Joan Ekah, first little jewel of the IAF Zepter
By Laura Arcoleo
The biggest surprise in the Madrid Jose Maria Cagigal indoor athletics meeting came from the almost unknown 19 year-old Nigerian Joan Ekah, who took victory in the 60m to the amazement of an excited Spanish crowd who had come to see Greene making another world record attempt.
The Nigerian, based in Valencia, where she shares a house and trains with Glory Alozie under the watchful eye of former Spanish long jump record holder Rafa Blanquer (five Nigerian youngsters train under Blanquer, following the lead of Alozie, who was joined by Ekah in the Summer of 1997), clocked a fabulous 7.10 on the very fast track of Madrid earlier this week, defeating some of the biggest names in the world from European 200m reigning champion Irina Privalova to 1997 world bronze medallist Sevatheda Fynes and setting a new world junior best at the same time - the previous best of 7.12 had been set by Silke Gladisch-Möller (DDR) in Budapest in 1983 .
But Joan isnt unknown to everybody. She made a brilliant appearance on the international scene on the occasion of the IAAF World Junior Championships last year in Annecy, finishing 3rd in the 100m behind US phenomena Shakedia Jones and Angela Williams and came 6th in the 200m. She said at the time: "I came here just hoping to make a final. Now I've got a medal and I'm looking to the future."
Joan is not unknown to Merlene Ottey either. As a matter of fact, Joan had been chosen to be part of the first "Master Class", organised by the International Athletic Foundation and sponsored by Zepter, on 14 and 15 March 1998. She spent two days in Monte Carlo with stars of the calibre of Sergey Bubka, Wilson Kipketer, Stephane Diagana, and Merlene Ottey.
The young Nigerian was given precious advice by Merlene: "She taught me how to improve my coming out of the blocks, how to be more aggressive," said Ekah.
And she certainly put this advice into practice in Madrid when she came out of the blocks first and held the lead until the finish line, marking the fourth world best performance of the year behind Devers, Ottey and Jayasinghe.
From teacher to rival, Ottey will now have to look at little Nigerian with different eyes. In Maebashi, the two athletes who are 20 years apart, will struggle for a medal. Merlene will likely be much less inclined to share secrets with Joan in Japan