This is Deji Ogeyingbo’s feature on the sad news on the Divine Oduduru’s provisional suspension by AIU.
Divine Oduduru’s suspension by AIU brings an end to a promising career that failed to move past first gear
The butterfly effect. It’s a phenomenon that small, seemingly trivial events may ultimately result in something with much larger consequences – in other words, they have non-linear impacts on very complex systems. For instance, when a butterfly flaps its wings in Bangladesh, that tiny change in air pressure could eventually cause a tornado in Iowa.
What has this got to do with Nigerian sprinter, Divine Oduduru? Well for starters, the Nigerian sprinter was provisionally suspended and notified of two potential Anti-Doping Rule Violations (ADRVs) by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) who said on Thursday they are seeking a six-year ban.
This pretty much brings an end to a career that showed one of the biggest promises by any Nigerian or African sprinter. The story of how it all unraveled for Oduduru is even as much intriguing as where he was predicted to get to. Where did it all go wrong? What poor choices did he make? Who were his advisors and did he really care about the sport or he was in it to make money?
In what surely is a short-lived career, Oduduru will be remembered for some monumental events in his career. Three stand out. His “I never expected it” comments at the World Youth Championships in Donetsk in 2013, matching Usain Bolt stride for stride during the heat of the men’s 200m race at the Rio 2016 Olympics and the NCAA Championships double winning exploits in 2019. All of these have come crumbling down.
The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act and the Athletics Integrity Unit
The butterfly effect that untwined Oduduru’s career started in 2014 after Russia’s plot to undermine athletics by systematically doping in advance of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi took place. Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory exposed the country’s doping program to the New York times. He has been living in hiding since coming forward as a whistleblower about the Russian scheme.
It was against that backdrop that the IAAF, now World athletics set up an independent Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), which sits at the heart of the IAAF’s integrity reforms, and officially began operating on Monday 3 April 2017.
It didn’t stop there. On the 5th of December 2020, a bill that will criminalize international doping conspiracies became law with President Donald Trump’s signature, closing out a two-year legislative process during which the only true opposition to the bill came from outside the United States. It didn’t deter them.
The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act had earlier passed both houses of Congress on voice votes. It passed despite lobbying efforts from the World Anti-Doping Agency, which said it will “disrupt the global legal anti-doping framework.”
Essentially, the bill is designed to allow U.S. prosecutors to go after doping schemes at international events in which Americans are involved as athletes, sponsors, or broadcasters. – The maximum term of imprisonment under the Rodchenkov Act is 10 years and the maximum term of imprisonment for conspiring to violate the misbranding laws is 5 years.
The Blessing Okagbare connection
Nigerian disgraced sprinter Blessing Okagbare who was last year banned by the AIU for 11 years for multiple doping offenses ushered in a new wave of precocious Nigerian athletes moving to the United States on Scholarships and competing in the NCAA.
But before all these, Okagbare and Oduduru who both hail from the Delta State in Nigeria had a “Big sister- Younger brother relationship”. After going through the University of Texas El-Paso, Okagbare took her compatriot under her wings when he teamed up with Texas Tech in 2017. The two-time world championship medallist went for her graduate studies in the same school in 2021.
It was from then on that they began to do basically all things together. In fact, After Oduduru turned professional in 2019, he went to live and train with Okagbare. A successful sprinter looking to attain new heights and a burgeoning one who needed guidance on how to navigate the rigors of the professional world. It was meant to be a partnership made in heaven, but it turned sour.
2021 Olympics trials in Nigeria, the women’s 100m semis in Tokyo and the criminal charges
The Olympics in Tokyo was always going to be Okagbare’s last dance and she needed to prove a point in Tokyo. The decorated Nigerian sprinter was having a season of her life but nothing compared to what would put the Track world on its feet.
On June 17 2021 the Athletics Federation of Nigeria took her Olympic trials to Yaba College of Technology stadium, a place that boasts one of the fastest tracks in the country. Okagbare ran 10.63 (+2.7 m/s wind) for 100m there before running her season best of 10.89 (+0.6 m/s wind) on July 6 in Székesfehérvár, Hungary before the Olympics. However, it was in Lagos that pieces of evidence against Okagbare and now Oduduru began to show up.
Both sprinters had been working with Eric Lira, a naturopathic doctor in Texas, who distributed performance-enhancing drugs to them.
On July 30, Blessing Okagbare was provisionally suspended for doping just hours before she was slated to run in the women’s 100-meter semifinal. The AIU announced she tested positive for Human Growth Hormone in an out-of-competition test that was taken on July 19 – just four days before the start of the Games.
In January 2022, Lira became the first person charged under a landmark U.S. law designed to add legal accountability to a global anti-doping system that has long struggled to regulate itself.
Two athletes were referred to within the criminal complaint as “Athlete-1” and “Athlete-2.” Lira and Athlete-1 texted via an encrypted app about the sale and use of the drugs and whether it would be safe to take a drug test. On June 22, 2021, Athlete-1 texted Lira, “Hola amigo / Eric my body feel so good / I just ran 10.63 in the 100m on Friday / with a 2.7 wind / I am sooooo happy / Ericccccccc / Whatever you did, is working so well.” Lira responded with, “What you did . . . is going to help you for the upcoming events. You are doing your part and you will be ready to dominate”.
Afterward, Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and FBI Assistant Director Michael J. Driscoll announced the criminal charge against Lira, a therapist working in the El Paso, Texas area, who distributed performance-enhancing drugs to athletes ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
Athlete 1 was later revealed to be Okagbare and according to the complaint, the athlete was in the Jacksonville, Fla area in July. Athlete-2 was also dealing with a hamstring injury in June. The report does not make it clear whether Athlete-2 competed at the Tokyo Olympics. It is no longer news that it was Oduduru. And although he competed at the Olympics in which he false-started in the 100m, he failed to make it past the semis in the men’s 200m.
What next for Oduduru
Oduduru hasn’t raced since 2021. The whole ban on Okagbare did affect him mentally as seen at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics. Since then, he hasn’t raced one bit. Although he was supposed to make an appearance at the Nigerian National Sports Festival in November 2022 having shown up at the games, he opted not to compete eventually.
Two months later, the doomsday he had been postponing finally came. Like Okagbare, there is a strong possibility that the six-year ban being mooted by the AIU will come into effect, it remains to be seen if he had any interest in continuing track as he will be close to his mid-thirties when he returns.
With the sort of potential, he showed during his collegiate days, his recent development on Oduduru brings to a halt what potentially could have been a great career if he had the right company.
It all started with Rodchenkov exposing Russia’s systematic doping program to the New Yor Times in 2016, Okagbare linking up with Oduduru in Texas in 2017, Donald Trump signing the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act into law, Lira meeting Okagbare and Oduduru eventually getting banned. The butterfly effect strikes again.