It’s been five years since Jude Monye received a phone call informing him that he had won a gold medal.
The call was a long time coming: Monye had represented Nigeria in the 2000 Olympics. And the medal itself would take even longer. But it is here now, and for Monye the years of waiting for his gold have stretched the race of his life from three-minutes into 13 years.
Before settling in Lawrence, Monye had won a silver medal with the Nigerian 4x400 relay team at the Sydney Olympics. The United States team won the gold in that race, but was later disqualified in a scandal involving performance-enhancing drugs.
Setting the record straight took a long time — too much time, Monye says — and it wasn’t until 2008 that the International Olympic Committee officially stripped the U.S. team of its medal and Monye learned that his team would trade their silver for gold. The ceremony was to be arranged soon, according to the IOC. It would send word when a date was set. Monye waited.
'What is going on?'
Years passed, and Monye’s life changed. His son, Keelan, was born in 2011. The same year, his team captain in the Olympics, Sunday Bada, died in Nigeria.
Monye’s job in Lawrence, as a claims specialist at Vangent, Inc., became a career. He had come to Lawrence in 2002 to train with Kansas University track coach Stanley Redwine, but was sidelined by an injury and made his home here. He is still devoted to track and field, as a spectator and an agent for U.S. athletes, but hasn't run competitively in years.
All along, Monye, originally from Benin City, Nigeria, knew the U.S. team would have to give up the gold eventually, but he heard nothing from the IOC. He and a teammate now living in Ohio often talked about it. “We would say, ‘What is going on?’” Monye said. “What are these people waiting for?”
In February, things began happening. The IOC asked Monye’s team to return their medals, but Monye had grown skeptical of promises over the years. “We didn’t want to give up the silver because we didn’t know if we were really going to get the gold.”
But he did send back the silver and he waited again. March, April, and May passed. By July, Monye’s thoughts about the medals had taken a back seat to his excitement about being promoted at work.
And then, suddenly on a Friday morning, the office of the president of Nigeria called Monye and asked him to get on a plane to Nigeria the following Monday. The ceremony was to be that Wednesday.
But when Monye and his surviving teammates — team captain Bada was represented by his widow — gathered in the Nigerian capital of Abuja on the appointed day, there were more delays. “The problem was, between the sports ministry and the presidency, there was a lack of communication,” Monye said. The team was asked to stay in Abuja for a week and return to the presidential offices the following Wedesday.
That wasn’t so easy. Like Monye, his teammates had lives elsewhere at this point. “They had jobs,” Monye said. “What are they going to do for the week?”
For his part, Monye said his new boss back in Lawrence was very understanding about the delay and let him have the second week off. “Eventually, it happened,” he said.
Monye wasn’t sure anyone, even in Nigeria, would be interested in this belated ceremony, but the team was greeted with fanfare. “Nigeria surprised us,” Monye said. “Most of the people we competed with in 2000, nobody talks about them anymore.”
He was touched that the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, personally presided over a ceremony conferring the gold medals on Monye and his team. “He did that because it was in his mind to do it, because he genuinely loves sports,” Monye said. “He didn’t have to do that.”
Back home now in Lawrence, Monye let two-year-old Keelan play with the gold medal for a few minutes while he showed visitors the video from the 2000 race in Sydney. In a running commentary of the race, he grew excited all over again watching his teammate Udo-Obong lurch into second place at the last moment. "We came out of nowhere," Monye said.
Monye said he gives credit to his mother, who lives with him in Lawrence, for making him a champion. He isn’t bitter about the U.S. team’s doping scandal in that race, or the years it took the IOC hand over the gold medal.
But he does regret that, on the video, it is still the U.S. national anthem playing after the race, and not the Nigerian. That can’t be corrected now. And it saddens him that his team captain, Bada, did not live to see this day.