Paralympic Games in London
The year ending Monday is one Nigerians would want to forget in a hurry. It is one in which dreams evaporated as soon as they were conceived. Aspirations were largely unfulfilled in virtually every sporting event the country participated in at the global level.
Failure at the London Olympic Games capped Nigeria’s hopelessness in the sector as we failed to win any medal.
Although the country’s physically challenged athletes redeemed Nigeria’s image in the Paralympic Games in London, the collateral damage inflicted on our sporting psyche led the Presidency to convey a forum to find solution to the woes.
DURO IKHAZUAGBE here recalls some of the good and bad times of the 2012 sporting year.
CAPTION: Paralympics athletes did the nation proud (photo attached)
The year kicked off without Nigeria’s Super Eagles participating in the 23rd Africa Cup of Nations jointly hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Nigerians watched the edition with trepidations of who will win while at the same time having nostalgic feelings of Super Eagles of the golden era. Zambia ended up with the trophy as a fitting honour for the Chipolopolo that died in a plane crash off the coast of Libreville in 1993.
The men and women football events of the London Olympics took place without Nigeria, winner of the men’s silver medal at the Beijing 2008 edition. Cameroun’s national women’s team stopped the Falcons from another appearance at the Olympiad.
Against all expectations, the Super Falcons failed to defend the African Women’s Championship they have dominated like it is their birth right. They crumbled to the same Equatorial Guinea in the semi final just the same way they fell to the Central Africans four years ago.
The results from our Under-20 and Under-17 teams in FIFA competitions were not equally palatable despite early signs of good showings.
At club level, Sunshine Stars of Akure got knocked out of the CAF Champions League by Al Ahly of Egypt at the semi final stage. Ivorien Yaya Toure retained the Glo-CAF African Footballer of the Year award. Like it has been happening in the past 12 years, only John Mikel Obi and Victor Moses were named in the preliminary list of the award.
One of Nigeria’s foremost goal poachers, Rashidi Yekini, died in a controversial circumstance after battling health challenges for a while.
... The Good
The Super Eagles qualification for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations after missing out of the last edition was the biggest achievement of the Glass House. Stephen Keshi escaped been kicked out of the N5m per month job the same way his friend, Samson Siasia did.
Nigeria is also top of the table in the 2014 World Cup qualification matches which began same period under review. There were other series of football events that Nigeria qualified for to drag the Nigeria Football Federation accounts into the red. They are battling for the release of the money for the Eagles to participate in the South Africa 2013 starting in less than 20 days from Monday.
Also, sanity appears to have returned to the local league following the sacking of the Victor Rumson Baribote led board of the Nigeria Premier League.
The inauguration of an Interim Management Committee headed by Hon. Nduka Irabor may be final solution to the NPL crisis that has almost destroyed club football locally.
Sand Eagles retained the Copa Lagos Beach Soccer Tournament for the second year running.
TRACK & FIELD
The London Olympic Games held so much hope for Nigerian athletes. After posting hair-raising performances on the IAAF circuits leading to the Games, Delta girl, Blessing Okagbare’s slender shoulders bore the burden of medals in the individual sprint, sprint relay and the women’s long jump events.
Hopes were raised when the graduate of University of Texas in El Paso (UTEP) docked under 11 seconds, winning the Aviva London 100m in a new Personal Best of 10.99secs.
Another 9.93 in the heat shot Okagbare into focus as capable of upsetting the Americans and the Jamaicans at the Olympic. Her semi final was not equally bad.
But, in the final race, Okagbare got overwhelmed, finishing eighth in the 100. That perhaps cast a pall on the girl, failing to even podium in the long jump event she picked a bronze at Beijing 2008.
Results from both the IAAF World Youth Championships in Barcelona Spain and the World Indoor Championships in Turkey didn’t fare any better as the kids just could not match what the likes of Olusoji Fasuba, the late Sunday Bada, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi and Falilat Ogunkoya achieved at that level of athletics.
The dope matters involving Vivian Chukwuemeka, Lauretta Ozoh and a host of others ruined whatever gains the Solomon Ogba led AFN board was counting on.
... The Good
Despite not been able to make it to the podium, it was the first time that Nigerian athletes were making ten finals at the athletics events of the Olympic. Okagbare, Ajoke Odumosu, Amaechi Morton, Regina George, Omolara Omotosho, the women’s 4x100m comprising Christy Udoh, Gloria Asumnu, Damola Osayomi and Okagbare placed 4th in the final.
At the African level, Nigeria went to Port Novo, Benin Republic to conquer the continent, winning 10 gold, six silver and five bronze medals to displace Kenya and South Africa to second and third positions respectively.
Chukwuemeka and Ozoh’s dope issues however may deny Nigeria the opportunity of laying claim to the 18th African Athletics Championship title as Kenya that placed second with nine gold, nine silver and nine bronze medals stand to benefit if the Confederation of African Athletics withdraws the two medals.
However, the approval of a High Performance Training Centre at the University of Port Harcourt by the IAAF may change Nigeria’s fortune in athletics in the New Year. Still in the year under review, Warri, Delta State was also granted the hosting right of the maiden African Athletics Youth Championships.
The athletics events of the 18th National Sports Festival hosted by Lagos rekindled hope of fresh talents in some of the events. There were some fresh faces discovered and with proper grooming can make it big at the national level.
Lagos athlete Ameenat Olowora, 18, who won the women’s 10,000m, 3,000m and 1,500m is one of such athletes on the rise.
Nigeria’s bests, Segun Toriola and Olufunke Oshonaike like their track and field counterparts failed to make any impact despite the fact that they were attending their sixth and fifth Olympic Games respectively. At 37, Toriola could not re-enact the style that won his several African and Commonwealth titles.
There is hardly anything one can point at as uplifting in the game in the year under review. The neglect the sport has suffered over time was reflected in the poor lighting of the table tennis knock-up hall at the National Stadium during the Eko 2012.
What is left in this sport for Nigerians to behold is memories of past achievements. The London 2012 clearly exposed the rot that has set into boxing in the country.
Boxing which gave Nigeria her first ever Olympic medal through Nojeem Maiyegun at the 1964 Tokyo Games, could not save the country’s face in London as our boxers got pummelled and dumped in first and second rounds. Muideen Olalekan and Lukmon Lawal despite initial good showing, failed to make it to medal zone.
However, credit must be given to the only female in the team Edith Ogoke who despite attending her first Games fought like a professional and only lost to inexperience.
Locally, the Monthly Lagos Governor’s Belt Championship is bringing back life to the sport as the state’s boxers swept more than two third of the gold medals at stake.
Olaide Fijabi, the winner of the 2012 Governor Fashola’s Belt was outstanding and is a prospect if properly handled.
D’Tigers brought smiles to the faces of basketball aficionados in the country and beyond when they upset form book to book a place in the men’s event at the London Olympics.
At the qualifiers in Venezuela, nobody gave the mostly USA based Nigerian players any hope of making it to London. But they shocked Dominican Republic 88-73 to book their play along with Tunisia as Africa’s flag-bearers in London. To have been able to shock both world Number Four and Five that included dreaded Lithuania was something to behold. However the story was different at the London Games.
Our boys got overwhelmed and Coach Ayo Bakare could not conjure any further magic when it mattered most. The boys however did not feel disgraced not winning any of the games they played in the preliminary round.
Team Nigeria Captain, Chika Chukwumerije, like Okagbare, was expected to deliver. After winning a bronze medal in Beijing 2008, he was expected to step up and join the elite class of gold medallist in the sport. He had what can be considered a fairly good training programme in South Korea.
But the broken nose and toe he suffered in the qualifier did not heal properly and so constituted hindrance to his aspiration of winning a medal. And the timing of his fight did not help his matter as the failure of the entire Nigerian contingent put undue pressure on him to salvage the situation.
After holding out a barren result, Chika lost by just a point to Cuba’s Robelis Despagne in the +80kg category to cap Nigeria’s miserable outing at the games in London. Nigeria’s other qualifier, Isah Adams, was also dismal in his outing.
Former Olympic gold medallist, Daniel Igali was expected to make a difference in Nigeria’s outing at the London 2012.
Having won gold medals in wrestling at both the Olympic and World Championships for Canada his adopted country, there was so much expectation from our wrestlers. Of course, having seen the quality of his wrestlers, Igali was not one to deceive himself.
He told compatriots not to expect any miracle from London as his wards were not ripe to harvest medals at the Olympic yet. He promised that Rio 2016 Games will be ideal for such expectations. He was spot on as Nigerian wrestlers all crashed as soon as they stepped on the mat.
Nigeria’s lone entry in the Slalom event, Jonathan Akinyemi, despite winning in Africa was not good enough for the world level yet.
What the able-bodied athletes could not achieved, the physically challenged did for Nigeria. They were the heroes and heroines of the 2012 sports season by all reckonings. Nigeria’s special athletes wiped out our tears, winning six gold, five silver and two bronze medals at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Yakubu Adesokan won Nigeria’s first gold medal in the Power-lifting event.
Grace Anozie, Joy Onaolapo, Ivory Nwokorie, Esther Onyema and Lovelyn Obije were the other gold medal winners. Lucy Ejike, Ulonnam Tony, Obichukwu Nwachukwu, Oluwafemiayo Folashade and Nwajiofor Ifeanyi all won silver medals while the bronze medallists were Victoria Nneji and Eucharia Iyiazi.