Orukpe Erayokan is the National Sports Festival Champion over the 400m. He is currently the FIFTH fastest man in Nigeria’s history in the one lap event with a time of 44.95 seconds at The All African Games last year, making him a two-time finalist at the games. He opens up to ATHLETIC HEAT on some issues in the World of Athletics. He also explains why he ran 48 seconds at the beginning of the season, Nigeria’s chances at the olympics amongst other things…….
Orukpe “Paparazzi” Erayokan
Firstly congrats on your race at Abuja Golden League. You ran a 46.83s in the heat and 46.41s in the final. Can you talk us through your race?
I thank God for the strength. I just went there to do my best. I didn’t think I could run that fast because I didn’t want to run at the competition. I just started hard training some few days ago, so I just used my normal strategy to run the race.
Many Nigerians don’t really know who Orukpe is. Can you tell us about yourself and how you started athletics?
Orukpe Erayokan is a normal guy who started athletics at the age of 18 but didn’t take it seriously. On one very good day I just came down to Ogbe stadium and I saw people running. So I told a coach that I was an athlete back in secondary school. That’s how I began training and I went for U18 Championships in 2008 and I was among the team that went to Dakar, Senegal that year. I was running the 400m and 800m. We stayed in camp for three months and they didn’t pay well, so I decided to quit. In 2011 a friend called me and said they were having trails in Benin for National Festival, I went reluctantly and I won the trials with 47seconds and that’s how I began to get encouragement from people. When we got Port Harcourt Festival, my thought was that I would do the 400m flat but I only ran the 4x400m relay. After the competition I said athletics wouldn’t favor me, so I went back to my Disk Jockey (DJ) work. In 2012, a coach from Ogun state called me and I said I wasn’t running again. He persuaded me to just run and that’s how I went for Ogun state trials and I dipped second with 48.4secs, the guy that won ran 48.2s. It was at Eko 2012 (National Festival) I ran my first 46seconds. In 2013, I had front thigh injury though people asked of me but they didn’t know what happened to me. The injury lasted for a long time, then Isah Sahilu introduced me to his coach, he gave me some money to buy drugs. Towards end of 2013, I was invited for ‘’Commonwealth Games Camp’’ and my injury was well treated but I did less training. There was trial before the camp ended and I won the 600m race. In 2014, I began my season with All Comers were I won the 600m with 1:18s. Thereafter we were taking to The US for training tour and we spent three months there. When we got back, I didn’t run the Grand Prix because the Technical Director said since I couldn’t run in US, I can’t run here. Then in Mobil Championships, I had to beg before I was given a bib in the call room. I didn’t jog nor stretch and if you check I ran a 46s in the heat, semifinal and final and that’s how I was selected for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. In Glasgow, we home based were always neglected. The four foreign based on the team were given grants while Isah Salihu and I were not given. I started the 2015 season on a good note and I got into National Camp. Whenever I run in Nigeria, people would say ‘’you are better than 46secs’’ but I wasn’t bothered. Since I began running for Nigeria, I have never ran 400m flat, its only 400m relay. My first 400m flat was at All Africa Games, when I ran a 45 in the heat I wasn’t surprised but when I did a 44.9 in the semis then I said to myself I could do better than this. I was told everything would be fine when I run a good time but till now I haven’t gotten any support. Recently, I was taken to America to run in a very cold weather and that’s how people began saying ‘’Orukpe has gone back, he can’t repeat it again’’. I just laughed because I know what I can do.
That takes me to the next question. You started the season on a somewhat slow start, because you ended last season with a 44seconds and now 48secomds. Can you clear the air on what went wrong?
In the competition in The US, many things went wrong. You can testify that before we left Port Harcourt, we were doing a lot of endurance training and we were in build up. I didn’t even expect to run abroad because we travelled all the way from Texas to Houston we spent well over seven hours. On our arrival, the cold was unbearable. I haven’t experienced such, I could barely move my leg, and to jog was a problem.
It’s only in Nigeria that starting on a slow note is bad. The fastest time at that competition was 46.9s, the guy that won it is a 44.0s runner from Trinidad and Tobago. When you don’t perform well, we are criticized. They didn’t know the stress we went through in The US. Nobody knew what went wrong, all they know is that ‘’Orukpe ran a 48seconds’’. After doing 300m workout when I got back, my coach said I shouldn’t mind anyone because I still have the speed in me, As a champion, you must experience criticism from many people.
So what can you say is your best moments so far in your career?
My best moment so far was at The All African Games when I ran a 44seconds.
Orukpe at The All African Games
You were running 46s for about three years before breaking into a 45s then the next day a 44secs. What can you say was the secret to the 44secs?
The secret is straight forward. Most of the athletes in Nigeria have the power to do it. It’s just a little motivation we need. When I got to Congo, I was told that I could run faster, even my own coach (Coach Tony) , Coach Campbell and Coach Okon just put me through some things I would do. What motivated me was the allowance. If someone says money can’t motivate an athlete, that’s a lie. So what really spurred me to run 44seconds was the allowance because before the race we were paid. I was so happy and I was eager to run the race. What went wrong in the finals was that I had groin. I couldn’t execute my race properly neither could I run relaxed. My thought after doing a 44secs was that the country or AFN would support me but till now nothing has been done. My trip to Abuja was sponsored by Nigeria Customs, they have been helping me. We have so many talents in this country, I don’t really know. Just a little motivation and we would run FASTER! They prefer the foreign based to home based athletes. Those who are running 47s would be given grants while we running faster wouldn’t receive a kobo.
There was news that Nigerian athletes were locked out of their hotel
rooms in America. How true is this?
It’s not news but a true story, I was there. We were invited for a birthday party by a Nigerian coach who is based in the US (Coach Victor). When we got back, we couldn’t open our door. So we had to go to the reception where we were told that we haven’t paid for about a week. We had to stay in the reception as Coach Campbell was trying to talk to them that money would soon be available but unfortunately we couldn’t pay. So he (Coach Campbell) had to contact Coach Victor to help us get another hotel. So that’s how we stayed without training for three days in another hotel. He told them money would be sent from Nigeria but money didn’t come and Coach Victor had to take us to another hotel, that’s how we were moving around America before they paid until when we were returning to Nigeria. Till now i haven’t even been paid. It wasn’t a rumor.
At the World Indoors in Portland, USA. You were listed to take part in the 400m but to the dismay of many Nigerians, you didn’t start the race. What happened?
I wasn’t prepared for the race, that’s just the fact. And I had some pains, so you don’t expect me to go and fool myself in Portland when I wasn’t ready. I told a coach that he didn’t tell me I was going to run the Indoors, he just said ‘’Go and run, the major competition is the Olympics’’ which is not done that way. I was stressed out, the day I was meant to travel out; I missed my flight because I was told the flight was filled up. So Isah Salihu and I spent an extra day in Lagos. The journey was so long that we stopped in Germany for four hours before we flew to California then to Portland and I was meant to compete the next day. It wasn’t possible, the stress was so much and I can’t just go the track and fool myself but people don’t ask questions. Journalists don’t like asking questions, they wouldn’t know what happened they would just be writing as they like. What I was reading in The US made me angry, we athletes were using our credit cards to feed ourselves. So many things went wrong.
Hmmm… it is well.
This is the year of the Olympics and African Senior Championships. Last year, you were fifth at the All Africa Games, what should we expect from Orukpe Erayokan this season?
I am going there to do my best, to do what I know how to do best. If you check, you would observe that we are struggling preparing ourselves. We are using our resources for this country. I am just going there to do perform to the best of my ability and leave the rest for God.
It is believed that foreign based athletes were paid when the team was in US for the Indoors and some other meets while home based athletes weren’t paid. Can you share your view?
Yes. Though some home based athletes were paid just a week to the Penn relays because when I was called for the relays, I told them if they don’t pay me what they owe I wasn’t going. So they paid some of us but not all. One thing about them is that, they always choose foreign based over us. Now that God has blessed me with a 44secs, Nigeria would prefer to pick someone running 46s outside the country. If you don’t know me personally, you would think I am a millionaire but it’s not like that. We are not treated well. Since we arrived from the Penn Relays, we haven’t been paid. The Perm. Sec said on our arrival in Nigeria we would be paid but till now we haven’t been paid. Sometimes I feel ashamed of myself. It’s not as if the money is not there, yet they want us to run fast.
Someone like Peter Emelize who recently switched allegiance to Germany. If you had an opportunity would you actually switch as well?
It is not as if I don’t have the opportunity. I have had several opportunities since 2012 to leave this country but I still had hope that Nigeria would change but it’s getting worse every day. Those countries are ready to give me money.
It’s less than 90 days to the start of the Olympics and the Athletics. Do you think Team
Nigeria would make an impact at Rio de Janeiro?
I believe so because we Nigerian athletes always put up our best. We put things together and don’t have to wait for the federation or the country so that things would go well. Some other countries have been preparing their athletes for about two years now and its less than three month and we haven’t been called for camp yet. By God’s grace we would go there and do our best.
Can you list some of the basic things that athletes need that we lack in Nigeria?
We lack so many things. They say we athletes don’t need money but they forget that we don’t have jobs because athletics takes a lot of our time. There is no support from government or corporate bodies. They
don’t take care of Nigerian athletes. If 50% of athletes are been fully supported, then I think we would be running faster. If Abass Abubakar can run a 45s then I believe I can do better. This country is not helping matters. Have you seen an athlete who goes abroad and not run faster? No! They all perform well. We need change in Nigeria.
Thanks so much for your time. We wish you all the best in your career.
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