By COLIN UDOH
Former Nigeria sprinter Enefiok Udo-Obong told ESPN that the 4x400m relay team that won silver in Sydney 21 years ago, which has since been upgraded to gold, had their moment of glory ‘stolen’ by the USA.
The American team, led by Michael Johnson, won gold on the day but doping violations revealed in subsequent years saw the gold change hands to Nigeria. Although the African team have since received their medals, albeit 14 years later, they want to stand in front of the world and hear their anthem played.
Enefiok Udo-Obong, who ran a blistering final leg in the final for Nigeria in Australia, told ESPN: “It’s a feeling that was stolen from us.
“We raised that issue when we had the Athletes Forum in Switzerland, with the IOC, and it is one of the things that we feel should be given back to the athletes because that moment of pride cannot really be replaced.
“Standing in front of the world with a billion viewers watching you… That was one of the things I wanted to enjoy and I didn’t enjoy that.
“That’s the kind of feeling I would have used to influence other younger ones, especially in my continent and in my country. I didn’t have that experience, or I didn’t have that opportunity to do so.
“We are hoping that doping will stop but even when it doesn’t, people who are clean must have a way to regain that honour which they lost.”
Looking back, Udo-Obong concedes that Johnson’s team was superior on the night, and as their wild celebrations immediately after the race showed, the Nigerians were ecstatic with the silver medal they had won.
Johnson, who picked up the baton in the final leg of the race, opened up such a wide gap it was impossible to do anything but fight for second. Udo-Obong stretched his every last sinew to close a 10m gap and sneak home for a silver medal, ahead of two Caribbean nations.
“Winning the silver was an extraordinary thing,” Udo-Obong said. “It was a feat we were so proud of and I would have happily lived with that.
“It was a rare feat, something we had worked hard for. It’s something that we felt, ‘Okay, fine. We’re second best in the world at that point in time.’ It was bold enough for us.”
But then, in 2004, the IAAF ruled that Jerome Young, a member of the USA team in the semifinals, was ineligible to run due to doping offenses and stripped the USA of their medal, moving everyone else up one place.
It was almost too good to be true, and Udo-Obong did everything he could to keep himself in check, admitting that the USA could have brought any of their talents and won the races fair and square.
He said: “When we started hearing news about how there was discrepancies in testing of some of the American runners, I started to think, ‘Oh, what if?’
“But I had to keep myself in check because I don’t like to deceive myself. The Americans could have brought any of their top 16 athletes and probably would have won the gold.
“That’s how talented their pool of quarter milers are from the college level to the international level. They were actually the king of the sprints. So, we didn’t feel hard done by even when the stories were coming out.”
The Nigerian was right to be cautious. USATF appealed the decision and a year later, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in their favour, upholding their argument that the Young did not run in the finals and so the team should not be disqualified on the basis of his drug use.
And then three years later in 2008, Antonio Pettigrew [who did run in that final and died in 2010], admitted that he had taken performance enhancing drugs under the direction of now-banned Track and Field coach Trevor Graham.
Udo-Obong said of Pettigrew’s confession in court: “My reaction was that it was long overdue.
“By then, I had started to call myself Olympic gold medalist because I believed then I deserved the gold knowing that [four] American runners had drug-related issues.
“I feel sad for Michael Johnson because he deserved that gold medal. He could have run with any four of their athletes and still won gold. He was such an incredible athlete.
“This was the pre-Usain Bolt era. A sport like track and field always needed a symbol of purity, of success, of talent, and Michael Johnson was that at that period of time. He was not found guilty of anything, so it was really sad for him.”
Culled From ESPN
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