Nigeria is gradually making inroads into some sports previously dominated by other nations.
One of such is Gymnastics where U.S.-based Uche Eke distinguished himself; winning Nigeria’s first-ever gold medal in the event at the last African Games in Morocco.
While Eke now sets his eyes on becoming the first Nigerian to participate in this sport at the Olympic Games, he hopes his performances will endear more people to the sport.
Enjoy excerpts of the interview.
PT: What was the feeling like for you; winning two medals on your first outing for Nigeria at the African Games in Morocco?
Eke: I felt very good and excited. Coming to Morocco for the first time competing for Nigeria and I got a gold and bronze medal. My performance was one of the best, so I am very happy walking away with more than one medal. It’s a reward for hard work from me.
PT: Did you actually meet your targets and goals in Morocco or you surpassed them?
Eke: I was actually targeting two gold and one silver medal. However, I ended up with gold and bronze. I was happy with the gold because I was able to achieve part of my targets and also happy going home with more than one medal. For the bronze, I am happy and satisfied. I was actually beaten out of the silver medal in the last seconds, but it was a great championship for me.
PT: Gymnastics is multifaceted. What part of it do you love most and why?
Eke: I love High Bars the most because it gives me a lot of nerves, you can jump up and you could be dead the next second.
I said that as a joke but in that event, you need a lot of practice. Practice makes perfect. I love Pommel Horse too; it is all about bouncing and a very serious event.
In Parallel Bars, you are not afraid of holding yourself, you don’t have time to think about anything, you just keep on going and it requires a lot of practice as well.
Parallel Bars is actually the weakest out of my three best events, it’s just an event I keep telling myself that I should do the best I could and get what comes out of it.
PT: Are your parents in full support of your involvement in sports and how much of a help have they been to you in this journey?
Eke: I have been doing gymnastics since I was four years old, so it has been part of my life. At a time my dad said to me that if I failed my classes, then I would have to drop gymnastics, and since I didn’t want to drop my favourite sport, I told him I was not going to fail. So I started working a lot harder on both my studies and gymnastics. In the U.S., as an athlete, you go to college because of your sport. Based on mum and dad’s difference of opinions, I was able to use that to my own advantage to get the best out of education and sports. It’s like a win-win situation for me from both ends. I was also lucky to have gone to the University of Michigan which is arguably number one in sports. I was happy to make mum and dad happy. Although it was more strenuous, I am glad to have achieved my goals of graduating and also making headway in gymnastics.
PT: How have you been able to combine your education and sports together?
Eke: I just make sure I don’t fail my classes. If I have to miss practice to pass in class, then I do that. If I know that if I miss practice, it will help me to do well in my exams, then I go for such an option. It is more of doing whatever it takes for me not to fail. I do whatever it takes to get good grades although not necessarily hurting my sports.
PT: You graduated with honours in Computer Science Engineering; do you look forward to doing something with your certificate in the nearest future?
That’s very tricky for me. I really want to do something but I am concentrating on my career as an athlete for now. Of course, there is always life after being an athlete when I am done; I have some of my personal projects that I will love to work on. It’s all about some techniques that I am working on.
PT: What’s the plan for the Olympic Games after the African Games achievement?
I know my strengths and weaknesses, so I am going to work on them. I am back in the States now and work has already started. I have my fans out there and also been talking to some of the people in the Nigeria team, who want to see me competing at the Olympics. So I have to work hard not to disappoint them by going out there to show what I am capable of doing. If I could get two medals at the African Games with just two months of preparation, now that I have a lot of time, I should be able to perform better.
PT: What is your message to those that see Gymnastics as an awkward sport.
Eke: I want them to use me as an example, that is exactly what I want to do , I want to spread the message of gymnastics, it should not be looked at like a child sport or women. It is a sport that helps you build your character, the training attitudes and habits can have a positive influence on the way of life. Gymnastics is a sport you would fail a lot in, but you learn how to bounce back from those failures and that is key in life. I hope more people can join the sports in Nigeria.
PT: Thanks for your time
Eke: Thank you too.
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