The year 2015 has been quite eventful in athletics and one of the names that rang the bells in the course of the year was Femi Ogunode, an athlete of Nigerian origin who now competes for Qatar. Ogunode, now dubbed Asia’s fastest man, was also voted athlete of the year from the largest continent in the world.
However, not many people know that Ogunode has tried his hands on a couple of other sports before sticking with athletics. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Tunde Eludini, Ogunode tells his grass to grace story even as he sets high targets for himself at next year’s Olympic Games.
Can we meet you?
I am Femi Seun Ogunode, the fastest man in Asia.
Let us into your background.
First of all, I want to thank God, my family, my son and wife and I want to thank my friends and fans that support me. I did not just drop down from heaven to become the fastest man in Asia, but I started from somewhere, from Ondo state. I started as a footballer, and then moved to boxing before I found my calling in athletics. Because of the politics of everything in Nigeria, I could not go far in football. I had no godfather and this in turn caused me not to get playing time, therefore opportunities to show my talent was really rare, I was a striker in those days. That discouraged me and I decided to try another sport.
What inspired you to pursue a career in football?
I had always had love for sports and my father was very encouraging. He told me, ‘Femi, you can be anything you want to be’ and he gave me his support when I decided I wanted to become a footballer. However I made no headway in that sport. A coach however saw me one day and advised me to pursue athletics as a career because I was a very fast runner in the time I was a striker then with nucleus Academy in Lagos, I also played with Pepsi Academy.
Give us more insight into your foray into boxing
I got involved in boxing majorly because my father was a boxer in the army, and I decided to follow in his footsteps. I was involved in boxing for about a year but I could not endure it all. I also did not want my face to be damaged, so I decided to enter into athletics as I was earlier advised.
Shed more light as you made your first entry into athletics.
I got into athletics with the help of my uncle. His name is Segun. After I left Lagos, I went back to my home town, Oka Akoko. Segun then told me of an athletics coach who was in Akure and asked if I was interested in joining him. I readily accepted and that was how I started training with Coach Lawrence in Akure.
What was your parents’ reaction?
My parents were supportive and helped me pursue my dreams. Though they wanted all their children to pursue education, they knew from early on that I was more interested in sports. It was even my mum who helped me get my first spikes.
What gave you the conviction to remain in athletics?
The conviction to remain in athletics came in the third week I attended state trials then and I came in second and everyone wanted to know the newcomer who came to usurp the more experienced runners and that made me decide to try and give my best in athletics.
What was your first major victory as an athlete?
My first major victory was at the Obafemi Awolowo U18 Championship in Ibadan. After I won, I was like yeah now, we are getting somewhere.
Who is your driving force?
My dad. He was very supportive, always encouraging me to pursue my dreams. Though he died last year, I still hear his voice encouraging me and that has kept me going. Three of us are in sports and my younger brother is the record holder for 60 meters in Asia and the other one is involved in the decathlon also for Qatar.
How did you get into representing Qatar?
I was supposed to represent Nigeria at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, however due to some manoeuvres that I could not understand I was dropped from the team. Prior to that I had qualified to represent Nigeria at the All African Games in Algiers but some politicking ensured that I was dropped from the team despite making the trials. These acts were discouraging but I decided to keep on training and working hard because who knows, I could be favoured by one of the powers that be in the future. My dad was also a great source of encouragement because he always told me to be the best that I could be despite whatever challenges that came my way.
One day, I got a mail from Qatar asking if I was interested in coming to their country and I said yes but told them I had no funds to move. They told me to send my passport and I was given passage to Qatar. The rest as they say is history as I became a Nigerian-Qatari.
How was it for you transitioning into your new country?
It was not a hard thing to adjust when I got to Qatar. I try as much as possible to adapt to whatever new place in get to, immersing myself into the culture, that way, I am better focused for the task ahead.
Can you please give as a recap of how the season was for you?
My season went well. After the Asian Championships however I suffered injury that laid me up for a while. I was only able to return to training three weeks to the World Championships and that was why it seems I did not do as well in that event. I am.
Why Femi Ogunode Foundation?
I believe in giving back to people. While I was growing up I saw how we young athletes suffered to make headway in athletics. Nobody gave us a chance to showcase our talent. Last year, I thought within myself that it was time to give back to the society especially the young athletes as it seems that the body in charge of athletics here in Nigeria has better things to do than develop the sport at the grassroots level. So I decided that if I start this foundation, I will be helping athletics at the grassroots level.
What is your evaluation of the maiden edition?
I saw that many would be the future of Nigeria if programmes are organised to help them develop the potential they have. If they can keep them together and organise training camps for them, they will shine at the world stage.
What are the plans for the event?
The plan is to keep some of the best talents together and ready for competitions in the future. It is one thing to recognise talent, it is another thing to develop them. What our foundation will try to do is help nurture the talent we see.
What setbacks have you had and how were hey overcome?
I have a mentality that says if you want to succeed, you must face challenges head on and overcome them. This has been my policy and this has helped in such a way that instead of challenges being setbacks, they have become stepping stones to greater things because I do not give up.
What is your take on athletes that dumped Nigeria but are coming back to give back to the society?
I will advise that they follow their heart and do what they want to do. They should not listen to side talks because no matter what you do people will always talk. I, for one, do not listen to what people say because no matter what you do, you will be criticised. If that is then going to be the case is it not better you please your conscience?
If Nigeria fails to respect athletes and give them their due in terms of training, camps etc, they will find out more and more people switching allegiance and going to represent some other country.
What is your target in Rio 2016?
My target is to get gold at the Olympics. Yes I know the world’s best will be present, Usain Bolt and the others but I know with hard work and God on my side, I can shock the world.