Team Nigeria jostles for medals at Tokyo Olympics | Dailytrust

Team Nigeria jostles for medals at Tokyo Olympics

  Gymnast Uche Eke is making his debut in Tokyo and it is also the first time Nigeria will feature in gymnastics at the Olympics
Gymnast Uche Eke is making his debut in Tokyo and it is also the first time Nigeria will feature in gymnastics at the Olympics

69 years ago, Nigeria made her debut at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland with nine athletes participating in sprint races, relay, long jump and high jump. It was also the first barren outing for Team Nigeria at the quadrennial games.

Eight years later, it was another fruitless outing as Nigeria again competed at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia and 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy without a single medal to show for their participation.

Nigeria’s first Olympics medal was won at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo where the country’s representative in boxing, Nojeem Maiyegun won a bronze medal in the men’s light middleweight class.

That achievement opened the door for more medals in subsequent editions with Team Nigeria’s best outing being the 1996 Atlanta Olympics where Nigeria won two gold, one silver, and three bronze medals.

It was at the Atlanta Olympics that Nigeria won her first and only individual Olympics gold medal. Policewoman, Chioma Ajunwa leapt 7.2m to win gold in the long jump event. Her record stood for 25 years before it was broken by fellow Nigerian, Ese Brume who jumped 7.17m at a recent event.

In addition, the ‘mother of all medals at the Olympics’, the gold medal in football was won by the Dream Team I at the same Olympics. Cameroon is the other Africa nation that shares the same honour with Nigeria. They won the gold in football at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

In all, Team Nigeria has taken part in 16 Olympics winning three gold, 10 silver and 12 bronze medals in the process. The 2020 Olympics which is underway in Tokyo, Japan makes it the 17th edition for Team Nigeria.

From available records, Team Nigeria has not been able to tap into its huge potential to excel at the Olympics. Instead of building on past achievements like the ones recorded at Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 96, Sydney 2000, and Beijing 2008, Team Nigeria has failed to impress in their recent outings.

For instance, the last two Olympics, London 2012 and Rio 2016 are rated among the worst outings for Team Nigeria as the contingent managed to win only one medal when John Mikel Obi inspired the football team to win bronze in Rio, Brazil.

However, on Wednesday, the 2020 Olympic Games kicked off in Tokyo with football matches while the opening ceremony took place yesterday with Team Nigeria led by table tennis sensation Aruna Quadri along with Africa and Commonwealth female wrestling champion Odunayo Adekuoroye as the country’s flag bearers.

At the ongoing Olympics, Team Nigeria is featuring 24 male and 36 female athletes in athletics (19), badminton (3), basketball (24), canoeing (1), gymnastics (1) rowing (1), swimming (2), table tennis (4), Taekwondo (1) and wrestling (5).

Gymnast Uche Eke is making his debut which is also the first time Nigeria will feature in gymnastics at the Olympics. He booked a spot in the men’s individual all-around and apparatus events by winning the bronze medal at the 2021 African Gymnastics Championships in Cairo, Egypt.

Also, Funke Oshonaike who is the first ever African woman to participate in seven editions of the Games is expected to deliver for Nigeria. She is also in Tokyo to inspire younger members of Team Nigeria.

She is not alone as the captain of Team Nigeria, Aruna Quadri, Olajide Omotayo and Offiong Edem are equally expected to win medals in the table tennis competition at the Games following their recent exploits at the African stage.

World’s second fastest woman, Blessing Okagbare is ‘condemned’ to justify her recent achievement by winning medals when she partakes in the 100m and 200m events. Okagbare alongside Rosemary Chukwuma, Nzubechi Nwokocha, Favour Ofili and Knowledge Omovoh are highly favoured to do well in the women’s 4x100m relay.

Nigeria’s fastest man, Enoch Adegoke, Divine Oduduru and Usheoritse Itsekiri are also carrying the hopes of millions of Nigerians in the 100m and 200m events.

And former African champions, D’Tigers have settled for 12 talented players with most of them coming from the highly revered NBA. Among them is Jordan Nwora who just won the NBA championship with Milwaukee Bucks so Nigerians expect the Mike Brown led team to do well, especially after their recent exploits in the warm up games.

Although Team Nigeria’s preparations suffered some hitches, like the lingering crisis between the Sports Ministry and Hon. Ibrahim Shehu Gusau’s Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), the postponement of the games provided ample chance for the necessary preparations to be perfected.

Consequently, the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare has assured Nigerians that Team Nigeria will either equal or surpass their performance at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. According to him, Nigeria’s participation in Tokyo will not be another jamboree.

Although Nigeria’s track and field team has failed to win a medal in the last two Olympics, the president of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) Tonobock Okowa is confident the story will be different in Tokyo.

He said “I am confident our athletes will rewrite their record of participation at the event. The AFN has provided the enabling environment for the athletes and I am sure they will live up to our expectations.

‘’Ese Brume has proved her status as one of the best horizontal jumpers in the world. Her African record setting 7.17m leap at the end of May is the farthest any long jumper has landed so far this year.

“Enoch Adegoke and Grace Nwokocha are dark horses waiting to spring surprises. Our 4x100m relay team is the best we have ever assembled in terms of individual performances and should make it a hat-trick of Olympic medals in Tokyo.”

Speaking with Trust Sports, a former D’Tigers captain and president, Nigeria Olympians Association, Olumide Oyedeji said “Impossible is nothing. Never say never. I believe in the contingent. They know what to do. I know what it means to be at that stage as everybody wants to win”.

In the same vein, the chairman of Air Warriors basketball team, Abduldumajeed Solademi said he is confident Team Nigeria will do well in Tokyo.

“From my perspective, I want to see Nigeria on the podium. It should be a good outing for Nigeria. I believe we will have a good outing as the sky will be our beginning.

“It will be a great feeling to hear the Nigerian national anthem being sung on the podium. I am optimistic but pressure should not be placed too much on them,” he said.

A politician and sports administrator, Hon. Lumumba Dah Adeh said it is the dream of every athlete to feature in the Olympics so Team Nigeria athletes must make judicious use of the opportunity.

The proprietor of the defunct Jos City Raiders FC also said Nigerian athletes are known for individual brilliance so he is confident one or two of them will come up with a surprise package in Tokyo.

“The Sports Ministry did its best to support Team Nigeria’s preparation for the games so I hope that the athletes will try to justify the support they have received.

“So without sounding over confident, I believe the Tokyo Olympics will not be another barren outing for Team Nigeria. However, those handling the athletes should be ready to play the politics that usually characterize the different sporting events,” he advised.

It is, therefore, worthy to note that even the athletes are aware of the high expectations from Nigerians. The captain of Team Nigeria, Aruna Quadri in a recent interview said the athletes are focused on their respective events.

He said as professionals, they are not allowing any kind of pressure to get to them.

“There is no pressure. I am looking forward to giving my best. My expectation is always to be a good ambassador for my country, my sponsors and my family,” he said.

Against this background, Team Nigeria athletes are already jostling for medals in Tokyo as they aim to avoid a repeat of the barren outings recorded in seven of their 16 Olympics appearances with the last being the London 2012 Olympics.

David Ngobua & Olujide Olusola

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