Tobechukwu Emmanuel Nwokocha, who represented Oyo State in men’s long jump event at the 2022 National Sports Festival in Asaba, Delta State, has said he failed to retain his gold medal because he was emotionally distressed following the marriage of his immediate young sister a few days to his event. In this interview with Trust Sports, the promising long jumper, who won silver in Asaba 2022 spoke on how he started his career, the challenges he faced and his future plans.
When did you start your career as a long jumper?
It was from fun within our compound in Kaduna with my siblings. I think I was just eight years old so they used to defeat me. Our compound was big and we did it regularly and it became a passion. I took it up when I got to my secondary school and that was the beginning.
How much support did you receive from your parents when you decided to take part in sports, especially long jump?
My mum was surprised because of my bent knees and was wondering how I would be able to perform. She took me seriously when I started winning medals. But my father was not really into it. He didn’t know much but later on got interested in my career.
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What were the initial challenges you faced and how were you able to overcome them?
As you know, it was more of financial issues. I didn’t think I would get here but still, I kept on and ensured I didn’t derail from my passion. My mum even bought for me a canvass as my first gift in the sport. I was lucky to be in a school like ABU Zaria which is interested in sports.
You are from Imo but representing Oyo State. Why didn’t you represent your state of origin?
It was a coach who saw me at a National Youth Games. And that was the beginning. In fact, I was to represent Rivers State but was dropped and my current coach is a consultant for Oyo State so he picked me up and that is how I got to represent Oyo State.
What is your assessment of this year’s edition of the National Sports Festival?
The standard of organization here is slightly below what we experienced in Benin City, Edo in the last edition but it is still good. To an extent, the facilities needed have been provided but other things are not just there to make it a memorable event. However, it is still cool.
How motivated are athletes representing Oyo State?
I will say thank you to the Oyo state government. We athletes see the Oyo state government as the best in terms of welfare. They are consistent in payment of allowances unlike some states that wait til another sports festival year when they go round and give them peanuts. From one festival to another, Oyo pays us monthly and that gives us a lot of motivation. This year too, they are keeping up to their words in terms of allowances and bonuses that they promised. The stipend is something you can manage to push yourself through the month. From now until the 2024 sports festival, every athlete on their payroll will continue to receive monthly allowances. It is not going to stop. In fact, it comes 25th of every month unfailingly.
How prepared were you for Delta 2022 National Sports Festival?
In terms of training, every athlete trains with their coaches. For me, I was not in camp. I was having a lot of schedules, and it did affect my preparation because I was stressed out. I was emotionally down and I had financial challenges. I had some debts to clear. All those things were just bombarding my head so I was unstable and it affected my training. In fact, I didn’t have two weeks of consistent training.
Would you say these were the reasons you could not retain your gold medal?
Yes, I came to the festival on Tuesday, but Sunday was my younger sister’s marriage. When someone who is so much attached to you is leaving you, it affects a lot of things. It was a difficult moment for me so it is among the reasons I couldn’t retain my gold medal. I always jump well when I am happy.
You spoke so glowingly about motivation from the Oyo state government but which areas still require improvement?
I would like them to provide more tournaments for the athletes to compete and sharpen their skills. The state needs its own sports festival where hidden talents can be discovered and nurtured.
Have you participated in any international tournament?
Yes, I participated in an international competition as a youth athlete and I attended the Region 2 championship at Zaria where I won gold. I also won silver at the Africa Youth Games in Botswana in 2014.
What are your immediate plans for the long jump?
My plan is to become a professional athlete who will dominate his event and be among world-class jumpers. That’s the future for me. And when I eventually retire, I would like to be a coach to produce the next generation of jumpers.