Grandfather of Nigerian athletics, Jimmy Omagbemi is like the biblical prophet without honour at home,even as the name continues to ring a bell in Germany and in the heart of former Abia state governor Orji Uzor Kalu.
Kalu recalled how Omagbemi stunned German speed demon Armin Harry at home.”At the 1959 European championships,all eyes were on Harry.He had the crowd,weather was clement and atmosphere right.But from nowhere, Omagbemi won the 100 metres race ahead of the homeboy,”the ex-governor said.
“Winning the race was not just enough,”Kalu continued,”the Nigerian also set a new record.That was a problem,for Omagbemi was not from Europe so it was going to be difficult to credit him with a European record.At the end,officials declared him winner,but ignored the record.A year on, at the Rome Olympics.Harry won the 100m gold,and held the Olympic and World records.The first German male to win gold in Olympic track event.”
Omagbemi had a funny beginning.Living with grandma Nene as a kid in Itsekiri land,he was turned into a sprinter by European sailors who always threw coins,mostly pennies, to encourage rivalry among children.In Rome, he was in the Nigerian 4 by100 relay team [Omagbemi, Abdulkarim Amu, Smart Akraka, Adebayo Oladapo] that got to the semis.
Omagbemi enjoyed a swell time at San Jose State [SJS] College, California under coach Bud Winter,picked an American wife,produced a son Victor, African 100, 200m champion in 1992 and daughter -in-law Mary Onyali-Omagbemi,a Five-time Olympian with two bronze medals.
“Even if he died in the U.S., government must be part of the funeral.He was a Director in the Federal Civil Service as well as one time Director of Sports in the old Bendel state.Right now,I am in the America.And I trust Delta state governor and fellow Itsekiri man Dr.Emmanuel Uduaghan to make a move”,Kalu summed up.