When Chierika Ukogu pulls up to the starting line in green and white this Saturday in Rio, she’ll go down in history as the first Nigerian to row on Olympic waters. The 23-year-old Stanford grad and soon-to-be medical student is about to become Nigeria’s very first Olympic rower.
The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Ukogu, known as Coco to many, says she feels a strong connection to Nigeria, where many of her relatives live and where she spent many summers. She and her siblings were immersed in the culture. “We watch Nollywood movies, we love dancing ‘Alingo,’ we eat the food. All of it,” Ukogu tells Okayafrica by email. Writing from Rio, she says she’s proud of her Nigerian-American heritage.
Ukogu’s rowing career dates back to 2006 while attending Mount Saint Joseph Academy, a powerhouse of a rowing school on the outskirts of America’s crew capital, Philadelphia, PA. She graduated in 2010. The next stop for the Pennsylvania native was Palo Alto, where Ukogu studied pre-med and rowed for Stanford’s women’s crew team.
In rowing, the Olympics are really the ultimate goal. It’s every rower’s dream to compete. Ukogu’s Olympic dreams were awoken while watching Nigerien athlete Hamadou Djibo Issaka compete at the London 2012 Summer Games. Issaka was the ultimate wild card. A swimmer by trade, he started rowing three months before the games. According to Ukogu, Issaka faced a lot of flack. He finished last, and despite his underdog appeal, he was dubbed the “sculling sloth” due to his less-than-impressive performance. The young Nigerian-American rower was pissed off. “At that time I had been rowing for about six years, and I wanted to continue his legacy and shake things up,” says Ukogu. “I wanted to show people more African rowers and just what we can accomplish.”
Of course, Nigeria’s rowing community is still small. The sport was only recently recognised by the sports ministry, says Ukogu. Their plan was to develop Nigerian rowers to compete in the 2020 games in Tokyo. But then Ukogu came along. “Almost out of nowhere four years early,” she says. “It just goes to show that anything is possible.”
Ukogu spent years emailing the Nigerian Rowing and Canoeing Federation to no avail. At that point, she hadn’t started sculling, the style of rowing she’d need to master if she were to compete at the Olympics for Nigeria. She was ambitious but without a plan. Without experience in a single, she didn’t have much to show for herself.
Looking back, Ukogu says she’s glad they ignored her. “Their silence pushed me to make bigger commitments to rowing after graduating university. I put my dreams of medical school on hold and I dove headfirst into rowing,” she says.
And so after graduating from Stanford in 2014, Okogu found herself back on Philly’s historic Schuylkill River. She worked as a women’s-health research coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania while training in a single at the prestigious Vesper Boat Club on Boathouse Row.
But the road to Rio was a bumpy one.
Transitioning from sweep rowing to sculling was a challenge. In addition to the technical adjustment of rowing with two skinny oars by her lonesome, she’d need to get used to rowing without eight women and a coxswain by her side.
When she first joined Vesper, the club’s head coach told her she wasn’t good enough to row in the Olympics. But according to Vesper coach John Parker, the novice sculler responded fast.
Okogu says that once she had something to show, Nigeria listened.
But if she was going to compete for Team Nigeria, she wouldn’t just need to “make” the team, she’d need to actually create it. Before Okogu came along, there was no Team Nigeria to speak of. And with zero financial support from Nigeria’s rowing federation, her path to Rio would need to be self-funded. She started a GoFundMe campaign a little over a year ago to raise money for costs like travel expenses, entry fees, uniforms and boats.
The campaign was a success. Tomorrow, Ukogu will make history as the first Nigerian rower in Olympic history. But she won’t be the only rower representing the continent in Saturday’s women’s single scull event. Competing in the same heat are Algeria’s Amina Rouba and Togo’s Akossiwa Ayivon.
Heading into the starting line at Rio, Ukogu says she’s been listening to a lot of Kanye’s TLOP, but Michael Jackson‘s “Can you Feel it” and Nicki Minaj’s “Moment 4 Life” are pre-race standards.
After competing, she won’t have much time to bask in Olympic glory. Ukogu is slated to fly out New York just a couple of days after racing to begin medical school at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Okogu’s first race is scheduled for Saturday, 10:10 Rio time. The top three in her heat advance directly to the quarterfinals. Head to NBC Sports for more on rowing schedules and streaming times. Keep up with Okogu and her Olympic journey on Snapchat at cukogu.
Jacques Kallis, the former South Africa allrounder, has said he is “embarrassed” to call himself South African, following the ban on four of the country’s sports federations from hosting or bidding for major tournaments. On Monday, South Africa’s sports minister Fikile Mbalula meted out the punishment to the national cricket, rugby, netball and athletics unions as a response to their failure to meet transformation targets. Kallis tweeted his response, decrying politics in sport.
“So sad that i find myself embarrassed to call myself a South African so often these days #no place for politics in sport,” Kallis posted in response to News24‘s report of Mbalula’s actions.
Dale Steyn simply retweeted a link to the story while Pat Symcox wondered how “swimming and golf escaped the sports ban.”
The answer to Symcox’s question is that CSA and its counterparts in rugby, football, netball and atheltics formed a “big five” coalition of federations who signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the sports ministry last year. The exact details of the MOU have not been made public but broadly, it underlines each code’s commitment to change and meeting certain transformation targets.
The unions’ progress in meeting those targets is assessed in an annual transformation report compiled by the Eminent Persons Group (EPG), an independent, ministerially appointed task team of which former CSA acting president Willie Basson is part. The EPG found that only football among the five sports bodies met its transformation targets.
In national-team terms, Basson explained the goal was to have 60% of the team comprised of players of colour, which includes black African, mixed-race and Indian players. Cricket came in at 55%. The ministry also looks specifically at the black African component of national teams. There, cricket managed only 9%.
Since the end of the 2015 World Cup, South Africa have fielded at least one black African player in all but one match – an ODI against England in Bloemfontein in February. Most often, that player has been Kagiso Rabada, with Aaron Phangiso, Eddie Leie and Temba Bavuma also featuring.
The EPG report also took into account the number of coaches of colour at all levels in the sport and the composition of each sport’s administrative make-up. Its conclusion was that the pace of transformation remained too slow.
The ban will be reviewed after the next annual report in the 2016-17 cycle and so, South African cricket is unlikely to be seriously affected. It is not due to host a senior ICC tournament until at least 2023 but is in line to stage the Under-19 World Cup in 2020. South African rugby is worst affected by the decision, as the sanction would affect it’s ability to bid for the 2023 World Cup.
Former Ghana and Aston Villa Striker Nii Odartey Lamptey is confident Jordan Ayew will hit the ground running in the English Premier League.
The 23-year-old was signed for a fee of £ 8.5 million as direct replacement for Christian Benteke who has joined Liverpool.
The former Marseille trainee enjoyed his best club football last season after scoring 13 goals for French Ligue 1 side Lorient.
Ayew becomes the third player signed from Ligue 1 by Sherwood this summer, following the arrivals of Idrissa Gueye and Jordan Amavi from Lille and Nice respectively.
The Ghanaian who is regarded by his legendary father Abedi Pele as the most gifted footballer of his three sons is yet to fully convince the masses about his true potential but Nii Odartey Lamptey says he is convinced the move to Villa will bring the best out of him.
“It’s certainly a good move for Jordan to move to Aston Villa. It reminds me of my own move to Villa in 1994 when I moved from PSV to Villa,” Odartey told Citi Sports
“I know he will be an instant hit with the club. But if he was training once in France he has to do double in England because of the competitive nature of the league.
“His physique is built for such a league and he is even taller than his elder brother Dede so I see the future being bright for him.”
Former South Africa Football Association CEO & FIFA disciplinary committee member Raymond Hack vehemently denies any involvement in FIFA’s corruption scandal. He speaks with Francine Lacqua on Bloomberg Television’s “The Pulse.” (Source: Bloomberg)
Midfielders: Ogenyi Onazi (SS Lazio, Italy); Steven Ukoh (Biel-Bienne FC, Switzerland); Sone Aluko (Hull City, England); Hope Akpan (Reading FC, England); John Ogu (Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Israel); Michael Babatunde (Volyn Lutsk, Ukraine); Joseph Nathaniel (Sharks FC); Kingsley Sokari (Enyimba FC)
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow, Russia); Aaron Samuel (Guangzhou R&F, China); Brown Ideye (West Brom, England); Odion Ighalo (Watford FC, England); Anthony Ujah (FC Cologne, Germany); Moses Simon (KAA Gent, Belgium); Ubong Moses (Kano Pillars); Stanley Dimgba (Warri Wolves); Mfon Udoh (Enyimba FC); Standby – Victor Moses (Stoke City, England)
Tottenham striker Emmanuel Adebayor says he is working hard to regain his form after overcoming personal issues.
The 31-year-old Togo international made his first appearance for the club for almost two months in Sunday’s 3-0 defeat away to Manchester United.
“I went through a little bit of a dark moment in my career but now I am back training hard and that’s it,” he said.
“A lot of things went wrong. We are all human beings. We all go through a lot at certain time of our lives.”
He added: “I think I have learned from it. I went through a lot of family issues. Now it is behind me and I am back on the football pitch. I am very glad to be back.
“I am available. I’m not 21 years old any more. I am 31 and I look at things differently. I just have to help my team and show respect for them and show respect for the club.”
Adebayor started the season as the club’s first-choice striker but indifferent form – he has scored only two goals in his 16 appearances – and personal problems have meant he has fallen behind rising star Harry Kane.
While Adebayor has struggled this term Kane has flourished, scoring 26 goals
He was granted a spell of compassionate leave in December and upon his return he almost left the club on transfer deadline day to join West Ham.
Adebayor refused to reveal the exact details of what went on in the final day of the transfer window, and would not say whether he would remain at the club beyond the end of the season.
He said: “The summer is a long way to go. We’ve got what, nine games to go? That is almost two months. So we’ve got plenty of time.
“At the beginning of the last season, everyone wanted me out; at the end of the season, they wanted me to stay.
“I just have to keep believing in myself.
“And for me, sitting on the bench, as a player, I have been there before. I just have to work hard on the pitch and come back and play football.
“Today, you are zero. Tomorrow, you are a hero.”
Adebayor also moved to try to heal the rift that was created between him and the Spurs support in November when he said the team was “finding it hard in the head” to play at White Hart Lane while the fans were booing.
“Maybe sometimes, whenever I speak, obviously it’s misunderstood and people take it the wrong way,” he said.
“I don’t know if I have been punished or not but what I know is, I’m me, I’m being me, and whatever something is strong, if I have to say it and correct the thing, correct the future for the club, I will do it.
“Somebody will say something that people will misunderstand and take the wrong way but I have nothing against the fans, I always love the fans.”
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Africa Cup of Nations: Semi-final was ‘war zone’, says Ghana FA
The Africa Cup of Nations semi-final between Ghana and hosts Equatorial Guinea was described as a “war zone” after play was suspended for more than 30 minutes because of crowd trouble.
Players ducked bottles thrown from the stands, Ghana fans sought safety behind a goal, riot police used tear gas and a helicopter hovered over the stadium.
“It’s now like a war zone,” the Ghana Football Association (GFA) tweeted, claiming “barbaric acts of vandalism” while its president told the BBC it was lucky no-one was killed.
When play resumed, Ghana sealed a 3-0 win to reach Sunday’s final, where they will play Ivory Coast, who beat DR Congo 3-1 on Wednesday.
Ghana FA president Kwesi Nyantakyi blamed Equatorial Guinea supporters for “unprovoked violent attacks” inside the stadium.
“We are lucky that we haven’t lost any lives, though people have sustained various degrees of injuries arising from objects thrown at them,” he told BBC World Service.
Trouble flared at half-time between Ghana and Equatorial Guinea.
Ghana players had to be protected by riot police using plastic shields as they left the field, already 2-0 up in the tie.
The second half was then halted eight minutes from time when Ghana supporters sought sanctuary on the field after coming under attack.
Confederation of African Football (Caf) officials had used the public address system to threaten to call off the game if the crowd did not stop pelting Ghana’s players.
Nyantakyi called security at the match “a flop” but said he expected “more decency” from fans.
“I don’t think this is a fair commentary of Africa,” he said.
After play was suspended in the second half, riot police closed in on fans in order to restore peace
“This has been a very successful tournament and this isolated incident of violence will leave a slur on the reputation of African football.
“A high profile game of this nature should have attracted policemen, intelligence officers and military.
“I couldn’t have counted 50 policemen at the stadium, the rest were from Angola, who were not familiar with the terrain, so they didn’t know how to handle the situation. So the Ghanaian fans were left at the mercy of these violent fans.”
BBC World Service reporter Piers Edwards was with the visiting supporters as they left the stadium and said some were taken to hospital.
He picked up several objects that ended up on the pitch, including a jagged piece of broken mirror, half a plate and a rock.
Play finally resumed after many fans had left the stadium, with both teams seeing out the final three minutes.
Objects removed from the pitch by BBC reporter Piers Edwards.