Written by: Joseph Amos
Growing up around the chaotic scenes in Hastings, a seaside town in East Sussex, Peter Moreno’s path could have been the polar opposite, easily.
Recently, Moreno returned to his post at the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guard of the British Army having bagged a silver medal representing Delta State, a South-South Nigerian state at the country’s National Sports Festival.
“Athletics took me away from the streets,” he uttered thoughtfully, reminiscing on what could have been.
According to a recent report from Crime Rate, Hastings remains the most dangerous major town in East Sussex and that’s no different from when the 30-year-old was a teenager.
He had joined his mother in the UK from Nigeria when he was eight-year-old and grew into a rebellious teenager. “Maybe I would have gone to prison if I had continued fermenting troubles on the streets of Hastings,” he says.
Discovered by one of his teachers at Hasting’s sports day event where he outran his peers which was followed by an invitation to represent the school, William Parker’s College. Moreno stressed that he grew up as a troublesome kid before finding athletics.
Before becoming a soldier nine years ago on a short service contract, he had worked as a shelf boy at a drinks store; an attendant at W.A. Smith, McDonald’s; a kitchen porter in Brighton as well as an alternative education & youth project called Respond Academy where he’s referenced as a source of inspiration for the kids.
Moreno has been recognized as one of the Army’s top athletes for his outstanding talent. Grateful for the support he had received from the Army, he says the Army comes first. “The Army made me who I am today,” he recounts. “Everything I have achieved as an athlete today would never have been possible if I hadn’t received the right support.”
After receiving his Elite athlete status from the Army in 2015, Moreno decided to represent Nigeria as an athlete, a decision he says was not well thought out.
“I was foolish, naive, and too hungry”, he says. He feels he would have achieved more had he been a UK athlete, given the motivation and support a regular UK athlete receives, which pales in comparison to what he’s experienced in Nigeria where he’s considered a top athlete.
For the west African nation, he holds a national and personal best record in the decathlon (7252 points) and pole vault (4.60 meters) events. His showing at the 2015 All-African Games in Brazzaville is what he remembers as his most memorable moment as a Nigerian athlete. An injury, when he least expected, derailed his goal.
“I watched the medals slip away from me after I crashed and finished 7th position. I was in the shape of my life at the time but I have moved on.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” he retorted, “I love Nigeria. I did get to where I wanted but it wasn’t an easy journey. I should be wearing the English national colours right now. I would have probably been in the right place.”
For instance, “our national trial in England, once you make the top three, automatically, they will send you the kits to represent the country in the European indoors. I’ve qualified for England three years in a row. Now tell me why is Nigeria not taking me and Samuel Osadolor to the world indoors or any indoor meet?”
He cites the issue of corruption within the Nigerian athletics system and the lack of care shown to athletes.
“The Olympics is a dream too far because even if you qualify you might not go because of the corruption in the [Nigerian] system.”
However, his experience and grievance are not uncommon. Olympic silver medalist Francis Obikwelu switched allegiance to Portugal in 2001 because of neglect by Nigeria. Olusoji Fasuba, the all-time fastest African abandoned Nigeria and retired at 27 to join the Royal Navy in 2011. He cites similar reasons. This list is quite exhaustive.
Moreno has had his fair share at the state level too. At the 2019 National Sports Festival, he represented Rivers State. He explains how he almost lost his life and job in the UK because of the issue. He’s currently owed about £4,500 (NGN2.3 million). The reverse is the case with Delta whose officials he eulogises for respecting athletes which translates to many medals. “Look at the medals table,” Moreno says, softly. Delta finished with 158 gold, 116 silver, and 110 bronze medals.
He hopes to further set a new national record in the decathlon, “as close to 8000 as possible to keep it far from reach for a long time.”
Moreno looks forward to transitioning to the Army’s Royal Logistics Corps where he can further grow his career path. Also, he sets his eyes on coaching, looking to help other kids become better persons, just the way athletics helped a heady teenager from the troubling streets of Hastings.
Featured Image by OlusegunAderinto via Army Athletics