Nigeria is the hardest team to be on – Olu Olamigoke

Olumide Olamigoke is a 26 year old Nigerian Triple Jump sensation and 2016 National Champion. Though born in Virginia , USA,  in 2013 he decided to represent his fatherland. He chats with Athletic Heat on his journey so far, his family and Nigerian Athletics Federation. Read on!

Its a pleasure granting this interview,  can you tell us about yourself?

 It’s a pleasure giving it! I’m the youngest of 4 children, the only one born outside of Nigeria I currently live in Washington DC. I’m a 26 year old triple jumper

Baby Olumide with Mum. Photo Credit: Instagram

What was growing up like especially being the ‘baby of the house’?

Haha! I guess it was similar to other Nigerian households. I had to learn to speak up if I wanted to be heard. It really taught me that in order to get what I want, I have to be persistent and plan ahead lol. That tenacity is still with me to this day, so I’m very grateful for the way I was raised. I was raised as a Nigerian in America, so I’m blessed to be in touch with my roots In fact, I would say that my heritage is part of my identity.

Kudos to your parents for bringing you up the ‘naija way’.  Do you speak your native language?

I like to pretend I do lmao. I don’t speak fluent Yoruba because I was too stubborn to speak it when I was younger. But I do  understand quite a bit, and I’m learning more. I will be fluent at some point lol

Haha!  But would your American accent let you speak fluently anyway?

I think you’ll be surprised

Haha!  Great. So would you say being rooted in the Nigerian culture played a major role in you competing for Nigeria?

Yeah for sure. Obviously having dual citizenship I had the choice to compete for the US but competing for Nigeria have me the opportunity to go home for the very first time in 2013. I hadn’t stepped foot in Africa or Nigeria prior to then, so competing for the Motherland opened up so many doors to me, especially in seeing where my family came from. Some people like to say it’s easier to compete for Nigeria than the US, but those people have no idea. The US may be the hardest team to make, but Nigeria is the hardest team to be on.

That brings me to the next question, how did you feel when you weren’t picked for the 2015 World Championships even though you qualified?

Pissed!!! The worst part was being lied to. But it made me even more focused. So after 6 weeks away from competition, I put on that Nigeria vest and qualified for the Olympics at the All African Games. They couldn’t tell me anything at that point. I was vindicated.  So honestly, I feel everything went as it was supposed to, despite me not liking it at first.

There’s a biblical saying that “All things work together for good to those that serve the Lord” and I’m sure your scintillating performance at Brazzaville, Congo cleared all doubts, yeah?

Absolutely! I’m a firm believer in God and the laws of the Universe, so as long as I’m persistent in the pursuit of my goals, there isn’t a thing out there that can stop me. Besides, all the hardships make for better details in my story and inspiration for the novel I’ve been writing.

Great! So can you briefly hint to what the novel is about?

It’s the culmination of the lessons I’ve learned along the past four years of my first Olympic journey. It won’t be done for a while, but it’s gonna be good. I’ve also written a short story along the same lines that I’m thinking about sharing soon.

Okay.  When you do, how can people get to read it?

It’ll be shared via my personal website www.olumide.com

Okay. So you have represented Nigeria about six times.  Share with us what the experience has been like?

That’s a good one. Somewhere between frustrating, fulfilling, and vindicating. It’s no secret by now that we athletes are treated so poorly. It’s hard to believe, but I had to buy my own ticket to Rio, and was literally chasing after the money I was owed until 2 days before competition! But to be consistently competing among the best in the world despite that treatment, that’s where I feel vindicated and fulfilled, because I still reached every one of my goals. Going forward, I’ve learned that I can’t rely on my country to satisfy my needs as an athlete. So I will make sure I take care of them myself. Still I rise.

Olamigoke Olumide competing at Rio Olympics in old Nigerian vest. Photo Credit: GettyImages

There was a story making rounds prior to the Olympics that Nigerian athletes were asked to buy their tickets but the minister debunked and authorized the federation to pay for it. Was it only you that paid or everyone from the US?

It wasn’t just a story, it was true. I had planned to be in Rio at a specific time in order to begin acclimatizing and training, so as that date approached, I was told I could buy my ticket and be reimbursed upon arrival. I’m not sure how many others from US paid themselves but most who didn’t went through mayhem just to make it to Brazil.

Okay. The Athletics federation has been dissolved and a new board will be elected this week. How would you describe the performance of the Ogba-led administration?

Haha. I’m not going to cause controversy. I think anyone looking for the answer to that question doesn’t have to look far to get it. I just hope that going forward we athletes will get some support, or at the very least, not be actively hampered in our progress.

Let’s hope that the next board will perform better and put the interest of the athlete first.

All we can do is hope. But my hopes aren’t high. Haha!

Haha! They might surprise you though.

I would love to be surprised! But this is Nigeria we are talking about. Hahaha.

But some of the candidates have shown readiness to work, by the way two of the presidential candidates are Olympic Gold medalists.

I’ve heard one of them is Chief Onyali, in which case I would be very excited to work with her.

Well, she will be running for Vice President though. So back to you,  The 2017 WC is fast approaching and you’re yet to qualify with your SB being 16.55m.  How hard are you working to reach the mark?

I’m not concerned with the qualifying mark. I’ve just started my
season in full swing in the past month. My training is the best it’s
ever been, so I’ll keep trusting my process and let the marks take
care of themselves.

Olamigoke taking a selfie with Tosin Oke and Cherif Dia at 2015 All African Games. Photo Credit: Instagram

You’re gradually fitting into Tosin Oke’s shoes as the best Triple Jumper in Nigeria and indeed Africa. Do you think your fast rising dominance can make him retire soon?

I believe I’m fitting my own shoes and charting my own path. I look at Tosin as a mentor, but my path is my own. Being the greatest triple jumper Africa and Nigeria have ever seen has been the focus from day one, and following someone else’s footsteps won’t lead me to being the best Olu that I can be.  As for Tosin retiring, those questions are
best answered by him. Competing against him is always fun, so whenever he retires, he’ll be missed.

At the 2014 CWG, you ran into a man who was walking pass the runway. What really happened?

Oh man! It was the first attempt of the qualifying round, and at the time, it was the biggest stage i’d ever competed on. So you can imagine how focused I was. I started my approach, and I noticed the man on the runway. I expected him to move but he didn’t. And ask any athlete, it’s hard to stop running from full speed. So we collided. I had the white flag to begin my approach, so it was no fault of my own. Unfortunately, in the blue of the moment and trying not to injure myself, I knocked over a lady. Now it’s just a funny story to tell. Blur of the moment Haha!

Its a good thing, you weren’t injured.

Actually, I ended up straining my hamstring the next day during the 5th round of the final, and I attribute it 100% to that.

You’re a graduate of Indiana University where you studied Human Movement Studies.  How easy was it combining both sports and education?

It was tough to do, but it taught me so many lessons in being disciplined that I apply to my athletics and professional work career to this day.  Plus, it was a great resume booster to be an All American athlete and have good grades to back it up.

The 2016 Olympian was recognized on his alma mata’s history wall for his Rio achievement

Great!  What’s Human movement studies all about?

In the US, we call it Kinesiology. It’s the scientific foundation behind all human movement and involves anatomy, physiology, and bio-mechanics. I’m fascinated with how the human body works. We could have a very nerdy sounding science-based conversation about it if you’d like lol But basically, my degree helps me to understand the
triple jump and athletics as a whole on a very deep, functional level

So what inspires you?

Another good question. I take inspiration from almost everything, the main aspect being my family and friends. My parents are the two immigrant parents who came to America and created their own success, and provided for their children. My friends have won Olympic titles, set world records, started their own companies, and much more. When you’re surrounded with that level of greatness, it’s hard not to rise to the same level yourself.

Can you name some of your friends who have won Olympic medals and set World records?

For my friends, one is Derek Drouin, Rio high jump champ, another one is Kind Butler, 2014 indoor 4×4 world champ and world record holder.

Do you engage in athletics only or you’ve other things you do aside track and field?

I consider myself a bit of a renaissance man. I am Olympic athlete, I write, I’ve started my own business, I’m creating my own brand, I serve as a motivation figure, and much more. I tend to be very reserved on social media, don’t let that fool you. I wear many hats, and I keep myself very busy.

So lastly, you said earlier that “the US team is the hardest team to make but Nigeria is the hardest team to be on” can you share more light?

Sure! The United States might have the largest number of talented athletes in the world in one place, so making any Olympic team is difficult. But once you make it, you are treated as royalty. They make sure your every need is met and literally honor you as a national hero. You even get a private visit to the White House and a golden Olympic ring. With Nigeria, if you make the team, you aren’t given a pat on the back. In fact, you’d be lucky if you get a new uniform to compete in (I didn’t). Then, in order to actually compete, you’ll probably have to buy your own flights to competitions, not be reimbursed, be lied to, subjected to worse than poor conditions, put on a bus for 8+ hour road trips through the country to compete the following day in decrepit and dangerous facilities, and after all of that, you won’t even get a thank you.It’s as though the officials feel they’re doing you a service by representing the country, instead of the other way around as it should be. But I don’t ask for pity. This is the path I walk. I just ask to not be actively deterred by my own country. The reason I continue and haven’t switched allegiances is because the feeling of being able to go back and represent the country that my family hails from is more significant than all of the negativity

You speak with so much pain in your heart and you have said it twice that they lied to you. Would you want to speak on that briefly?

Honestly, what I once saw as pain I now see as life lessons. I live with zero regrets. As i also said earlier, i feel fulfilled with my choices and life experiences. And most importantly, I am happy. So for the sake of ending this interview positively, I won’t go into detail about the lies on record.

Okay Olu. Any last words to your fans?

I’ve got some major plans on and off the track that I’ve been working on, so thanks for the support and stay tuned!

We will surely keep them posted as you progress.  Thanks for time Champ! It’s been a pleasure having you !

You’re very welcome. I appreciate it!

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