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Ebewele’s Cairo nightmare

*Nervous Onyali defeated by technology

*Stunning Kenyans beat Nigeria in 4x100m

Dateline: Friday 23rd August 1985. As a professional handball player in Cairo playing for the great Zamalek SC, having cut my teeth with the Nigerian Herald in Ilorin since 1983, I started freelancing for Daily Times before I got the Cairo space. I kept a Reporter’s Diary where minute details were found. The page started with “Ebewele’s great fall.” Share my jottings:

Brown Ebewele's 1985 great fall in Cairo
Brown Ebewele’s 1985 great fall in Cairo…Photo by John Ebhota of Punch

Brown Ebewele: When Brown ‘Juju-man’ Ebewele left the cool breezy shores of the largest African nation, Nigeria, on the 10th August he had told journalists in Lagos that his eyes are set on the gold medal at the African Athletics championships in Cairo.

Ebewele was the nation’s hope. He cropped a massive injury before the tourney was to start. It was the pole vault event. He had to borrow the pole to do the event. It was the eve of the start of the championships.

Juju-man lost his pole in the Swiss Air flight that took the contingent. He went up in the air and lost the fall. He was thrown off the foam! Screams rent the air for those who saw him go up.

He landed on his head and left shoulder. People left all they were doing and rushed towards him. I was glued where I was. Minutes later, I sauntered there by which time he was put in a stretcher to head to the hospital.

I couldn’t write the report. I managed to call Lagos to break the saddest news about the Nigerian contingent. About an hour later, he was diagnosed to have fractured his left cranial structure and shoulder. The following day he had a bowler cap to cover the head but the shoulder was cast in a large Plaster of Paris (POP) covering the shoulder, elbow with a sling from his neck holding the wrist. John Ebhota of The Punch newspaper was the only photographer who took the photo. It took him four hours after sending the picture to Lagos to give out because “we dey compete for market.’

Jittery Onyali stunned by new technology: That championship was where the CAA introduced a new starting block that had electronic television recording. Every error or false start will be detected without human imperfection. Mary Onyali was Nigeria’s fastest girl. She was expected to stroll to the gold medal. For where?

She was disqualified for beating the gun twice. Onyali was obviously very nervous. The petite Nigerian sprinter had won the 200m silver medal earlier. From the reporter’s eye, Mary lost the gold most likely to fatigue. She was in the lead from start. With 30 metres to go, she went swimming!

Later, she told reporters, “I had never been exposed to that technology. That was my first time. Recalling when asked to leave the track during the interview, she ran new streams of tears on her already red eyes with an innocence of a neophyte.

Kenyans announce arrival in short sprints with style: Nobody gave the East Africans any chance. Yes, they are in the final. The returned the fastest semi final time. In the finals, they cleaned up Sunday Uti and sustained a good baton and seamless exchange. They maintained the race and won with exceptional glitz. The quartet were shocked.

Know the saddest part of this young reporter, this being his first major international sports coverage, he had no list of the Nigerian or even the names of the winning quartet in his note book.

A last good information found at the base in a corner is Nigeria’s haul of medals: 11 gold, 8 silver and 3 bronze. Any loophole? He failed to say what position the nation had on the log!

Two pictures cut from the version of the report published in Lagos was Ebewele’s injury in Ebhota’s picture shared.

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