BY PAUL EREWUBA
HENRY Amike was an athletics gladiator both in continental and global track and field. He is one of Nigeria’s greatest hurdlers, and this could be seen in the Nigerian athletics record book as his all time best performance of 48.50 seconds that he did in 1987 in Rome, Italy still remains the nation’s best record in the event till date.
In this encounter with Saturday SunSport in Lagos, Amike who is the current President of Nigeria Olympian Association and Chairman, Sports for All told SunSport of the dark and saddest moment of his life adding that it was God’s intervention that made him who he is today as a mosquito bite nearly scuttled his athletics career.
He also talked about how he would have become a footballer but for providence and the late MKO Abiola who turned his life around.
“I am from a family of eight. I started as a footballer with a club called Greater Tomorrow, the Nigerian junior national team in1977 which is now called the Flying Eagles. I later joined athletics, becoming an international athlete.
I would say coach Tobias Igwe discovered me in 1977; by all standards he was the one who influenced my decision to start a career in track and field.
By 1978, I got into Secondary School games held in Calabar and did well in the games. In 1979, I went to Ibadan for the National Sports Festival and also won it . And also represented Nigeria very well in the Olympics, both in Africa and at the world level.
“My growing up was a little bit okay in the sense that my era was very good. I was in the era when primary school was free. I attended St Finbars and Saint Gregory’s College. I later went to the University of Lagos and University in the United States.
I started my athletics career when I was in Primary School. I was the Surulere zonal champion in 1971 and I became Lagos State champion that same year.
I ran for my secondary school. But I was more a footballer. I was playing football more than I was playing track. I was a member of the national team called Greater Tomorrow, under a Brazilian coach.
And it happened that one day when we were having our training at the practice pitch of the national stadium, I was playing outside right. And because of the way I ran to collect ball that was passed to me, Coach Tobias Igwe called me after the training session and asked me if I had run before.
I responded in the negative. He invited me to their trials the next day I accepted, took part in the trials and ran 100, 400 an 800m. I came first and that was how he selected me to go and run for Shomolu zone. I ran at the Lagos Sports Festival and I won, and that was how I embraced athletics.
“I must say that my mother was not happy withy me for playing football because it was not giving me the time to read. so when I started running, I was facing my education more than when I was playing football.
My mother was happy with me. Although I do not have any regret changing to athletics, probably, I would have made more money and more famous but I believe it is the will of God.
“However, I will not forget the event that made me. It was the 1989 national sports festival, Oluyole ‘89. It was when I was invited to the national team and I won the 800m, as a junior athlete.
But the one that really touched my heart was the World Cup in Barcelona. The world cup was for the continental champions.
And after winning the African championship, I was supposed to go for the world cup, but unfortunately I fell ill.
I came to Nigeria from the USA and was bitten by mosquito. I became very ill and was dropped from the African team. After I was through with my illness I decided to go back to the US. As God would have it, I met late MKO Abiola at the airport and I greeted him. He looked at me closely and asked what I was doing in Nigeria. He said are you not supposed to be in Barcelona. I said yes and explained why I was dropped. He said no, even if you go there and come last it would be okay. How can an African champion be dropped?
Lmin Diack was then the President, MKO called him and he listen to him and allowed me to participate. Because of me, Abiola decided to change his flight to Barcelona. At Barcelona, I was challenged in my spirit. How could this man have so much confidence in me? I decided to do my best.
I was put on lane 9 because it was published i was not going to run. I took off and i out ran everybody. I cried and knelt down and thanked God. To my surprise, MKO came down from where he was, hugged me, and gave me TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND Dollars.”
Amike however told of the low point of his life during his athletics career saying it was the darkest and saddest moment of his life.
“Till date, I hate to remember that day.
MY LOW POINT of my career was very annoying and disappointing. It is the saddest and uglyest moment I want to forget in a hurry.
“It was at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics. The whole world thought I was going to come tops because i was one of the best in the world then. During the heat at the semi finals I did very well. I was very optimistic but i took it for granted. I was over confident. And till date, I would say over confident rubbed me of the gold at the olympics. Having trained so hard for four years, believing that at the end I would come out victorious. But the last 100m to the finish, I fell down and I realised that it was all over. It was a sad and dark moment of my life, but I thank God that I was able to stand up and finish the race since it was a 400m race. That race was won by Eddy Moses, and I told myself that any time I meet him again I would beat him, and we did not meet again until 1986 and I beat him very well. Why the fall Nothing caused it; what happened was the anxiety in me to get to the top, having worked so hard for four years for the competition. Although, I over reacted to the hurdle stick.
with over zealousness I ran the race, but hit my leg on the hurdle stick and fell down. everybody passed me . They were trying to bring the stratcher to take me out, but I looked and told myself I must finish the race. I stood up and ran the slowest time in the history of the Olympic Games. And I cried.”
Amike is sad that the record he set several years ago had never been broken. Although Nigeria has the facilities, Amike enthused that until the best hands are recruited as coaches, Nigeria’s performance at international competition will remain at the lowest alb.
“The problem of athletics in Nigeria today is that we don’t have the technical knowhow. We do not have the coaches. .
“We believe coaches are drop outs. We believe anybody can coach. It goes beyond that. We have to get the technical knowhow, be patient and do the job as it should be done.”