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Ignisious Gaisah: The long jump king who shared his talents with two countries

By Yaw Ofosu Larbi
Athletics Alexander HassensteinBongartsGetty Images
FRI, 12 APR 2024 LISTEN
(Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Anthony Ignisious Gaisah Essuman is easily one of Ghana’s greatest sporting names in the 21st century. For many Ghanaians, his name is synonymous with winning.

However, he divides opinion in many quarters mainly for his decision to quit Ghana and compete for the Netherlands. The question remains, why would the once-heralded athlete turn his back on his own people?

Shocking as it was, it was a move he has since called an opportunity to chase his dream.

Gaisah’s mother had indulged in track and field when she was younger so it was not a tough decision for her when her son decided to fully embrace the sport at age 16.

It did not take him to announce himself to lovers of the sport. He won the national long jump title in 1999 as a teenager with 7.40m effort that got many journalists talking.

That jump got him a place in the national team to compete at the African Junior Championships, where he won a bronze medal jumping a distance of 7.42m.

From then on, it was one form of success after the other. He had fell in love with long jump and the sport loved him back.

  • Leaping for the Black Star

In 2002, Gaisah smashed the African junior record with an 8.12m jump. Getting into the 8m range as a teenager was quite remarkable, and that was when the country began to pay attention to the talents of the young man.

The following year, 2003, was an important year for the long jumper. He won gold at the Africa Games in Abuja, Nigeria, before finishing fourth in Paris at the World Championships. But getting so close to a medal and not winning did not tear him down: he smashed the national record in September that year with a leap of 8.26 metres.

Athens 2004 was Gaisah’s first Olympic Games and there he had to settle for sixth, jumping 2cm shy of his national record. In 2005, he returned to the World Championships In Helsinki to win silver for Ghana after jumping 8.34m.

But 2006 was Gaisah’s peak year, the year he won nearly everything and etched his name into the annals of sport in Ghana. Gold at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne (8.20m), gold at the African Championships in Mauritius (8.51m with a strong tailwind), and gold again at the World Indoor Championships in Russia (8.30).

He still looks back to that year with smiles on his face. “I was fully prepared at that time and on top of my game,” he recalled contentedly to Olympics.com.

The next four years would however be tough for the man. He had to deal with injuries, spending long hours in the treatment room. “I remember 2007 I had a career-threatening injury and 2008 I completely went off competing,” he told Olympics.com.

“I should have listened to the advice the doctors gave me. I was told many times that I had to stay away from training; stay back from competitions and treat my injury. But I didn’t listen to them, I always wanted out to go out there and compete.

“So I went out there to get some injections to heal it but it didn’t help me at all. I should have listened to them. I wouldn’t have stayed home for three years,” he added.

He however returned in 2010 at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and was welcomed with a bronze medal. His last two medals were African titles which he won in Maputo, Mozambique, in 2011 and Porto Novo, Benin, in 2012.

“Competing for Ghana was great,” Gaisah looked back. “Whenever you go out there to compete, people at home are always there to support you but the only problem we were always having is the authorities. They don’t do what they are supposed to do so we always complain about them not supporting the athletes.”

  • The nationality switch

Gaisah is Ghanaian to a fault. He left his heart out there every time he competed for the West African country: he was Ghana’s surest ticket for a medal at international competitions. He was what Eliud Kipchoge is to Kenya these days.

So it came as a huge surprise when he decided to cease competing for Ghana in an emotional letter he wrote to the Athletics Association. “It wasn’t a tough decision to make because there is life after athletics,” he said when questioned on his decision to leave.

He joined the Netherlands, jetted off to the 2013 World Athletics Championships and won them a silver medal. “I had been living in the Netherlands since 2001; it’s almost going to the end of my career,” Gaisah remembered.

“I had to do something for myself and my family and it wasn’t a difficult decision at all. The life after sports is always longer than the life in sports, so [a] man has to think. I believe I will have a lot of opportunities out there instead of competing for Ghana,” he added.

Ghana’s track team had suffered neglect for many years. Many athletes complained about a lack of equipment, training facilities and competitive meets around the world to get them sharper. Looking back, Gaisah has no regrets and is strong in his conviction that he made the right decision.

  • Back to the motherland

At 40, Gaisah is back on the shores of Ghana, the place where it all started, to pass on his many experiences to a younger, talented crop. It is a job he loves doing now.

His dream is that talented athletes from his country make it to the bigger stadia across the world. To help the next generation, he has been preparing for the process.

“Without education, no matter how experienced you are in your field of sport, you cannot achieve much but, if you add that education to it, you’ll be able to go further,” he explained.

“So, for the past three years, I’ve been able to do a lot of courses in computing, marketing, and recently, I graduated from the Johan Cruyff Institute in Amsterdam with a Sports Management [degree]”. He added.

The grand plan for him is to pick up administrative roles in his quest to change the status quo of Ghana’s athletics. But at the moment, coaching excites him.

Gaisah was a member of the coaching team that shepherded Ghana’s Cadman Yamoah and Rose Amoanima Yeboah to continental gold medals in high jump.

“Hard work pays. I am so happy that this young man (Cadman Yamoah) is making all of us proud and these are the events athletes train for. I am grateful to be part of this history-making moment,” he said with a tear in his eye.

Gaisah’s best days as an athlete may well be behind him now, but his sharp understanding and proficiency in the sport will be worth its weight in gold to Ghana’s track and field team.

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