Twelve years after the 4×400m relay event of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games where Nigeria won Silver, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has now officially awarded the country with the gold medal, after its Executive Board concluded the doping case involving one of the Americans who won gold in the race.
But it would be honour too late for the late Sunday Bada, the former technical director of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) who, with Jude Monye, Clement Chukwu and Enefiok Udo-Ubong, ran the race for Nigeria. Bada died in December 2011, aged 42.
Nigeria’s elevation to top place was also accompanied by that of Jamaica and Bahamas as winners of silver and bronze medals respectively.
A member of the American relay team, the late Antonio Pettigrew — he committed suicide in 2010 — had confessed to taking performance-enhancing drugs at the time of the games, consequently leading to the deposition of the U.S. as gold winners.
Before Pettigrew committed suicide in 2010, he had been disqualified in 2008 from the 4x400m race, and also from the 400m race where he finished seventh.
The IOC had delayed reallocating the medals, waiting to see if fresh information from ongoing investigations into an American doping scandal would throw up new dimensions to the matter.
THE STORY OF THEIR LAST RACE ACCORDING TO JUDE MONYE
Nigeria's runners qualified easily for the Sydney Olympics in the 4x400 relay. They were fast. Maybe the fastest relay team in the history of Nigeria. They won their semifinal heat in Sydney and bounded into the final with great confidence.
The finals were set. Nigeria would be in lane four, with the heavily favored United States team of Alvin Harrison, Antonio Pettigrew, Calvin Harrison and Michael Johnson in lane five. Monye would run the second leg of the relay, going up against Pettigrew. Nigeria's team consisted of Clement Chukwu, Monye, team-leader Sunday Bada and Enefiok Udo-Obong, who would run the final leg.
Monye said the mood during the warm-up was strangely calm. Chukwu, Monye and Bada all figured this might be their last Olympic race ever, and they wanted to go out on top.
"I've never seen a group of guys be so determined to do something," Monye said. "When I saw the four of us just playing around, so relaxed, in my mind I knew something special was going to happen."
When Chukwu handed the baton to Monye for the second leg, though, Nigeria stood in fifth place. The U.S. already had made up ground on the outer lanes and took over first.
Monye broke down to lane one at the beginning of the back straightaway, slowly but surely closing the gap on fourth place. Pettigrew didn't give any ground and maintained the lead for the U.S. In Monye's final meters, he had come nearly even with both third-place Jamaica and second-place Bahamas as he handed off to Bada. But when Bada passed the baton on to Udo-Obong for the final 400 meters, a medal seemed out of reach. Michael Johnson was on his way to pummeling the competition. Jamaica's Danny McFarlane - the same person Monye watched on TV in Beijing - had taken over second, and Bahamas' Chris Brown held third place.
Monye's mother, Priscilla Egbe, watched breathlessly back home in Nigeria as the stretch run unfolded.
"I saw that Nigeria was in fourth place," said Egbe, who is staying with her son in Lawrence. "By my screen, I knelt down. I said, 'God, I want them to get a medal. Let them take third at least. I don't want them to be the last loser and finish the race in fourth.'"
And just like that, her prayers were answered.
Udo-Obong passed Brown two seconds before the finish line. Then, he blew by McFarlane at the line, dipping his head across one-tenth of a second faster.
Nigeria had captured a silver medal.
All four Nigerians embraced, joyously celebrating the accomplishment. They had finished the race in 2:58.68, a full two seconds behind the U.S., but good enough for the best time any African country ever had run.
"We all ran the race of our lives," Monye said.
None of them went to sleep that night in the athletes' village. Monye called his mother 30 minutes after the race. Tears streamed down her face. There was pandemonium back home, where the four runners would get a special dinner at the president's house upon return.
"The joy was too much," Monye's mother said. "I was happy that he made it."
But as all of Nigeria rejoiced, there was no way of knowing what lay ahead for the United States team.
Scandals engulfed that 4x400 relay squad in the ensuing years.
First, it was revealed in 2003 that Jerome Young, who ran in the semifinal heat of the relay for the U.S., tested positive for steroids the year before the Sydney Olympics but was allowed to compete anyway.
In 2004, The International Association of Athletics Federations ruled Young was not eligible to compete in Sydney and wanted the U.S. team stripped of its gold medal. A year later, however, the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned that decision, and the United States kept its gold.
At that time, the medal dispute became a dead issue. It seemed the case, which had a statute of limitations of eight years, would pass through the Oct. 1, 2008, deadline without another peep.
But that was only the beginning of the Americans' problems.
Young got caught doping again and was barred from competing for life.
Calvin Harrison received a two-year suspension from track and field in 2004 for testing positive for a stimulant a year earlier. Twin brother Alvin received a four-year suspension in 2004, after he admitted to using several undetectable performance-enhancers.
While both Harrisons admitted to usage only after the Sydney Olympics, questions about that 4x400 race were being raised again.
Then, in May 2008, Antonio Pettigrew revealed the final straw.
Pettigrew, who raced in the same leg as Monye in Sydney, admitted in court he used performance-enhancing drugs before, during and after the 2000 Olympics.
Michael Johnson, the only American runner from that race not involved in a doping scandal, gave back his gold medal in July, saying his team hadn't won the race honestly.
Finally, just days before the Beijing Olympics - the International Olympic Committee officially stripped the United States of its gold medal.
Monye and teammate Bada shared a euphoric moment on the phone after they heard the news. Each had begun to wonder if they ever would see that gold medal in their lifetime.
For Monye's former coach, Reynaud Alexander, the message was clear.
"Once you start using drugs for the price of success, it's like you're selling your soul to the devil," Alexander said. "Because sooner or later, he's going to collect. But now, if you want to pay that price, that's totally up to you."
Then Monye says he isn't bitter about the way things have played out. His only wish when he relives that night eight years ago would be to hear his country's anthem playing as his team stands on the gold medal podium.
Still, he should be receiving a nice consolation prize soon enough.
"To win the gold is good," Monye said. "I would have lived with silver. But gold is perfect. I couldn't have wished for anything better."
culled from thewillnigeria.com and ljworld.com