By Duro Ikhazuagbe in London and Tunde Sulaiman in Lagos
Tomorrow the curtains will fall on the greatest multi-sports event in the world, the Olympics, with Nigeria realistically standing no chance of clinching a medal after.
Hopes of appearing on the medals table were further dashed today as Nigeria’s female team in the 4x100m relay failed to impress. The Nigerian quartet of Oladamola Osayomi, Gloria Asumnu, Endurance Abinuwa and Blessing Okagbare placed fourth behind the United States, Jamaica and Ukraine.
The United States shattered a 27-year-old world record to win gold. The team of Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight and Carmelita Jeter won the race in 40.82 seconds, beating East Germany's record of 41.37 which had stood since 1985.
Nigeria will however compete in the finals of the women’s 4*400m women’s relay today. Yet, there is hardly any optimism regarding the team’s chances given the fact the quartet of Omolara Omotosho, Idara Otu, Bukola Abogunloko and Regina George qualified for the finals not on the strength of an outstanding performance, but as one of the best losers.
Also today, bronze medalist at the Beijing Olympic and captain of the Nigerian team, Chika Chukwumerije, would be fighting for a place in the quarter finals of the taekwondo event that would be rounded later tonight. He would need to overcome at least three opponents to be guaranteed a medal. Two Nigerian male wrestlers will also need to scale similar hurdles today as they attempt to make a belated grasp for medals. They are, literally speaking, the last men standing even if the possibility they could win a medal is anything but inspiring.
But today’s pessimism is a huge contrast to the glimmer of hope seen a few days to the start of the London Olympics. Two athletes, Ajoke Odumosu and Blessing Okagbare, had done well in some high profile athletics meeting perhaps signalling that Nigeria had the athletes to successfully compete at the Olympics and bring smiles on the faces of their countrymen.
However, Odumosu’s victory at the Spitzenleicht Athletics Meet in Lucerne, Switzerland and Okagbare’s equally impressive performances at both the Aviva Diamond League in London, in which she upstaged Olympic star, Jamaican, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Phyrce and World Championship winner, Carmelita Jeter; and a week later at the Samsung Diamond League meeting in Monaco, turned out to be false dawns as both women along with the 55-man strong Team Nigeria contingent failed woefully to rise to the occasion in London.
But as the nation wakes up to the fact that our sports is in deep trouble and the usual inquisition begins, it is pertinent to know that London 2012 was a disaster waiting to happen.
The nation even had a yellow card of sorts about the state of our team four years ago at the Beijing Olympics when Team Nigeria could only muster a paltry four medals – one silver and three bronze.
Officials had promised then that they had learnt their lessons and would adequately prepare the team for the next Games taking place in London.
But as the results (or lack of them) have shown, it is clear that not much was actually done to back up the utterances with action.
In the run up to the Games’ kick-off on July 29 the media was awash with reports of the poor preparation of Team Nigeria for London 2012 even though officials publicly denied such reports.
The government will have to change its budgetary process when it comes to sports because there is no way we can get the best out of our athletes if money is only released a few weeks to the start of the competition.
For instance, knowing that the London Olympics was taking place in 2012, perhaps some of the budget for Team Nigeria’s participation could have been included in the Federal Budget for 2011, which would have allowed the National Sports Commission have funds to begin to prepare our athletes for the Games.
Although N2.4 billion had been allocated in the budget for London 2012, the money was not available for the NSC until a few weeks to the event, which meant that plans of taking Team Nigeria athletes on extended overseas training could not materialise. Instead they took part in “crash courses” of only a few weeks before embarking upon their trip to London.
In the area of shrinking resources, the NSC will also have to determine how many disciplines it has realistic chances of competing properly in at the world stage.
It is time for the NSC to accept that at the world stage (i.e. Olympics) we are only good in a certain number of events and concentrate on those events. Kenya entered for only four events (Nigeria entered for eight) and has so far won seven medals (two gold, two silver and three bronze).
As a way of assessing the competition levels of our athletes, the NSC can enter in more disciplines at the Commonwealth Games, which is definitely less intense than the Olympics and at the end review how well our athletes did with a view to seeing which sport can be pushed into the next Olympic Games.
Attention must also be given to grassroots sports development because that is the only way we can replenish the production line. Is it not sad that we have not adequately been able to replace such stars like Chidi Imoh, Innocent Egbunike, Mary Onyali and Falilat Ogunkoya?
The aforementioned athletes all ran for American universities as part of their scholarship requirements, but were able to wear the Nigerian colours with distinction and compete with other internationally acclaimed athletes because they were good.
For once, though, a sports minister acknowledged that poor preparation more than anything else was to blame for the London 2012 disaster.
Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, who gave a review of the country’s performance at the Nigeria House in Stratford, London, said: “Our inability to win any medal so far is disappointing for my team and myself and for all Nigerians. But we must have the courage to see it as it is. This is a clear testimony to how far our sports have fallen behind.”
He, however, said he would not indulge in a buck passing game but would take the dismal performance as “an opportunity to rebuild.”
“In Atlanta ‘96, Great Britain won one medal but in Beijing they finished fourth. They accepted their poor situation and reworked their system including financing. In London today they are standing boldly at the third position. This is one opportunity we cannot allow to pass us by.”
The hope is that it won’t simply be another déjà vu in four years’ time.