Happy Birthday Chidi Imoh

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Thanks for the joys you races provided
Thanks for those moments you were globally ranked No. 1 in 100m 1986
Thanks that with an injury (“How can you be injured now? You must run,” Brown Ebewele had told Chidi before the race) at the All Africa in Nairobi’s Kasarani Stadium, which the Chinese had just completed for the Games. Imoh flew to a possible world record, but for the wind.

Thanks for telling the world Nigeria has world class sprinters.

Thanks for Barcelona, being in the team that won the 100m Olympic relay silver at Estadi de Olimpic Montjuic.

Thanks for that race that gave me a chance to ask Carl Lewis what would have happened if Davidson Ezinwa got the baton before him in the relay

Imoh in figures
100m
1983
Gold, World Universities Games in Edmonton, Canada

1984
African champion

1985
Silver, IAAF World Cup, Canberra, Australia (behind Ben Johnson)
African Champion
Gold, World University Games in Kobe, Japan

1986
Silver medal 1986 Goodwill Games (Ben Johnson, ahead of Carl Lewis)
World leader in 100m

1987
Gold, All Africa Games, Nairobi, Kenya

1991
60m, bronze, World Indoor Championships

1992
Silver, 4x100m, Olympic Games, Barcelona, Spain

I remember every detail of that which I watched standing, Sam John was beside me. Oluyemi Kayode (bless him, he died 1 October 1994, in a car crash on his way to Washington to celebrate Nigeria’s independence) handed to Imoh, who burnt former world record holder Leroy Burrell on the second leg, Olapade Adeniken, injured, lost the race for the curve to Dennis Mitchell.

Davidson Ezinwa anchored for Nigeria, a cherished silver in the bag, moments after the Nigerian women had taken the bronze. It was Nigeria\s best Olympics to date, with two silver medals from boxing. We were walking on cloud.

At the post-race conference, I asked Carl Lewis what he thought would have happened if Ezinwa got the baton before him. “The great thing about the team is that it does the job for me. I remember Dennis shouting, ‘Carl go, go, the Nigerians are coming’,” Carl said. Ezinwa had beaten Carl Lewis in the 100m at the Texas, two months to the Olympics.

Imoh enjoying a basketball game

A great silence descended on the room as I left. I had spoilt the celebration of the Americans, and it struck me that I was the only African in that room. One of the greatest moments of my life, holding the world to ransom, sportily speaking, because we had a team that placed us on the map of the world.

My belated apology to Sam John, SJ, who remains my friend, though I refused to share what transpired at the post-race conference with him, knowing that I would send the story by phone, he waited.

When I got Lagos on phone, I asked for Chuks Ugwoke – Ugwoke, became a Commissioner for Information in Enugu State for eight years – to take the story: in Igbo. SJ could not believe. I am glad that though tribe and tongue differed in Barcelona, SJ and I are still in brotherhood.

Chidi, raised in Aba, Abia State, who represented old Imo State in National Sports Festivals before leaving for the USA, on an athletic scholarship, were the University of Missouri benefitted from his athletics feats, was a school champion. He holds these Missouri records – 200m outdoor, 19.9secs; 100m outdoor, 10.00secs, and 55 m indoor, 6.10secs.

His career was one of many that Nigerian boycotts of international competitions to protest apartheid in South Africa, affected. In 1986, at his peak, and with Nigeria having one of its best assembled team for the Commonwealth Games, like in 1976 (Olympic Games) and 1978 (Commonwealth Games) – both events were in Canada – the Federal Government pulled out of the Games, with African countries and some in the Caribbean. Imoh finished his illustrious career without an appearance at the Commonwealth Games.

Thanks Chidi and your generation. We had stories to write because there were great actors on the stage. He is 54, today, 27 August and lives with his family in the USA.
Ikeddy Isiguzo

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