Divine Oduduru has been making waves since leaving Nigeria for the United States. The 21-year-old tells IDRIS ADESINA about his career and the opportunity to compete with Usian Bolt at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in this interview
How would you describe your career and education since you moved to the United States?
I will say the journey has been fantastic and wonderful. I have been able to get more exposure to better training facilities and better environment where I have lesser things to worry about. It has been a beautiful journey so far. I will always be grateful to God who has made everything in my life possible from when I started athletics till date.
You won some medals at the 2018 African Senior Athletics Championships in Asaba. How would you describe the competition?
My performance in Asaba was fantastic. I will rate myself 10 out of 10 despite not winning gold in my event. My season started a long time before the African Championships – from the indoor season in December last year to the outdoor season in the USA and I believe the competition was the peak of the season for me. I am happy with my performance in Asaba because I was still able to run under 21 seconds in the 200m, which was part of my target coming home.
You were beaten in the final of the 200m by South Africa’s Ncincihli Titi. Were you disappointed by this?
I was not disappointed because Titi is not a new person to me on the tracks. We have met a couple of times in the NCAA circuit. We are rivals when it comes to the 200m. The fact that he beat me in Asaba doesn’t mean I won’t beat him in another competition. I wanted to win on home soil but that didn’t happen. In spite of that, I am not disappointed that I wasn’t able to win gold. Every athlete has his or her opportunity to win competitions and he got his in Asaba – and used it.
In June, you became the NCAA men’s 200m champion. How does that feel?
It feels great and lovely to be a champion. The title didn’t come easy – it took a lot of hard work and sacrifice to achieve.
Are you under any pressure to defend the title and some other records you hold in your school?
I am not under any pressure to defend the title because pressure makes you perform below expectation. I will give my best and take the advice of my coaches to ensure that I continue to improve in my events. I believe that I have more great things to achieve in my career – beyond school– so I am not under any form of pressure to maintain what I have achieved so far.
Since leaving Nigeria, there has been a steady improvement in your time in the 100m and 200m. What can you attribute this to?
Many things are responsible for that. My school, Texas Tech, gave me all the support, comfort, love, attention and rest of mind. When an athlete has these, there will be improvements in his time. The challenges of being based at home, where these things are lacking, are much and it doesn’t bring out the best in you. So, whenever any athlete leaves the country and travel abroad to further his or her education and athletics career, he or she tends to do better than he or she would have done at home before travelling.
You ran with Usain Bolt at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. How would you describe that moment?
It is always a wonderful feeling when you have the opportunity to compete with your mentor. Running side-by-side with Bolt is one of the high points of my career. It was an experience I won’t forget. Life is all about progress and at that moment, I enjoyed the privilege that came with running with my mentor. It showed me that I can be anything I want to be if I focus on it and work hard at it. I am happy that I was able to finish second behind Bolt in that race. It taught me that with patience, I will get where I am going.
After the 2016 performance, you had a year to forget in 2017 but you have been in great form in 2018. What should be expected from you in 2019 – a World Championships year?
I have a watchword, which is to take each year and competition as they come. I am grateful for all I have achieved so far, especially this year. But I will not make any promise for 2019 because no one can predict what will happen tomorrow. However, I look forward to having a fantastic 2019 season. I will go back to work harder in training and ensure that I improve in what I do. I also pray for an injury-free season so that I can achieve whatever I set as targets for myself.
You are from Delta State. After such a successful season abroad, how did it feel running in front of the home crowd in Asaba?
It was a wonderful feeling because it was good to be back home after a while away. I grew up in Delta State and I had spent virtually all my life in the state before I left for the USA. So, it was a great feeling seeing my family, friends and fans cheering me on while running. The atmosphere was very different from that in the NCAA and school competitions. These are my brethren, some of whom came out to watch me run. It was awesome seeing them in the stands. I am grateful to them for their support towards my career. I am also grateful to the state government for putting together such a good competition, to host Africa.
You have attended many competitions – both at the junior and senior levels. How would you compare the level of organisation in Asaba with those you have attended?
The organisation of Asaba 2018 was commendable but there are areas they need to work on for future events. I believe the hiccups witnessed were because Nigeria had not hosted a competition of that magnitude for a long time. The country’s focus has always been on football; so organising such a competition brought back the country’s focus on track and field for a while. The competition should be appraised and areas where lapses were noticed should be worked on for future competitions.
Nigeria’s male athletes have been struggling to compete favourably with other countries. What do you think needs to be done to correct this?
Everyone has a job to do to stem the tide. There are many things responsible for the decline. Athletes need to be invested in to help them to realise their potential while they put in their efforts in training and competitions. The athletes can’t reach the top on their own if the right structure, facilities and support are not there. The country has many talented male athletes who can hold their own anywhere but more needs to be done to ensure that they become better than they are and reach the level of the other countries.
What has changed about you since you started athletics in 2013?
The environment has been a big factor. Since I moved to the US from Nigeria, I have felt a big change in my career and it has helped me become better than when I started in 2013. If I had started with the kind of environment I had now, I’m sure I will have been better than I am currently but I am still grateful to God for the opportunity I had.
What are your targets in athletics?
I want to win as many medals and titles as I can – Olympics, World Championships, African Championships, All Africa Games. The target is to keep being the best for as long as I can.
Do you think Nigeria can replicate the environment needed for athletics as found abroad?
I don’t think Nigeria is up to that stage yet. Creating such enabling environment involves a lot of things. There needs to be a genuine love for the sport and the desire to grow it. When people, who love a sport, are involved in it, the growth will be tremendous. There is also a need for adequate funding and monitoring of the development of facilities and athletes. Nigeria is still a long way from creating that environment that will stop our athletes form going abroad but we hope that one day, we will get there.
What are your memorable moments?
The biggest memorable moment I have is winning the NCAA title. I also won’t forget running alongside Usain Bolt. It was exciting.