Sierra Leone Athletics at the cusp of a major international breakthrough.
The last time Sierra Leone made an impact on the international stage in Athletics was in the 1980’s & 90’s with names like Felix Sandy, Eunice Barber, Modupe Jonah, Abdul Mansaray, Benjamin Grant, Sanusi Turay, and Haroun Korjie to name a few of some of the names that were not just household names in the country but were reckoned with and respected amongst their contemporaries on the global stage. Then came the Civil war of the 1990’sand a series of Health epidemics in the 2000’s that were amongst a number of factors that aided in the stalling of progress in the sport and solidification of the gains made back then.
The War ended in the early 2000’s but because of the breakdowns in the functions of many institutions in the country, the nation had to slowly climb its way back to normalcy or a semblance of it in many aspects. As recently as the year 2012 Sierra Leone was ranked as one of the fastest growing economies in the world and this was a ray of hope for many but alas with Ebola and the collapse of commodity prices in the international markets that’s now but a mirage of what could be.
What however was not moving in the right trajectory when other sectors of life and the economy were trying to recover during the climb back to normalcy in the country was progress in sports as measured in the levels of representation and accomplishments in the last 20 years on the international stage. Sierra Leone has only had 2 athletes representing it at the Summer Olympics for the last four Olympics prior to the Rio Games (Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012) and for the Rio Olympics two more athletes were added to the total delegation and the addition was allowed in the Swimming discipline. The reality though is that the athletes selected and sent to the last five Olympics have been token representation as allowed by the IOC, so that all countries are represented at the Games, which in essence has had Sierra Leone showing up to fill up the numbers at the games rather than competing, something that could be changed from the 2020 Games henceforth .
Before now there were glimmers of a potential to be one of the most potent forces in sports globally in the performances of a few athletes who kept the flame burning during those dark times like Ibrahim Kabia of Minnesota who is now the Men’s Sprint Coach at the University of Northern Iowa. Kabia for several years represented the country at major meets around the world on his own money without much help from any governmental entity or supporting citizen and he never complained. He is still working to help Sierra Leone reach its true potential through other avenues in sports currently, something he is doing in collaboration with a few likeminded individuals, because he simply loves Sierra Leone, the country of his birth and is patriotic enough to seek to help restore respect back to the country despite all the wrangling and obstacles out there.
Many Sierra Leoneans who were not privy to the good old days of athletic excellence in Sierra Leone in the 80’s and 90’s could not understand how such a gifted nation with so much potential has failed to yet make it to the medal podium at the Olympics or World Championships. However with what they have heard, told to them through stories about the good old times and their own determination they believe that in their time the long awaited moment for a Sierra Leonean to step up to that long coveted medal podium at the Olympics and World Championship will finally be realized.
In the recently concluded Rio Olympics Sierra Leoneans around the world were simply thrilled to see their own excel, when Hafsatu Kamara of Phoenix Arizona won her heat and moved on to the next stage in the 100 meters qualifying heats. I mean Social Media was abuzz with excitement and congratulatory messages for the young lady and that was an indication of the hunger that a people who have been down for a while with nothing but bad news and negative stuff had in them to see one of their own do good on the international stage and celebrate their nation for a change.
Hafsatu Kamara; the athlete mentioned above is one of several overseas based athletes born to Sierra Leonean parents in the Diaspora that have stepped up to ensure that the country is factored on the map of excellent sports performance globally going forward and she is joined by others like:
Ngozi Musa - Student-Athlete (Harvard University) (Sprinter 60m, 100m, 200m)
Maggie Barrie - Student-Athlete (Ohio State University) (Sprinter 100m, 200m, 400m)
Aisha Naibe-wey - Athlete-Coach (Florida Atlantic University) (Hurdler/Sprinter – 400 mh)
Ishmael Kamara - Student-Athlete (Clemson University) (Long/Triple Jumper)
Alex Holloway - Student-Athlete (Marquette University) (Long/Triple Jumper)
Mohamed Cisse - Student- Athlete (Duquesne University) - (Sprinter- 100m, 200m 400m)
Darrel Gooding - recent graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University (Middle Distance 1500m, Mile run, 5000m)
Mary Foday – Student-Athlete (Prince Georges Community College) (Sprinter 60m, 100m, 200m)
Mamadu Mansaray - Student-Athlete (High School) (Sprinter- 100m, 200m)
Agnes Mansaray – Central Iowa Community College (Sprinter/Middle Distance – 400m, 800m)
Mutara Shabazz Sheriff – Athlete, London, UK (Sprinter 60m, 100m, 200m)
Hamza Kamara – Athlete, Stockholm, Sweden (Sprinter 60m, 100m, 200m)
Ibrahim Turay – Athlete, London, UK (Sprinter/Hurdler – 200m, 400m 400mh)
Adel Sesay – Athlete, London UK (Sprinter 60m, 100m,)
Gibrilla Pato Bangura – Athlete, London, UK (Sprinter 60m, 100m)
Thomas Vandy – Athlete, London, UK (Sprinter 60m, 100m, 200m)
400 Meters Hurdler Aisha Naibe-wey (in photo) of Florida Atlantic University who was a Finalist at the African Athletics Championships in Durban South Africa and top 8 ranked hurdler in Africa last year (2016)
This list of the quality performers overseas above are joined by their hopeful counterparts back home in Sierra Leone who are not the least bit short of producing eye popping performances given the right environment and assistance to thrive in:
Ishamail Kamara – Athlete, Makeni, Sierra Leone (Sprinter- 100m, 200m)
Vivian Williams – Athlete, Freetown, Sierra Leone (Sprinter- 100m, 200m)
The list of athletes above, are some of the many up and coming superstars of Sierra Leone Athletics who need the support of their country men and women and their government to help them achieve national glory and respect for the country.
But the potential that is in place and ready for a major breakthrough could be totally hampered and destroyed by the current infighting within the Association that has reared its head in recent months over leadership of the Association.
Click on the links below to get an idea of the ongoing infighting in the Sierra Leone Athletics Association
Exclusive: IAAF breaks silences over SLAA tussle
Sierra Leone: IAAF confirms Sesay re-election
As they refute re-elections talks… IAAF reaffirms Karim executive recognition
Despite the ugliness of politics rearing its head within sports in the national sports infrastructure of the country the reality is that among the athletes listed above, for Sierra Leone has about 4 to 6 female sprinters that they could field in the 4 x 100 meters relay who in essence could be ranked amongst the top 8 in Africa and amongst the top 24 teams in the world, which based on stats and times ran thus far by each athlete individually qualifies them into the semi-finals at the Olympics and the finals at the All African Games and African Athletics Championships.
This will be the same for a 4 x400 meters female relay squad headlined by the likes of Agnes Mansaray of Central Iowa Community College, Maggie Barrie of Ohio State University and Aisha Naibe-wey of Florida Atlantic University.
On the men’s side with athletes like recent British born acquisition Mutara Shabazz Sheriff, along with Adel Sesay, Hamza Kamara, Ishamail Kamara of Makeni, Vivian Williams of Freetown with veteran national record holder in the 100 meters Gibrilla Pato Bangura, Sierra Leone could easily also make it into the top 16 in Africa and the second rounds of the qualifying heats at the Olympics and World Athletics Championships.
National Record Holder of the 100 meters (10.19 sec) and veteran sprinter Gibrilla Pato Bangura
For the Men’s 4 x 400 meters relay team there are currently 4 athletes who can run in the high 46 second to low 48 seconds range like Mohamed Cisse of Duquesne University in Pennsylvania, Thomas Vandy of the UK, Ibrahim Turay of the UK and Bockarie Sesay in Sierra Leone that could easily crack the top 8 in Africa and the top 24 in the world.
With the World Relays in the horizon this April in the Bahamas; a competition system that the IAAF has set up for National Teams to use to qualify for the World Championships and the Summer Olympics, Sierra Leone can start its journey of a solid representation and performance at the World Athletics Championships in London this August and Doha Qatar in 2019 and eventually the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 on a solid footing by working with the above athletes and any other that may be in the horizon not been mentioned here.
400 meters specialist Mohamed Cisse of Duquesne University
The man made political infighting has to stop for progress to be made as the egos of a few are placing unnecessary obstacles in the path of progress and the dreams of many of our young men and women. Sierra Leone can really truly stand tall from this year henceforth into the future if the right environment is created for the athletes to succeed.
The government alongside Businesses and Sierra Leonean citizens around the world will also have to equally step up to render assistance to these young men and women who will bring long overdue glory to their nation and make them all proud and this can only be achieved by everyone supporting these athletes.
By: Leslie Koroma Sr.