Nigeria’s Long Distance King Aims To Dismantle East Africa’s Dominance in 2019 (AUDIO)

It was such a surreal spectacle watching Ismail Sadjo ‘compete’ in the final of the 10,000 metres at the recently concluded 19th National Sports Festival in Abuja where he approached the race with such lightheartedness, one actually wondered if the Cross River athlete quite understood what he was there for.

In what was one of the more enthralling and entertaining displays at the 19th NSF, Sadjo would regularly acknowledge shouts of support from the Cross River contingent watching in the stands of the Main-bowl of the Abuja National Stadium by facing in their direction, smiling broadly and gesticulating with all manner of hand signs before focusing on his race once more.

It was an amusing and unusual display from a professional athlete and there were those who felt his actions betrayed a lack of focus with one spectator overheard wondering if “this one know wetin him de do so?”

However, with three laps left of the 25 lap race, Sadjo who told that the race “was not easy for me” turned it on to leave other runners in his wake to win in a time of 31:37:00secs. He even had enough energy left to perform a little boogie at the finish line while his competitors collapsed like a pack of cards around him.

Asked if he was in the race to just enjoy himself, Sadjo replied: “Yes, because like always my coach used to tell me train hard and win easy. That’s the secret, I really trained hard [and] that’s why I was smiling.”

The 26-year-old certainly has a lot to smile about after a stellar year in which he won a third consecutive gold medal at the NSF following triumphs in Port Harcourt (2010) and Lagos (2012) to add to victory in the 10km Access Bank Lagos City Marathon in February.

Not content with being the dominant force in long-distance racing in Nigeria, Sadjo has no plans of resting on his laurels and has his sights set on winning gold at the 2019 African Games. 

Realising that ambition certainly won’t be easy in a field traditionally dominated by East African long-distance runners, but Sadjo says he is consumed with thoughts of challenging the East Africans at the 2019 African Games billed for Morocco.

“I’m not going to sleep; I’m not going to rest.  This is just the beginning I going to work harder,” he says.

“So it depends [on] my coach and workout [but] I have to go back and work hard because in African Games there’s Kenyans and Ethiopia so I must challenge them. I must when I say I must I have to give all my best [to win at the African Games],” he vowed.