Fast emerging England 800m star, Marilyn Okoro, a Nigerian born British citizen in this exclusive chat with SportsDay’s Oke Oluku, says Nigerian athletes can rule the world if properly motivated. The Human rights campaigner, Politics and French graduate from the University of Beth also speaks on her real world and other salient issues.
What attracted you to athletics and how did you become involved?
I loved all sports: lacrosse, tennis, netball. I had aspirations to be a full international lacrosse player. But in athletics, which I started when I was 12 years old, I liked the fact that I only had myself to blame if things went wrong. Athletics is also a sport that takes you all over the world. And lacrosse can be a bit dangerous.
Where do you get your sporting talent from?
I think it’s in the genes. My mum and dad are of Nigerian origin and my tribe, the Igbo, is known for being tough, which you have to be in athletics. My mum is also quite strong, but I don’t think she was a runner.
Being a Nigerian who runs for England, what do you know about Nigeria’s athletics?
Well I know little about Nigeria but with the little I have seen their athletes do during international meets, the country has great potentials in athletics. All they need do is to give the athletes the best opportunity to prove themselves on track. I have seen the Africa 100m champion, Blessing Okagbare run, I have seen Seun Adigun do the 100m huddles, I have seen Tosin Oke and these are great people who can hold their ground anywhere. So they are good.
How was your upbringing like?
I am not in any way ungrateful for the upbringing I’ve had, but it has been tough and I think that’s what has fuelled my athletics career; I use it as a focus and an outlet.
Why did you choose England Instead of Nigeria where your parents are from?
Well when it comes to that, I don’t have the choice, I started when I was 12 and it was my PE teacher that encouraged me to do athletics. I am aspiring to be a great athlete and England is where my heart is at the moment.
If called to represent Nigeria, will you change your status as a British athlete?
When that time comes, I will know what to do but like I said right now, England is my home.
Tell us about your passion for human rights
I’m not going to stand on a tall building shouting about it, but it is important because it’s one of our fundamental rights. I went to Senegal recently and saw situations there. Often it comes down to decisions taken for the benefit of governments, not the people.
You are one of a raft of quality British female 800m runners. Does this act as a huge motivation?
At first it was daunting. But I don’t want an easy ride. I’m an athlete who revels in being pushed along. I compete because I want to get the best out of myself.
What is your favorite distance?
The 800m. The 800m is just edging it at the moment, but I still love the 400m. I think I’m designed for both.
What has been your highlight to date?
The 2007 IAAF World Athletics Final. I ran my (old) PB and finished third.
What are your ambitions?
Obviously, the London Olympics are always in the back of my mind. I also hope to acquire as much experience as I can. After that there are loads of things I’d like to do.
Which parts of training do you like and which do you dislike?
I used to find it hard to find a session I absolutely dreaded. Not anymore. It has to be mile reps; the good news is I’ve survived them during the winter months. My favorite session is anything that gets my legs turning over, like 200s.
Which is the best and which is the worst part of being an athlete?
The best part is that you get to see the world. My passport is so full, and I only got it in 2004. The worst is that you don’t get to spend a lot of time with your friends and family.
Advice for upcoming athletes
No matter where they come from, they should be focus and stay off drugs.