First time Olympian, Elizabeth Anyanacho has said she has learnt some valuable lessons from her loss to double Olympic medalist and former world champion, Nur Tartar of Turkey in the female 67kg taekwondo event at the just concluded Tokyo 2020 Olympics. In this interview with Trust Sports, the 2019 African Games bronze medalist spoke on her experience in Tokyo and plans for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
You are just back from your first Olympics games. What did you experience?
I felt really good going into the Olympics. It was great representing Nigeria and it was a great honour to fly the flag and that really made me happy. My experience was beautiful as I met and interacted with a lot of athletes from other countries, especially the top athletes. I drew a lot of inspiration as I was in a platform with many of them. There is just that feeling you get seeing so many people like you, knowing you are not the only one competing for honours. It was a really great experience.
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When and how did you start to compete in taekwondo?
I started in 2014. I never knew what taekwondo was but I watched action movies where I saw people fighting. I never knew there was a sport that could teach people martial arts. When I first heard of the game, I was like wow, I can try this and I just found the love and passion for it. When I started training, it was not so hectic and my coach made it interesting for me. His coaching made me love the game more and always came back for more training. As I got deep into the sports and went through the hard training, I just got going and couldn’t stop.
Definitely, you must have had your low moments. How were you able to pick yourself up?
There were so many emotions. There were mixed feelings and sometimes I wondered if I could do it but I had so much encouragement from my coach, family and colleagues in school. They motivated me saying I could do it and I picked strength from their words of encouragement and neglected the negatives. I kept training and though the initial plan was for Paris 2024, when I got the slot for Tokyo 2020, I had to adjust my plans and attend.
You wept after you lost your fight in Tokyo. What did you learn from that defeat?
After my loss, naturally I was disappointed. I was basically in tears for almost six hours and I kept reviewing the match in my mind. Thankfully, my technical crew was there and the sports minister, Sunday Dare also consoled me. The taekwondo president was also on hand to console me, telling me it was not the end of the world but the start of a new beginning. I knew I wanted to spring a surprise even though I was an underdog. So losing in the first round was a huge disappointment for me. My opponent is a good fighter with lots of experience. In fact, she is ranked number 4. I learnt some positives from that defeat. I realized it was not just the skills that I needed but managing the emotions, anxiety, nervousness that come along with being on that world stage. The loss also taught me how to be mentally ready, handle pressure. I understood better those things my coach had taught me. I am better prepared now and I understand so many emotions that come in when competing at that stage. Now I understand the techniques and how to apply them better, not just to fight but calculate moves, reading my opponents better amongst other things.
Were your parents against or in support of your decision to become a taekwondo athlete? And how have you been able to combine sports and education?
I am from Imo state and I am the last child of my parents. I am from an average family so there was no resistance from my parents. My father, who is a clergyman, asked me if I wanted to do taekwondo. When I replied in affirmative, he allowed me to go on. Luckily, my parents love sports and education. My father was once a boxer and he understood my situation. He advised and guided me to combine sports with education. My mentor also played a role in my time management skills which I had to develop to combine sports and education effectively. I asked for guidance from my lecturers as well. It requires discipline as I had to deprive myself of so many things. So with so many things to be done, I had to manage my time very well. There was time to read, time to practice and time to relax.
What advice do you have for young girls who would like to follow your path?
It is a matter of the heart. For me, I will advise that any young girl who wants to go into sports must do so from the heart. It has to be something you have to choose, not that it is chosen for you. If I can handle it well, young girls can also handle it. It is just a matter of choice. They must have love for the game and must have good people around them.