My encounter by Falilat Ogunkoya
OpenLife Nigeria reports that Falilat Ogunkoya, Nigeria’s first individual medal in track and field at the Olympics courtesy her efforts in the 400m which fetched a bronze medal and a 49.10 seconds African record, has an enviable chapter in Nigeria’s sports history.
She embraced the spotlight as the first and so far only Nigerian in all events to win two medals following an incredible, 3:21.04 seconds African record-setting feat.
Narrating her experience, Falilat Ogunkoya, now married to Professor Seun Omotayo, recalled her encounter with Group Captain Sam Ewang, Military Administrator of Ogun State from August 1996 to August 1998 during the military regime of General Sani Abacha.
According to the Ode Lemo, Ogun State born former track and field athlete, Group Captain Sam Ewang was one person that supported and encouraged her during her days on the tracks.
“Group Captain Sam Ewang who was then the governor of my State, Ogun did everything humanly possible to support and encourage me. In my encounter with him, he saw me as an ambassador not only to Ogun State but to Nigeria as a whole,” she disclosed.
Continuing, Falilat stated that although many people have crossed her path in life on a positive not, she has special space for Group Captain Sam Ewang ret’d and her mother whom she described as “a pillar.”
On her mother, Falilat said “It was my mother who built in me the spirit of ‘never accept failure.’
“She always emphasized that point to me never to accept that I have failed and that kept me going, achieving all the successes God has enabled me so far in life.”
On Ewang, Falilat said “At one time, he personally invited me to the Government House where he was staying. He hosted me to a dinner and it is one evening I will never forget in my life.
“That hosting which I cherished so much sufficiently encouraged me and I picked many lessons from there. I know how encouragement can push an individual to achieve success. That is what most people see today in my foundation where I try as much as possible to encourage young athletes,” she stated.
In all of this however, Falilat feels unsatisfied at the level of sports development in Nigeria saying it is not where it should be.
“There is need to do more in athletics. Government must fund athletics and let those who have the experience manage athletics.
“I read Physical Education at the Mississippi State University in the United States of America which is an added requirement as a sound administrator with my practical experience on the field. Therefore, government should learn to deploy the right people into the right space to get results,” she advised.
Born on 5 December 1968 in Ode Lemo, Ogun State Nigeria, Falilat has won a number of national championships, including a gold medal in 1996 in the 400 metres, gold in the 200 metres and 400 m in 1998, and gold again in 1999 and 2001 in the 400 m.
At the 1987 All Africa Games in Nairobi she won the silver medal in the 200 m.
In 1995 at the All Africa Games in Harare she won the silver in the 400 m, and at the 1999 Games in Johannesburg she won a gold medal in the 400 m.
At the 1996 Summer Olympics Ogunkoya won a bronze medal in the 400 m, behind Marie-José Pérec of France and Cathy Freeman of Australia, in a personal best and African record of 49.10, which is currently the twelfth fastest of all time.
She had her baby in 1993 in Starkville, Mississippi and in 1994 she moved to Albuquerque to train.