In this report, Odimegwu Onwumere unearths the tall dream for those who had hope in Obudu International Mountain Race once regarded as World-Class Mountain Race
“The 10thedition of the annual Obudu International Mountain Race and the 6thAfrican mountain running championships will hold on Saturday November 8 2014 at the Obudu ranch resort in Obudu,” said the Honourable Commissioner for Sports and Youth Development in Cross River State and member of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for the race, which also included the African Mountain Running Championships, Patrick Ugbe who under the ex-Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State, noted at the end of its meeting in Calabar in August 2014. “The race this year will be different from past editions because we are celebrating the 10th year of sponsoring Africa’s best ever mountain running event and the highest paying mountain race in the world. We have thus christened this year’s race Mountain Race of the Stars. We want to invite all area champions and the very best mountain runners in the world to come and celebrate with us.”
Those words could have been the spurring factor for Kemboi Kipkorir of Kenya to set out for Nigeria for the mountain race in that year. While on the journey, Kipkorir had one hope, which was to win the 11.25-kilometre mountain race. He later won the men’s category out of a total of 110 athletes the LOC said shall feature in the World-Class Mountain Race based on their performances around the world.
Abebe Dinkesa of Ethiopia and Kiplimo Philip of Uganda came second and third correspondingly. In the women’s race, Genet Yalew of Ethiopia won, with Chessang Stella of Uganda and Ababel Yesshaneh of Ethiopia coming second and third respectively. These runners are however angry today threatening legal action because the money they won has not been paid them and there is scarce anticipation that they would be paid.
Before the 2014, athletes who won in the race since it was first held in 2005 rejoiced in this competition that was set up by the ex-governor Donald Duke (the governor before Imoke). Although, the race came into existence in 1995 as a World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) associate race.
According to a source that would prefer anonymity, “The Obudu ranch was first built by a pair of Scots in the 1950s. In search of a good spot to eat steak, escape the mosquitoes and admire the view, they settled on the cool climate of the mountainous region on the border of Nigeria and Cameroon. Recently renovated by the Cross River State Government, the Obudu Resort now stands as a highpoint in Nigeria’s fledgling tourism industry. More importantly, each year it hosts the Obudu Mountain Race, a 13km uphill run.”
Each year, the men’s and women’s competition winners went home with US$50,000 each. Ethiopians and Kenyans have always been going home with the first prize of $50, 000, second prize of $30, 0000 and the third prize of $10, 000. Checks revealed that the race since it was founded had world class road running athletes even mountain running athletes that included Abebe Dinkesa, Rono Philemon, Philip Kiplimo, Fikadu Awash, Meselech Halieyesus, Andre Mayr, Rita Jeptoo and sundry.
There was a total prize pot of around $250,000 for the competition ones regarded as “the world’s richest mountain race.” The race had great support from the Athletic Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Confederation of African Athletics (CAA), the World Mountain Running Association,(WMRA) and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). It also attracted no fewer than 130 athletes from various parts of the world yearly.
Ugbe noted in 2014, “We are really delighted that the Obudu International Mountain Race has continued to be accorded the rightful status it deserves. We have always enjoyed the physical presence of the WMRA president at the race since the inaugural edition in 2005.
“We had the late president, Danny Hughes, with us for the first four or five editions before his demise. Bruno Gozzelino, who took over from him, has also been a huge part of our race. This shows how important the event is to the world mountain running family.” But this is no more.
End Of The Race
The sponsor and host state of the mountain race in the country, Cross River State Government, gave unsympathetic warning that it had no plans to redeem the won prize money by the athletes at the 2014 Obudu Mountain Race. The government of the state that came on board on May 29 2015 and led by Prof. Ben Ayade said that it had to take the demanding conclusion not to pay the athletes, because there was no economic gains the state was deriving from the competition, therefore Kipkorir, Dinkesa, Philip, Yalew, Stella and Yesshaneh, should look elsewhere.
The Commissioner for Sports and Youth Development in Cross Rivers State under Ayade, Mr. Asu Okang disclosed this to our correspondent. He revealed that the state government was not only bent on not paying the prize money won by the runners in 2014, but had also suspended the mountain race ad infinitum due to lack of funds.
Okang added that he met a bill of N70m to be paid to the prize winners when he mounted the saddle as commissioner. He argued that even though the event was attracting people from all walks of life to the state during the mountain race, the venture was not profitable.
According to him, “When I came on board as a commissioner, I met a bill of N70m to be paid to prize winners; but unfortunately we do not have that kind of money.
“The concept of the mountain race is good but it adds no economic value to Cross River State. It is not a profitable venture and we keep paying money to winners that have no value to Cross River. We must keep our money.”
But the President of the WMRA, Bruno Gozzelino whose tenure as president of the world mountain running governing body in 2013 was extended till 2017, was not happy that the Obudu Cattle Ranch could not host the 30th edition of the WMRA championships in 2014. However, he expressed optimism, saying, “I am confident the Obudu ranch resort will host our championships soon, say in 2016 or 2018. I am seriously working towards it.”
However, the likes of Gozzelino would be regretting the tall dream of Prof. Ayade-led government of Cross River State on the once Obudu International Mountain Race regarded as World-Class Mountain Race.
Odimegwu Onwumere is a Poet, Writer and Media Consultant based in Rivers State. Tel: +2348032552855. Email: [email protected]