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Why team Ghana failed to shine at World Championships in South Korea

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Margaret Simpson

Without doubt Ghana athletics will look back with disappointment at the performance of the nation’s athletes at the 13th IAAF World Championships in Daegu South Korea.

There were some hope and optimism that the seven athletes-including 2005 World Long Jump Silver medalist Ignisious Gaisah and heptathlon Bronze medalist Margaret Simpson, who represented the nation at the championship would have at least made the finals in their various events.

But sadly, they fell out of competition one after the other in a manner which did not reflect their true potential.

Perhaps, the optimism of the neutrals stemmed from the relatively good preparation the team underwent prior to the games when the Athletics Association sent eight athletes to Finland for a special camp.

This was followed by the nation’s first ever international track and field event dubbed, the rlg Ghana Athletics Grand Prix, which was hosted at the Baba Yara stadium in Kumasi on August 6, 2011.

It would have been naïve to assume that the performances of the athletes at the Grand Prix could automatically guarantee medals on the world stage but the very fact that the athletes failed to replicate their performances in Kumasi at Daegu makes one wonder what happened.

The cynics however will point out that the trend is not very different from what happened in the past and that it only goes to show the true state of affairs of the sport in the country.

There is however the need to do an overall analysis of the situation before jumping into conclusions.

At the World Championships, veteran sprinter and team captain Aziz Zakari was the first to take to the tracks in the men’s 100m heats.

The US-based athlete has always been a favourite for the semi finals of the 100m event but a poor start in Heat 5 put Zakari in the fifth position, thus ending any hopes of qualifying for the semi finals as he had done in Berlin two years earlier.

Indeed, there have been several unjustified calls for Zakari, who has been competing for over 15 years for the nation, to retire from the national team and it is not clear if that had a psychological effect on him or that age has taken its toll on him as some will have us believe.

At age 34 Zakari, who took part in his seventh World Championship, is not getting any younger but the greater question that needs an answer is whether we have able replacements to take over from him?

Well, several prospects have sprung up lately. There is however the need to have a smooth transition as the younger athletes have a lot to learn from the veteran.

Next up, was the African Heptathlon Queen Margaret Simpson who put up a courageous fight in the combined events despite sustaining an injury during the competition.

The Mauritius-based athlete placed 14th overall after amassing 6,183pts with very good performances in the 100m hurdles and the javelin.

Her situation could be described as unfortunate because the combination of the hamstring and waist injury clearly had an impact on her output during the high jump, long jump, 800m and the 200m.

Otherwise Margaret, who was the nation’s surest bet for a medal at the competition, could have recaptured the form that saw her win bronze in the 2005 championship in Helsinki.

If Margaret’s situation was a rather unfortunate one, the inability of long jumper Ignisious Gaisah to qualify for the finals of the men’s long jump was very shocking to say the least.

Gaisah seemed to have peaked at the right time for the Championships after jumping 8.05m at the rlg Ghana Athletics Grand Prix in August.

The Holland-based athlete came up short of the automatic qualification mark of 8.15m and could only jump 7.92m on the day.

The 2005 World silver medalist was unable to control his nerves when it counted the most and he looked rather dejected after his failure.

But so were other top athletes in the competition including the likes of double Olympic champion Usain Bolt, Olympic long jump champion Irving Saladino and South African Olympic silver medallist Godfrey Khotso Mokoena.

There were more disappointments in the men’s 4x100m relay race where the quartet of Aziz Zakari, Emmanuel Appiah-Kubi, Tim Abeyie and Ashaad Agyapong failed to make the final of the event.

The team was highly expected to improve in the 38.92 secs they did in Kumasi and qualify for the finals but inexperience and poor baton changing contributed largely to the team’s slack display which saw them clock 39.17 secs in Heat 2.

US-based sprinter Ashaad Agyapong was quick to point out that the team needs more time together to gel and also develop into a world class team.

The Daegu 2011 Championships produced several shocks and surprises leading many to wonder whether the long athletics season had had a negative effect on some of the top athletes.

From a neutral point of view, there was also some genuine concern regarding the fitness of some of the athletes who had competed in several meets in Europe and elsewhere prior to the games.

Some will argue that a top sprinter needs to compete in at least six major championships in a season but that argument is farfetched if you consider the fact that the athletes depends on the sport for his or her livelihood.

Yet still, the onus lies on the athletes to appear fresh at such major competitions as the World Championships which is only staged biennially.

By Erasmus Kwaw, Back from Daegu, South Korea

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