By Jude Okwe
Defending champion of the Reach Out Nigeria Rhapsody of Realities Table Tennis Championship, Janet Friday, is leading 19 other strong contingent from Cross River State to the competition in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State with a promise to defend her title. The prize money has been increased from N100, 000 to N500, 000.
In an interview with THISDAY at the U. J. Esuene Stadium in Calabar shortly before departing for Uyo for the competition which commenced Tuesday, Miss Friday said she has trained so hard that she is hopeful of victory despite the maiden participation of five other African countries in the competition that is sponsored by Christ Embassy Church led by Pastor Chris Oyakhilome.
She said since Cross River dominated the first three editions, the team was determined to continue with the tradition as it is blessed with tennis table talents noting that with the increase in the prize money, her team mates like Offiong Edem, Cecilia Otu and Itoro Akpan were also participating and will pose a challenge.
“This time around, the Uyo event which is a national championship will be highly competitive. But Cross River State has a strong female team that will make the state proud at the end of the day. Our male counterparts are also coming up strong. This competition is not for mediocre. Because of the hike in prize money, many stars including professionals are participating,” she said.
The competition which is two categories: junior and senior will see the state featuring four males and five females for the junior cadre and three males and seven females in the senior. It is expected to end on Saturday, September 29, 2012.
Friday has just returned from the Republic of Cameroon where she represented Nigeria in the African invitation.
She won gold medal in the competition but Cecilia and Offiong pose big threat to her bid to retain the title though she has tremendous respect for them. Offiong is just back from China where she represented Africa in an international tennis event.
Cecilia Out, who will be taking part in the competition for the first time, expressed optimism of victory given that she trained both morning and evening for the event and vowed not to return from Uyo without winning something adding that she did not participate in previous editions because of pregnancy.
Another star to watch is Itoro Akpan, whom in the third edition lost at the quarter final stage but has promised to surpass that stage given the way and manner she prepared for the championship. The Cross River State team is coached by Richard Edem who discovered Offiong Edem and groomed her to stardom.
Coach Edem told THISDAY that his dilemma was which of his two girls will make the final.
“I’ll do go and hide somewhere because I do not know who to support when my players are playing. I will only come out when it is all over. All my girls are good, they all trained hard for this competition. We are hopeful of victory,” he added.
Chairman of Cross River State Table Tennis Association, Mr. Usen Umoh, appealed to the state government to build a befitting sports hall for indoor games considering the fame which tennis is fetching the state even as he called on the private sector to help the association by sponsoring the state team to all competitions given the financial challenges of the state government at the moment.
He revealed that sponsorship from the state government was zero hence the association was appealing individuals, groups and corporate bodies to help bail out the body from its financial predicament.