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Lee Evans Again – The Dream Will Not Die!  –Odegbami

Lee Evans Again – The Dream Will Not Die!  –Odegbami

I am writing this on Thursday night.

I have just read Osifo Onome-Whiskey’s message to me, a reaction to my article last week.

Onome, the maverick journalist, one of the founders of Tell Magazine, the masters of investigative journalism in Nigeria ‘in those good old days’, is my friend. He writes and I quote: “ You too love Lee Edward Evans o. Aah, aah”.

Of course, he is very correct. I love Lee Edward Evans. Lee was my friend, my brother from another mother. His story since the first time I knew about him in the 1970s continues to fascinate and inspire me. The more I know, the more respect I have for the ‘god’ who lived amongst us here in Nigeria, worked for us, and died here without most Nigerians fully appreciating the magnitude of his person, his works, and the sacrifices he made by devoting most of his life to the service of Nigerian sports, athletes, and athletics.

Why would I not love a man who loved Nigeria with such immeasurable passion? He left his country, the United States of America, when the world was at his feet. 6 years before he landed in Nigeria he was one of the most celebrated athletes in the World, the Usain Bolt of the period – 2 Olympic Gold medals from one Olympic Games, 2 new World records in the process, and 11 broken world records in different sprints events. He had fame and was heading for a stupendous fortune.

Then he leaves all of that and follows Oliver Johnson, his American compatriot and Basketball coach who had been to Nigeria earlier and had convinced him to come to the new ‘paradise’ of sports in the world. Lee Evans even entered Nigeria pretending to be a basketball coach. Just try to imagine it – the World Champion and Olympic Gold medallist, celebrated all over the world, pretending to be a basketball coach in order to gain entrance into Nigeria.

Also Read: Lee Edward Evans – To Be Remembered, Celebrated And Immortalized In Abeokuta!  –Odegbami

He was hired immediately by Isaac Akioye who had just set up the Physical and Health Department at the University of Ife but was heading to Lagos to become the second Director of Sports of the National Sports Commission.

He hired Lee to replace him in the department for a short while.

Lee was not really interested in a career in the university, but to start to fertilise the rich source of natural athletes that he found sprouting all over the Nigerian landscape. Lee combed every cranny of the country, travelling by road and searching for athletic pearls. He found them and took several to the University of Ife, several more to the national team when he moved over to the National Sports Commission in Lagos, and most across the Atlantic on scholarships to several American Colleges and Universities that he secured for them for more grounding and honing in athletics.

The alumni of Lee Evans products in athletics development in Nigeria would amount to a legion when counted, male and female athletes, through over 3 decades in Nigeria’s sports story.

Why would I not love such a person?

Lee led the revolution of bringing into Nigeria some of the best coaches in the world in several sports. Isaac Akioye, through Lee’s work, believed that producing the best athletes in the world required having the best coaches. They would have not only the experience and knowledge but also would inspire the young athletes because they had been there and done it. It was a psychological booster for the young athletes. They learn faster that way.

Also Read:  The Sports Diplomat!  –Odegbami Writes

So, some of the best coaches in wrestling and weightlifting were brought into Nigeria from Bulgaria. The best coaches came from China in Table tennis. Strength sports in athletics came from Cuba. Even football hired coaches from Yugoslavia, Germany, and Brazil. And so on and so forth.

Lee’s work inspired this revolution and influenced the hiring of Archie Moore, the legendary Light-Heavyweight boxing champion of the world, another African/American whose work, alongside Hogan ‘Kid’ Bassey, Nigeria’s own featherweight champion of the world, produced boxers of tremendous ability that opened the gates of Olympic Medals to Nigeria. Nigerian boxers started to fetch Olympic Medals before any other sport.

Lee and Archie lived together in Ibadan and traversed the country together, harvesting young talented athletes. That’s how Isaac Ikhuoria, Peter Koyengwachi, Jeremiah Okorodudu, Davidson Andeh, and Obisia Nwankpa came to become world boxing champions and contenders.

On top of all that Lee personally secured schools and scholarships for an army of Nigerian athletes in the United States, and most of them remember him and hold him very dearly.

Over 40 years after we met and became friends, even as he agreed to work with me in my small sports school in Wasimi Orile for an allowance (not a salary), Lee was still doing the same things – teaching and training boys and girls to run and study and be ready to transit into the US Collegiate system for the best honing and preparation for life-after-sport.

He spent the last two years of his life living in my house with me. We spent the days and nights together, discussing the lives of the young Nigerian children he was preparing for them to take over the world of athletics through the combination of sports and academics.

He tested his DNA and found that he had 23% Nigerian genes in his blood.

No wonder, he told, me, he loved the country.

He wanted to live the rest of his life in Nigeria, and his greatest wish was that whenever he died he was to be buried in the land of his ancestors.

The Universe heard him and granted him his dearest wish. That’s why Lee Edward Evans lies peacefully in his grave within the premises of the school he loved and was building to become the citadel of sports development in Africa.

Also Read: Sport, As Medicine – The First And Last Prescriptions!  –Odegbami

That’s why the school wants to keep Lee’s greatest dream alive by establishing the Lee Evans Memorial Athletics Championship, not just to memorialise his name, but to establish a competition that will fulfill Lee’s wishes for the children of Africa.

Lee was either crazy to have left America at the time he did, or was genuinely in love with Nigeria.

Throughout the decades of our relationship, he would always tell me that Nigerians were some of the smartest people in the world and that Nigerian athletes were potentially, some of the best sprinters and jumpers.

Why would I not love such a man? My determination is that his dream will not die.

Indeed, on November 24 and 25, 2023, inside the premises of Day Waterman College in Abeokuta, the first championship named after Lee will take place. The countdown has begun. The whole world is waiting and watching.

The spirit of Lee hovers over Abeokuta in excitement.

So, Onome Osifo-Whiskey, yes o, I love Lee Edward Evans!

 


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