Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Franics Obikwelu


FRANCIS OBIKWELU of the Sporting Club of Lisbon, was the 2004 Olympic silver medallist in Athens and European sprint Champion of 2002 and 2006. When I interviewed Francis Obikwela in London recently, he came over as a man with a quick fire sense of humour which has stood him in good stead through adversity in his life.He was born in Nigeria on the 22nd of November 1978 and lived as a boy in Lagos. As an Ibo he was from an ethnic minority group in Nigeria but that appeared not to present problems, as he was a deeply religious person and brims over with confidence when you talk to him.
 He explains "My Dad Victor was a footballer and he boxed. He also played in the team for the Missionary. I loved football so that was what I did. I was blessed with being able to do any sports I took up which included basketball'
  It was football that that Francis Obikwelu quickly excelled at and played for the Nigerian National Junior team. 'I Injured my knees so I could not play anymore. The doctor told me I could no longer do that. It was crazy, sometimes when I watch these guys and I notice some are not strong enough or fast enough, where as I could stop the opposition getting through with my speed but, I could no longer play anymore. He added 'There was a coach who watched me. He was always telling me 'You are fast, you should try athletics', as I could beat people running barefoot. I said 'No! I don't like that and I don't want to do athletics'
After the injury and, what the doctor had said he automatically changed his mind and was quick to show his talent as a runner. He was running the 400metres at 15 and 16. He ran 47 seconds to begin with and improved to 46.8 in sixth place in he Nigerian trials. 'I made the relay team for the Commonwealth Games but they did not take me as I had not got the experience. I was young and skinny but they put me in the team to go to the World Junior Championships in Lisbon Portugal. I did not make the final'
                   'I RAN AWAY'  ' I stayed in Portugal and said Bye! Bye! to Nigeria. When I got to Portugal I did not know anybody. I did not know the language as I was speaking English. Nobody knew about me so , I went to work in construction for a year and a half. It was a good experience and something I had never done before. It was a challenge. I never give up on anything and I had to survive. I was helped by a British woman Mary Noggin and she was a nice person. She  brought me back to athletics."
   ' In Portugal I had started running again and running fast. My coach then put me in the 100 and 200. My first Olympics came up and I was selected for Nigeria in 1996.'  In Atlanta Obiquelu was 5th in the Semi-Final of the 200 in 20.56 behind the winner Michael Johnson who ran 20.27 with Frankie Fredricks winning the other semi in 19.98 and, as history tells, Johnson won the final in a world record of 19..32 with Fredricks second in 19.68. About Johnson and Fredricks he quipped 'They were smokin!' Still For Obikwelu  the experience was invaluable as he was a the very young runner at the time. After that he went on that year to win the 100/200 in the World Junior Games in Sydney  in 10.21/20.47. ' Yes, the experience of the Olympics was good and I was a little stronger'
His second Olympics came up and he was selected for Nigeria but some bad luck meant his hopes were dashed ' I tore my knee so badly I had to have surgery but in 2001. I decided not to run for Nigeria, as they did not pay for my surgery. I had to pay for it all myself. My Mum was not happy about that so that was why I switched to Portugal.'
   Now the 'Greatest' thing for a sprinter is to get a medal at the Olympic Games and Francis Obikwelu gives a vivid account in his characteristic way of his crowning achievement when getting a silver medal.
             First of all, the result of the Olympic 100m in Athens in 2004 reads:- 1 Justin Gatlin (USA) 9.85; 2 Francis Obikwelu (Portugal) 9.86; 3 Maurice Greene (USA) 9.87; 4 Shawn Crawford (USA)  9.89; 5 Asafa Powell (Jamaica) 9.94; 6 Kim Collins ( St Kitts and Nevis) 10.00; 7 Obadele Thompson ( Barbados ) 10.10 and Azis Zakari (Ghana Did not finish).
   ' It had been my dream to get to the final of the Olympics. My emotion was very, very, strong. I went to the Olympics and I was not under pressure. Most of them were under pressure in the field because they had been running 9.85 and 9.9's. I came in running 10.06. I knew I could run fast. I am somebody who at meets would not give everything but my mentality is very, very, different at Championships. In the preliminary round (2) I ran 9.93 (Nat Record) almost stopping on the line. I put the pressure on them. I was not under pressure I was ready. I was just relaxing and enjoying myself, having fun so that was what I did in the Olympics. It made a difference because when I got to the final in the coldness, some of them were sweating like they were in a war. I thought this is not war this is life. It's a game. I came into the stadium with 100,000 people watching me. I said 'What this is me!' I am the 8th fastest man on the planet in the final. They played music. I started enjoying myself and that put the pressure on them. Some people said 'He is enjoying himself' My coach was really shocked but I was really relaxing.
   Obiquelu the double gold medallist in the 2006 European at Helsinki, is now the fastest 100m man in the history of the European Championships with his 9.9 this year. He concludes  with his philosophy " I was born into it. My Dad was a good sportsman. I love doing things. It is a 'Blessing of the Lord'. and something inside of me'
        His coach told him that he had never seen anyone who is more talented than Francis Obikwelu, so that says it all!              

Alastair Aitken

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