Franca is back after maternity break, with Doha a possibility

Franca Ene Idoko- Isaac in training - Photo credit: Franca Idoko

Nigerian sprinter Franca Ene Idoko-Isaac is up for a new challenge after having been out of competition for almost two years to have her baby.

The Valencia 2008 World Indoor 60m finalist spoke with Opeyemi Olus in Lagos.

Franca came into prominence when she ran a world leading 7.09 seconds (at that time) at the Chemnitz Erdgas Indoor Meeting in 2008, and also went ahead to run in the finals of the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Valencia barely two weeks later.

Since then, Franca Idoko-Isaac, who is now married to fellow Nigerian sprinter, Uche Isaac has come a long way, adding a bronze medal in the 4x100 metres relay at the Beijing Olympics and the newly acquired status of a mother to her kitty.

However everything comes with a price and Idoko-Isaac had to pay the price of being a mother by taking time away from what has been a part of her for more than 10 years now - athletics.

She reveals that the time spent away from the sport was filled with nostalgia, especially missing out on last year's World Championships which took place in Germany, where she is based.

She said: "I missed being at the World Championships and my city would have loved to see me run since I'm based in Germany.

"They missed me too in the relay team because our team did poorly in Berlin. I'm not saying I'm the best in Nigeria but if I was there and some of us that ran in the Olympics were there, we might have made an impact".

The Olympic medallist says she made sure she followed athletics on television in order to keep abreast of times and athletes that were dominating the scene:

"Then I used to watch every competition on Skysports to see the times athletes are running and to see if the times aren't above what I can run.

"They ran well last year but nobody really ran fast among the Nigerian women, unlike in 2008 when I was running. That year Damola ran 11.08 seconds which was really very fast but the fastest last year was 11.16 seconds."

"It was good but what they were running in Europe, America and Jamaica was faster; they were giving us time to follow because Carmelita Jeter of the US ran 10.6 which was very fast. The Africans didn't do so well but at least we are following up," she added.

Berlin Woes

Though off the athletics scene, one incident that brought pain to Idoko-Isaac's heart was the shame of positive tests of three of Nigeria's female athletes, Vivian Chukwuemeka, Amaka Ogoegbunam and Gloria Kemasuode at the World Championships in Berlin last year.

When asked if she feels female athletes are under undue pressure to perform better than their male colleagues, she said she doesn't "think anybody is under any pressure".

"I don't know how it all happened but I was very disappointed and it's coming from athletes you never expected to do drugs. I feel for them but I know one or two things would have led them to do it. Sometimes it's not the athletes' fault but I'm not encouraging drugs.

"If they do it and they know it, then they should face the consequences. It's just a pity; a sprinter (Gloria Kemasuode) too is affected and she's good. We are all going to miss her. I really feel bad for them because I don't think they are under pressure".

Back on track

Returning to athletics in the 2010 season is a big challenge the new mother has to grapple with, as she believes she must have lost a lot of ground for almost two years that she was away.

She said: "If you leave athletics, it leaves you. I was getting lazy because this is the build up period from September to December but so far so good, everything has been so good.

"I have a coach in Germany by the name of Frank Duka that prepares a programme for me. We have a coach in Nigeria that we use whenever we are around too.

"It's not so easy because it's just like when you are in school trying to read and pass your exams without lagging behind. Every year new people come out in athletics so I just have to train hard and see who comes out this year.

"I ran well in 2008 and I hope to do the same this year. I know it's not going to be easy but I have to come back to it, to tell myself I can do it."

She says she doesn't want to make a conclusion on her plans for competing in this year's biggest tournament, the Commonwealth Games as she believes a good performance in the Indoors will translate to a better performance in the Outdoors.

"For now we are still talking about how my performance will be in the Indoors before taking it to the Outdoors," she said.

Coping with motherhood

Now that Idoko-Isaac and her husband have started competing in events both within and outside Dusseldorf where they are based, one wonders what will be the fate of their son, Chris Uche Isaac but she is quick to dispel any concerns:

"Everything is really going on well; I have a babysitter already in Germany who can help me look after the baby when I travel for competitions but here in Nigeria, there is no babysitter.

"Of course you have to pay so much money and that is part of the bills we have to pay, but at least I earn enough to take care of my baby. I don't think being a mother has changed me; I'm still Franca Idoko, only that there is Isaac now".

With her schedule getting busier by the day and having to leave for the National Stadium which is miles away from her home when most of her contemporaries are still in bed Idoko-Isaac admits she rarely has time to relax in Nigeria.

"In Lagos there's no relaxation because you must leave your house by 5am and coming back you could face a lot of traffic and before you get home it's 3pm and before you know it, it's morning again.

"The only time I can relax is during weekends when there is no training so you can try to catch up on some sleep.

"I think in Europe I can relax because there are lot of ways to relax there and there's nothing like traffic. If you want to get somewhere in 10 minutes, you can do it. Now it's still winter so people will be mostly indoors but we do a lot of sightseeing in the summer though." she added.

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