For many decades now, Ghana has been chasing one precious medal at the Olympic Games. That all-important medal is in the field of track athletics.
Indeed, the desperate hunt started as far back as the Helsinki Games in Finland, 1952, where Ghana, then known as the Gold Coast, returned home empty-handed. There was no joy. There was nothing to celebrate. As it has always been the refrain, better days were said to lie ahead.
Of course, as a nation that was fervently struggling to attain full independence in 1957, the 1952 Olympic debut served as the light that was expected to glow Ghana’s path to sporting greatness on the continent.
Heartily, it turned out that Ghana was to clinch its first medal at the Rome Olympics in 1960 when Clement Quartey, a light welterweight dazzled his way to silver medal. Eddie Blay, also a light welterweight boxer, swaggered away with bronze in Tokyo 1964 before middleweight boxer Prince Amartey followed up with another bronze at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
It took a tortuous 28 years for Ghana to win its first medal outside boxing as the Black Meteors (Olympic football team) upstaged Australia 1-0 for the continent’s first silverware in the sport, in Barcelona (Spain) 1992.
All this while, the search for the Holy Grail in athletics was still on. The Barcelona Games was expected to produce the deal. But nothing emerged out of it. The nation’s star sprinters – Mavis Akoto, Vida Anim, Veronica Bawuah, Vida Nsiah and Monica Afia Twum, were odds on favourite to give the nation its first athletics medal at the Sydney 2000 Olympics in Australia, but they could only get as far as the semis of the 4×100m relay competition. Nothing more!
Another googol of expectation resurrected from the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Olympics, but the dream crashed into smithereens. The stygian silence could not be broken! The spell could not be exorcised. The story was no different at the London 2012 Olympics.
As Ghanaians were brooding over these frustrations, a young 17-year-old 800m runner exploded from nowhere. She was Martha Bissah. She was like a piece of lightning bolt ready to consume the world.
Bissah was to dazzle the world when she cracked a stunning run to win the 800m final at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games in May. Indeed, she became the first Ghanaian to win an Olympic gold medal at any level, and setting a new national record of 2:04.90 in the process. Her feat, dispatching Ethiopian and German rivals, was hugely hailed.
Ghana stood still! History had been made. The nation exploded into a never-ending joy. Bissah’s feat was splashed in the media. She got all the rave reviews. And, before one could say Jack, the middle-distance runner was enjoying a dignified treat from President John Mahama who invited Bissah and her family to the Flag Staff House. Suddenly, the highly-thrilled President announced a GH¢10,000 award for that rare accomplishment. Once again, the nation lauded the decision.
But instead of the prize serving as a blessing, it almost turned into malevolence, and the beginning of more troubles for the poor girl. First, the award money became a source of controversy between Bissah’s family and the Professor Francis Dodoo-led Ghana Athletics Association (GAA). But finally, Bissah’s family won the legal right to keep the cash.
Apparently, this development did not go down well with the GAA.
During the trials for the 2015 All Africa Games, she was asked to run in the 1,500m instead of her favourite 800m. Naturally, it was a huge challenge for the former student of Aduman Senior High School, who also won a bronze medal at the 2014 African Youth Games in May. Predictably, Bissah failed to qualify. It was what many critics described as “strategy of paralysis” by the GAA.
“I have suffered a lot and gone through problems. I would say that the gold medal has rather brought me problems than good,’’ Bissah lamented, as she stuttered in the martian 1,500m race.
There was more sorrow to come as Bissah was to miss last month’s Olympic Games in Brazil, following an indefinite ban splashed on her by the GAA. The athletic body had banished the lad for making false allegations against the association. Bissah was said to have accused the GAA in the media for demanding GH¢7, 000 from her to be offered the scholarship which she gained after winning the gold medal.
An executive member of the GAA, Marc Dzradosie, said he wanted the records set straight. “We have indefinitely suspended her for going on several platforms claiming the GAA has asked her money before she is offered the scholarship.”
The burgeoning athlete denied ever making that statement. However, bent on representing the nation at the Brazil Olympics, Bissah reportedly sent a letter of apology to the GAA, as suggested by a team that mediated the impasse. But she was virtually ‘pulled out’ from the El Wak Stadium tracks where she had gone for a qualification meet.
The young golden girl was wrecked as she sniffed the silent ominous air not knowing where to turn to. She felt trapped! She felt abandoned and forsaken! “I could have at least made it to the next round considering the time recorded by the athletes who qualified to the next stage of the 800m,” the disenchanted Bissah, told the media.
Heartily, just as she was silently contemplating hanging her spikes at rather bustling age of 19, a bolt of help came knocking at her door. Who was that angel? He was the former chairman of the Ghana Athletics Association (GAA), George Lutterodt, who apparently had been monitoring the situation from a distance.
And, as fate may have it, Lutterodt with assistance from Kweku Nimako, a former national athlete, secured a four-year scholarship programme at Norfolk State University in Virginia, USA, for Bissah, who left the country barely a fortnight ago to begin a fresh lease of life.
The former GAA boss says he has been horrified by events leading to the breakthrough, reprimanding the incumbent athletics body for giving Bissah a raw deal. “There has been no technical reason for her to compete in the 1,500m when she needed competition in the 800m to improve on her time.”
As the situation stands now, the nation may lose the golden girl. She has totally lost interest in competing again for Ghana.
“It was a curse to win gold for Ghana and I have had no peace ever since. Now, I think I’m ready to look elsewhere,” Bissah told the Times Sports before her departure. Indeed, legally, nothing holds her back from switching nationality.
According to rules of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), an athlete who has competed for one country can only transfer allegiance to another after three years, although intra-federation agreements often see that period shortened.
Already, a couple of countries including USA, Australia and Holland are reportedly dying to have their colours emblazoned on the Ghanaian. And, she wants to dash for it.
As Bissah ambled royally into the aircraft to her ‘dreamland,’ the glassy-eyed sensation turned, looked back and heaved a sigh of relief. Perhaps, it was the last time she was seeing a dear nation that has betrayed her, so soon.
By John Vigah