WINNING 25 SWIMMING MEDALS DREAM COME TRUE
Ifiezegbe Koko and Doutimi Koko fondly called The Gagbe Sisters had much to prove on arrival at the National Sports Festival Edo 2020 and they came out of the swimming pool in flying colours. While Ifiezegbe grabbed eight gold medals plus two silver and five bronze medals, her younger sister Doutimi bagged two gold medal as well as three silver medals and five bronze medals. While some states failed to win just a medal, the Bayelsa’s swimming sisters pulled together 25 to be the focal point of attention throughout the duration of the games in Benin City. Meanwhile, in their frankest interview thereafter, Ifiezegbe and Doutimi jointly share their inspiring story with TUNDE LIADI.
How did you prepare for the National Sports Festival Edo 2020? Doutimi: I prepared in my own little way but I agree I should have done better if I’d prepared better. The several postponements of the National Sports Festival affected my preparations just as it did to other athletes. It sort of demoralised me at some point but I still tried my best.
Ifiezegbe: Personally I prepared well for this National Sports Festival on my own because at the last one at Abuja in 2018, I won 14 silver medals and there was not a single gold medal at all. So I was determined to do my best because this is not my first time at the National Sports Festival. I started attending the National Sports Festival in 2004 in Abuja and I had attended three other festivals. I was unable to go in 2012 but my sister went. I went to the All African Games in 2015 and it was on my return that I got married and gave birth. I added weight and weighed about 90kg but I had to shed the fat along the line to be able to compete again.
How will you describe your experience at the Edo 2020 National Sports Festival?
Doutimi: I was able to win two gold, three silver and five bronze medals. It was a worthwhile experience that will stay with me for a while. There were so many positives. These can only make me improve.
Ifiezegbe: I feel great and happy that I won those gold medals. It was a thing of joy and all glory to God for making it happen. It was fun while it lasted and I am grateful for everything.
Every human has goals. If you need something you have to be humble to get what you want. I believe in pursuing my goals and life aspirations and no matter what I achieve along the way, I will always keep my cool and maintain my focus until I am able to attain the goals I set. I set a goal to get at least seven gold medals at Edo 2020 National Sports Festival. Even though I started getting them one after the other, I knew I needed to keep my cool no matter the level of excitement. I know that I would always be up against formidable opponents and I must be prepared at all times.
Which was your toughest of the medals you won?
Doutimi: I will say all of them were tough. It is not always easy to win medals at major championships such as this one. A lot of things go into play and I am only delighted that I was able to win the three medals including gold.
Ifiezegbe: It was my first event in the 100m freestyle that was the toughest of the eight gold medals I got. Everybody was ready for it being the first at the festival. The energy and the adrenalin were still at optimum. The way we were put on the lane too made it somehow difficult to know the favourites. It was difficult knowing who took the gold medal until I touched the finish line and raised my head up.
What connection do your family have with swimming?
Doutimi: We are seven females and a male. He is my younger and only brother. He is a swimmer and a footballer too. Swimming is a family thing. My parents and my brother are swimmers too. My dad is late but my mum has been very supportive.
Ifiezegbe: We are seven girls and one boy. He is the last born of the house. My mum is fine and alive but my dad is late. My siblings are doing well too. I started swimming in primary school, it was while in secondary school that I started attending competitions. We stayed in the riverine area and when we grew up my parents who were also swimmers told us about their exploits. While in primary school, no one looked for us after school hours. They know where to find us and that is at the river where we would be swimming.
Who is your role model?
Doutimi: My mentor is my sister (Ifiezegbe). She always supports me and my coach too. She’s always making me do more.
Ifiezegbe: Aunty Obia from Rivers State is my mentor. She’s the one that always encourages me. She’s always reminding me not to forget swimming. She was a senior swimmer whom I met in camp during the preparation for the 2007 All African Games in Algeria. She was my roommate and I was a young lady then; but she tried her best to ensure I made the team for the 2007 All African Games. She is my role model.
What is your educational background?
Doutimi: I’m a graduate of Human Kinetics at the University of Port Harcourt.
Ifiezegbe: I finished my B.Sc. at the University of Port Harcourt in 2016. I’m still running a post graduate diploma on Sports Science at the same University.
What is the last thing you always do before entering the pool in competitions?
Doutimi: I pray to God to give me the strength to give my best and stay focused throughout the race.
Ifiezegbe: I like dancing a lot. It is what keeps me motivated. I always request for music. I like the excitement before the start of the events. This keeps me relaxed and helps me to go into the race with less pressure. I dance to ease away the tension. It makes me look as if I’m the only one there and that I’m not seeing anybody. Of course I say my words of prayers too to God. It makes me happy because I enjoy swimming a lot. Even when I’m angry, if I enter the river to swim, I will be calm and get myself again. I like swimming and I am happy it is a sport I have chosen as a career.
How tough preparing for competitions?
Doutimi: We don’t have too many competitions. The major competition is the Chief of Naval Staff Swimming Competition. The Championship has not been consistent again since 2016. It was held last in 2019 but I think the Coronavirus affected it last year. The swimmers are not given sufficient time too to prepare for upcoming championships. They are only contacted like a few weeks to the competition which is not ideal. We cannot perform under two weeks’ preparations. We have others that prepare for a year or less for upcoming competitions.
Ifiezegbe: I think the Swimming Federation needs to do more in the area of attracting competitions that will make the swimmers active. A situation where the swimmers are left with no idea for long is not ideal. I have attended some competitions in the past like the West African Zone two Championship where I won three gold, one silver and two bronze medals in Senegal in 2011. We also need to be reminded of the requirements for us to feature at the Olympics early enough.
What makes swimming fascinating to you?
Doutimi: We have so many different ways and styles to approach the various events in swimming. For instance, if you are for the backstroke, you must dive only once into the pool to avoid disqualification. If your event is breaststroke, you have to touch with your two hands if you want to finish the race. If I failed to do that, it may attract disqualification. It is the same as the other strokes too.
Ifiezegbe: When you are in the pool, you will see the other swimmers beside you because the water is clear. If the person is close to you is pulling ahead or lagging, you will see everything clearly. This is why we have lines there to serve as demarcation. In swimming we breathe from left to right. During your process of breathing, you can see those besides you. Some do not have the skills of breathing through one side. I have the skill of breathing both sideways so it is easy for me to see my left and right.
How was it like competing against each other?
Doutimi: It was in some championships we attended together which were Oghara 2014, 2015 and Warri Swimming Championship. I placed second to her in all three championships. I tried to see how I will do in the freestyle in her area of specialty. The experience was worth it. I can only improve when the opportunity comes up again.
Ifiezegbe: It was fun in those brief periods we competed against each other. We remain inseparable as sisters and nothing can come between us. We remain professional at every championship whether we are facing each other or not. I will continue to help her so that she can achieve her objectives.
What are your aspirations in the coming years?
Doutimi: I want to go to the Olympics and always better my present performance. I will also like to groom swimmers that will take after me.
Ifiezegbe: My aspiration in life is to go to the Olympics. I’m yet to go. It is every athlete’s dream to go to the Olympics. I will not lose focus until I achieve that. It is the pinnacle of every athlete’s career. I will keep on working towards my dream.
Source: Sports – Latest Nigeria News, Nigerian Newspapers, Politics
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