is not fully fit, having been replaced in Juventus’ last two games before the international break.
“I wasn’t 100% and I’m still not,” he said. “In the last three weeks, I have played at a slightly reduced capacity.
“But when it comes to sacrificing myself for my club and my national team, I do it with pride.”
Tsitsipas fights back to beat Thiem and claim ATP Finals title
Stefanos Tsitsipas confirmed his meteoric rise into the highest echelon of men’s tennis by battling back to beat Austrian Dominic Thiem 6-7(6) 6-2 7-6(4) in a compelling title duel at the ATP Finals on Sunday.
The 21-year-old debutant, the youngest of the eight qualifiers for the elite season-ender at the O2 Arena, displayed resilience and flair in equal measure to become the youngest champion since Lleyton Hewitt in 2001.
Thiem edged an intense first set full of powerful baseline rallies but Tsitsipas, the first Greek player to qualify for the ATP’s blue-riband event, was undaunted and responded in style.
As Thiem’s level dipped, Tsitsipas surged into a 4-0 lead in the second set and then led 3-1 in the decider, reports Reuters.
Twice French Open runner-up Thiem was not finished though and fought back to take the match into a tiebreak.
World number six Tsitsipas, the crowd favorite, led 4-1 but was pegged back to 4-4 before reeling off the last three points, sealing victory when Thiem ballooned a forehand wide.
It is the fourth successive year the tournament has had a first-time winner and incredibly it is just one year since Tsitsipas won the NextGen Finals title for the best up-and-coming players on the men’s Tour.
After a sensational week in London, Tsitsipas looks poised to lead the charge for the young guns in 2020.
“I have no clue how I played so well in the second set,” Tsitsipas said on court. “I was nervous playing in such a big event. But I’m so relieved by the outstanding performance and the fight I showed today.”
Thiem will rue the 40 unforced errors that undermined him on Sunday but back-to-back wins over Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic this week proved that, at 26, he is moving into his prime years, and not just on his favored clay.
Tsistipas was the youngest player to reach the final on debut since American Jim Courier in 1991.
He was also playing for the third successive day after losing a superb group match against Nadal on Friday and eclipsing six-time champion Federer in the semi-finals.
But he showed few signs of nerves or fatigue as he wore down Thiem with his courageous all-court attacking game to pocket a $2.6 million winner’s cheque.
Thiem, who has been battling a cold all week, was hanging on at times in the first set, saving break points at 1-2 and 3-4.
But he edged the tiebreak. Tsitsipas saved one set point with an athletic volley but then offered up another chance which Thiem took by landing a powerful first serve.
Tsistipas’s response was emphatic. He won 16 of the first 18 points of a second set he bagged in 25 minutes.
Under siege Thiem showed guts to hold serve at the start of the decider but when he slapped a backhand into the net to hand Tsitsipas the first break in the third game it appeared the match was slipping away.
The Austrian, whose run to the final will see him end the year ranked fourth in the world, then went for broke, throwing the kitchen sink at Tsitsipas as his groundstrokes rocked the Greek and he leveled the set at 3-3.
Twice Tsitsipas nervelessly held serve to stay afloat as the final moved into a final-set tiebreak for the first time since 2005 and only the fourth time in the event’s 50-year history.
Tsitsipas said after beating Federer that he would love an army of fans like the Swiss great. So it was music to his ears as “Tsitsipas…Tsitsipas” rang around the cavernous hall.
Despite being pegged back to 4-4 he reeled off the next three points to seal his third title of the year.
Olympics Eagles were unlucky – Amapakabo
Nigeria U-23 coach Imama Amapakabo has said his side were unlucky to crash out of the ongoing CAF U-23 African Cup of Nations in the group stage, missing the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games ticket.
The team played a goalless draw with South Africa in Cairo on Friday which was not enough for them to progress to the semifinal of the U-23 AFCON putting the coach under intense criticism.
“We were unlucky and unfortunate to go out because we gave everything, but it’s totally out of my hands,” he told BBC.
“I know that, as a coach, you come under pressure. We have to look at the future – this [Olympic hopes] has ended, whichever way we want to look at it.”
Africa’s most successful side at the Games, Nigeria went out of the U-23 Africa Cup of Nations on Friday with questions raised about Amapakabo’s future following the country’s poor results under his watch.
The Super Eagles B side failed to qualify for the 2020 African Nations Championship (CHAN) and his team also suffered an embarrassing early exit at the regional WAFU Cup tournament in October.
Amapakabo is aware that his position has become untenable following his recent failure, but said that it is up to his employers to make a decision on his future.
“I can’t say anything now because it all depends on what the federation wants in terms of going forward.” he added.
Nigeria – bronze medallists at Rio 2016 – won the 1996 Olympic football tournament and are the first African country to complete an Olympic medal sweep having won a sliver medal in Beijing in 2008.
AFCON 2021 qualifiers: Eagles whip Lesotho 4-2
Victor Osimhen scored twice as the Super Eagles defeated Lesotho 4-2 in 2021 African Cup of Nations qualifiers Match Day 2 tie at the Setsoto stadium on Sunday.
Alex Iwobi and Samuel Chukwueze were also on score sheet for Nigeria while Chidozie Awaziem conceded an own goal.
Manager Gernot Rohr made two changes to the starting line-up that beat Benin Republic in Uyo five days ago, with Moses Simon and Awaziem coming into the side at the expense of Samuel Kalu and Jamilu Collins respectively.
Lesotho took the lead against the run of play when Masoabi Nkoto took advantage of some lax Nigeria defending to put the hosts ahead after eleven minutes following a cross from the left channel.
But the lead would only last till the 26th minute when Osimhen led the Super Eagles press, charging down the right to set up Iwobi who slotted home from close range.
The duo of Chukwueze and Osimhen looked particularly dangerous on the break and alongside Simon, who tested goalkeeper Ntsane Lichaba with a ferocious drive from a free-kick.
On the 36th minute, Osimhen was at it again when he found space to ping in a lob which Chukwueze got on the end of to beat Lichaba with a good header.
The Lille striker was proving too difficult to handle for The Crocodiles, as he would yet threaten after the break when he rattled the cross bar with a shot.
He will then get his goal deep into the game when Ola Aina broke free from the right flank to play him in for a neat finish and take the game to 3-1.
Osimhen made it 4-1 on the 84th minute mark when impressive second half substitute Ramon Azeez shrugged off his marker to find the long-limbed front man who rounded Lichaba to grab his brace as Nigeria looked all but set to close out 2019 in style.
Osimhen wants Yekini’s crown
Victor Osimhen says he wants to do well for the national team and be remembered as one of the greatest strikers that ever played for the Super Eagles.
The former youth international who scored Nigeria’s first goal in the 2021 AFCON qualifying match against Benin, has set his sights on becoming the Super Eagles’ greatest striker of all time.
“I want to be remembered as one of the greatest strikers that ever played for the Super Eagles,” the Forward told www.brila.net.
“A lot of strikers have come through the national team, the likes of Odion Ighalo, Obafemi Martins, Julius Aghahowa and the legend Rashidi Yekini and they did quite well.”
The 20 year-old spoke about how he wants to surpass the record set by Nigeria’s all time top scorer,Rashidi Yekini, who netted 37 goals in 58 appearances.
“I want to really do well, and even surpass their goal tally for the national team but it is not just about my ambition but also for the team to achieve everything they want to accomplish and what the country has set for themselves in terms of football and I’m working so hard to get there.”
Baby Face, Bobby Girl shine at 1st GOtv Boxing Night Mini
West African Boxing Union welterweight champion, Rilwan “Baby Face” Babatunde, and rising female super featherweight boxer, Cynthia “Bobby Girl” were the standout performers at the maiden edition of GOtv Boxing Night Mini, which held on Saturday at the Rowe Park Sports Complex in Lagos.
Baby Face was all menace and speed, knocking out Saheed Lawal in the third of their eight-round national challenge duel. Lawal, who was a replacement for Dennis “The Range” Mbat, who pulled out on account of an accident, gave a good account of himself in terms of defiance. But the WABU champion’s volume punching at velocity was too much for him, as he was quickly in a daze, forcing the referee to stop the fight.
Ogunsemilore, who won her fight by knockout at GOtv Boxing Night 19, confirmed her status as a boxer to watch out for. She defeated Roliat “Mummy’s Pet” Akinsanya by unanimous decision in a thrilling super featherweight bout. The Range boxer exhibited composure and guile beyond her age to outwit her similarly impressive opponent. In the lightweight category, WABU champion, Rilwan “Real One” Oladosu, stopped Ola Adebakin in the first of the scheduled eight rounds. Waheed “Showmax” Shogbanmu got the better of Semiu “Jagaban” Olapade.
Shake-up imminent at NFF secretariat
…as Minister dangles the axe after strings of poor results
The Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, is worried stiff over the way the country’s football fortunes have been on the decline in the past few weeks and the poor results could lead to a shake-up in the secretariat of the Nigeria Football Federation.
Dare was reacting to the recent ouster of the Nigerian team from the U-23 AFCON taking place in Egypt.
The team, under the tutelage of coach Imama Amakapabo, drew goalless with South Africa in a match that the country needed a win. The team had earlier lost 1-0 to Cote d’ Ivoire while the 3-1 win in the second group match was not good enough for Nigeria to book a semifinal berth.
Egypt, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa are still in the race for the three automatic tickets to the football event of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, last year.
The debacle in Egypt followed the Golden Eagles’ early ouster from the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Brazil and the failure of the Super Falcons to qualify for the Olympics.
The Flying Eagles had earlier crashed out of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in the second round this year and Nigeria also had an unimpressive showing at WAFU tournament.
Our correspondent learnt that Dare was worried about the vicissitude of fortune of Nigerian football and is ready to effect a ‘surgical operation’ in the game.
Authoritative sources close to the minister revealed that there might be changes in the secretariat of the federation this week in line with the thinking of the ministry.
“He knows he can’t touch the NFF board but he will carry out the reorganization of the secretariat. He is passionate about initiating reviews of the game and he sees a well-structured and functional secretariat as an important process. He will wield the big sticks this week,” the source said.
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