UK-based National Decathlon and Pole Vault record holder, Peter Moreno, informed CHARLES OGUNDIYA in this interview how he has been managing his job as a soldier and also an athlete. Excerpts…
At the National Sports Festival, you competed for Delta State even though you were part of Team Rivers in Abuja in 2018, why the change?
I didn’t compete for Rivers State because of their consultant, Sunday Adeleye; he almost cost me my job, my wife and my career in 2018. I am a military officer but I am just a normal private person. Instead of Fela (Sunday Adeleye) to give me a letter to take to my OC, to let them know that I will be staying back in Nigeria for the festival immediately after the African Championships that was hosted by Nigeria as the Technical Adviser of the Athletic Federation of Nigeria, he didn’t do that, he left everything for the last minute when I was already getting myself into trouble. Even at the festival, they were already counting me out as nobody, saying I am not going to win anything, I told them they should let my performance do the talking. I came to Nigeria and had malaria three times in one week and that’s impossible, I mean treating malaria three times in a week, but I didn’t allow that to affect me. I was doing all these with my personal money. I came to Rivers with my own money I didn’t get my money back. At the end I won two gold medals, I was able to get gold medals in the two events that I was registered for even though I was still sick. Rivers State is still owing me roughly N2.3m till now. I have represented Nigeria at the African Games, African Championship but I don’t want go into details about what happened at the African Championship because I am still hurt about it, because I knew I should have won it, even though it was my friend that won, I am happy for him, but as a person, naturally I am still very upset because I knew w i t h what I have in me I should have won. And again, the army comes first for me, if the army is trying to come and take part in a competition, I have to go and compete for them, because it’s soldier first no matter w h a t , no matter even if I am going to the Olympics, if military calls me, t h a t ‘ s where I am going first.
What can you say about your performance at the Edo 2020 Sports Festival?
I am disappointed in myself 100% because I know I could do better. I promised Chief Solomon Ogba a gold medal, so I want to tell him that I am very sorry, I couldn’t give him that gold medal, I couldn’t give him and Delta State the gold medal, but I promise that I will do better next time. In reality what happened has happened we just have to move on and have a better communication among all of us, the states and the athletes, so that we know the right things to bring or better still, I would have bring my own equipment, but then I need to know on time if I am to bring anything. Also there’s need to pass information to my bosses because everyone has a job, so I need to be informed earlier so that I can prepare myself, prepare how my pole can be moved to Nigeria and then come on time so as to practice in an environment that is available because this was a big shock to me. Abuja was a lot better, although it was kind of crazy and stressful, but it was a lot better than this (Edo 2020) for me. There were issues with the upright (of the Pole Vault) but yeah, I am disappointed in myself and I let Delta State down and I am very sorry.
You complained about your equipment since the day you came in, would you say it contributed to your failure to win gold medal in Benin?
100 percent; the implement was a big part and also the plant box. The plant box was not the right shape of seize, in my first jump I thought I was going to fall because my pole slipped and came back onto me, so that already injured my hand but been an athlete you have to know how to counter every obstacle that comes your way which I did and I am happy about that but again I am still disappointed in the performance because I should not be jumping 3.60 or 3.70. At worst, I should be jumping 4.20, 4.30, and I was only using six strides to jump. I’m just disappointed in myself, I am disappointed.
It has been difficult for you guys to train in the UK because of COVID-19, the weather and stuff like that, is that part of the problem too?
Yeah, 100 percent, the lockdown is very stressful especially in the UK, I thought Nigeria was worse but no, at least some of the athletes still got the chance to go into the stadium, this is my second time seeing a track since 2019 (the Samuel Ogbemudia track, Benin), it’s my first time competing since 2019 and they cancelled my first event which is Decathlon, and they were about to cancel the second one but we fought them and we said we will manage it the way it is. The pandemic in the UK, the moment the virus started really ravaging, there was a total shut down, no use of track and there’s no way you can pole vault, you can do as many of the other things as possible and pole vault take off, but if you don’t end up jumping, that’s a different story entirely. Two people lent me their pole of 180 which is a good size pole, but it was slightly too much for me, for my size. I could have used it but because I had not done enough pole vaulting, inventing and landing in the bed, my shoulder was not strong enough to take the power of the poles, but then the lock down was a big part of it.
Would you say the cancellation of Decathlon was another disappointment for you?
Yes, it was a disappointment and was a blessing, because imagine going for Decathlon and they say there was no Pole Vault, so what’s the point of making it to the Decathlon, and this happened to us in Abuja, they took away the pole vault because they could not upgrade it to what the upright required because of the sun, so they reduced it to eight events instead of nine and that to me was not Decathlon, it’s just nonsense.
What’s the way forward for you after this?
My way forward, next thing for me, is to go back to the UK, do my job. Right now the track is open, we can train, which is good but I am back at work full time now. It is to find a way to get my bosses to allow me to train more and to push to where I was back in 2015 because I was in my best shape ever. So, it’s to go back to work, talk to my bosses, go back to training, focus and just give it my best. African Championship is my next target.
As a Military officer and an athlete especially in that part of the world where they give you more opportunities than in Nigeria, how have you been able to manage both?
We’ve athletics group in the army, and when you’re in a certain level that I am in, you get the elite status title. Once an athlete, you have free time for training; your battalion, if they like you enough or they believe in you enough, they will say, do you know what, you just go do your thing, which is what I had. But coming to Nigeria recently affected me a lot, that’s why I lost my title of been a full time athlete, it really affected me a lot. I came to Nigeria like three times when the festival was postponed, I lost a lot of benefits because of that, since they didn’t hold the festival, I had to go back because duty calls, and that got me into trouble because I was punished. I guess from now, if Nigeria needs me which I know they should need me because I am an athlete, it’s for them to build a strong communication, which is very important with foreign athletes. We must find a way around it and fix it.