By Alexander Johnson Adejoh
Cycling as an organized sporting activity is reported to have started back in Nigeria since 1972 and has grown over the years to a popular promotional and award-winning sport.
Since that year, after the sport officially took off in Nigeria, competitions have taken place within and outside the shores of this country with her athletes participating.
Majorly at the time, our cyclists were limited to road races because the country had no Velodrome designed for track races indoors.
This development worried a one time president of the Cycling Federation of Nigeria, CFN, Rev Moses Iloh who began pressurising the Federal Government for a standard Velodrome in Nigeria to enable our cyclists compete with their counterparts around the world.
Rev Iloh once told Sports Vanguard that “when I was the president of the federation, I struggled and struggled to make sure that the sport grows with world class facilities that can bring the best out of the cyclists. My struggles led to the construction of an International Velodrome by the Obasanjo Government …. and that Velodrome is (among) the best in Africa.
Rev Iloh, now late, however didn’t tell the whole story about that Velodrome. How the PDP Government that had earlier abandoned it later ‘exhumed’ the file and hurriedly built it, at an inflated cost because it was looking for funds to prosecute the 2003 General Election. It is a story for another day
After the Velodrome was built, bureaucracy again stalled its use until the same politicians found another use for it. Store house for campaign materials and political meetings.
It took the ascendance of Engr Giadomenico Masari as president of the CFN for the Velodrome to be cleared of campaign materials and approval of the Velodrome by both the African and world cycling bodies for track races. And Nigeria has hosted quite a handful since then.
Before Masari came on board, Nigerian cyclists were used to road races only but yet never made serious in-road in the sport in Africa and the world at large. In fact no Nigerian cyclist had ever qualified for the Olympics in the country’s History.
That may have been the reason why the CFN president concentrated his efforts more on track races which was now gaining more popularity in the country.
Our elders say that one does not watch a masquerade standing in one position. This may have informed the reason why some former cyclists now saddled with the administration of the sport in one way or the other, advised that while it is good that our cyclists are encouraged to focus on track cycling, the road races which they are used to should not be totally disregarded.
True to their reasoning, Nigerian cyclists, while adapting well to the track events, equally improved their skills in the road races which is their main stay during the Biennial National Sports Festival.
One of such cyclist now making waves around Africa after conquering the Nigerian scene is Delta-born rider, Ese Ukpeseraye who has written her name in gold within a space of three months in 2023.
Between 2021 when Edo state hosted the the 2020 edition of the National Sports Festival which was shifted because of the COVID-19 pandemic and 2022 when Delta hosted, Ukpeseraye alone won more gold medals from cycling than almost half of the states that competed in both festivals.
She topped the cycling Competition and won the Gold medals at Edo 2020 and repeated same feat in Asaba last December. She didn’t stop at that, she was encouraged to participate in international competitions within the West African Sub-region by the CFN as well as the personal efforts of Engr. Masari who ensured she and some female prospects took part in international championships in Africa and Europe.
Today, Ukpeseraye, Engr. Masari and the CFN are reaping the results of the painstaking efforts of exposing our cyclists to competitions and best practices of the sport around the world.
Last month in Accra, Ghana, Ese, as she is fondly called by friends and her admirers, fought against all odds to qualify for the road race in the 2024 Olympics in Paris, France. The first Nigerian to achieve that feat. It was the country’s first in whatever category, road or track.
As if to prove that the feat was not a fluke, she again picked another ticket to represent Nigeria and Africa in the same Paris Olympics but this time in track cycling, a part of the sports the CFN president has come to love so much and willing to muster all resources within his reach to assist the cyclists with.
It is celebration galore within the cycling family, more so, as the cyclists are telling those, who before now in the Sports Ministry, thought cycling is not a serious sport, that they mean business because their time has come.
Time has really come for the government to extend the same attention it is showering on football, and sometimes on athletics and basketball, on other sports, especially cycling because talents abound in all the sports and should be tapped and nurtured to stardom.
One such talent who has remained unnoticed but has now blossomed is Ukpeseraye who has appealed for support from not only the government, but corporate organisations and well-meaning individuals.
She needs to make a statement with her qualification for the Olympics. Like our people talk about ‘waka pass’ for Nollywood actors and actresses who just make up the numbers in their movies, Ukpeseraye doesn’t want to be at the Paris Olympics to make up the numbers. She really wants to leave a mark in the sands of time.
In 1996, while everyone, including the Sports Ministry Officials, had their eyes on the football team to make hay, one man believed in Chioma Ajunwa and took interest in her preparation, training and eventual participation in the Atlanta Olympics.
That was why it was only him, Chief Segun Odegbami, that was recognized by Ajunwa’s people in Imo with the award of a Chieftaincy title, when their daughter stunned the world with that golden leap that will remain permanent in History after many Nigerian politicians would have been gone and forgotten.
Ukpeseraye needs that man, the corporate body and the government now that she has two Olympic tickets in her kitty.
She needs adequate preparation and training which must involve good dieting and medicare. The CFN has done its best by assisting to put her out there, it is the turn of all Nigerians to rally round Nigeria’s cycling golden girl.