By Demola Ojo
It is the first time in a while that Nigeria won’t be represented in the football competition of the Olympics as both male and female teams failed to qualify for London 2012.
However, the fact that Nigerians won’t be able see representatives of their favourite sport obviously forces the spotlight on less fancied sports which have overlooked and underfunded in the past. It also thrusts more focus on athletics which has over time been a source of pride, joy and medals for the country.
This year’s edition of the Olympiad would also afford basketball aficionados the opportunity of seeing Nigeria’s flag being flown for the first time ever. There are more success stories that should make the nation proud and prove that there is more to Nigeria’s sporting prowess than football.
Jonathan Akinyemi (Canoeing)
Nigeria will present her first-ever athlete for the K1 men’s slalom during this summer’s games. Jonathan Akinyemi won Africa’s sole slalom ticket in South Africa in February by defeating Togolese Benjamin Boukpeti, who won a bronze medal at the Beijing 2008 games.
The 23 year-old, who was born in the United Kingdom, funded his way through most of qualifying but is now a proud member of Team Nigeria and a veritable medal hopeful. He has said that he sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night only to realise that he has qualified to participate in the Olympics and he laughs out loud.
D’Tigers (Men’s Basketball)
Qualifying for the basketball event of the London 2012 games was a feat in itself for D’Tigers. They achieved this by defeating countries ranked in the world’s top five (Greece and Lithuania) in the qualifying tournament in Venezuela.
Thus it wouldn’t be far-fetched to expect they push for a medal. If they achieve this, names like Tony Skinn, the Al-Farouk brothers – Alade and Aminu, Derrick Obasohan, Ade Dagunduro, Ike Diogu and Olumide Oyedeji would become household names like the gold winning Olympic soccer team of 1996.
Chika Chukwumerije (Men’s Taekwondo)
Chika Chukwumerije will go into his third Olympic tournament with the sole aim of claiming a gold medal in the men’s +80kg Taekwondo event. Having won bronze at Beijing 2008, Chukwumerije will surely be expecting to achieve a higher feat with his remarkable ability to compete on the biggest stage.
The 28 year-old has been consistently inching his way up the martial arts ladder and will be a veritable medal hope for Team Nigeria as the games start. Chukwumerije has a Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering. His father is a senator in the National Assembly.
Blessing Okagbare (Women’s 100m, Long Jump, 4X100m Relay)
Nigeria’s golden girl, Blessing Okagbare is hitting peak form at the right moment. Okagbare is the only track athlete to have won an individual medal from the Beijing 2008 games where she jumped to a bronze medal.
Okagbare has come a long way since her Beijing performance as she has taken her game to a whole new level becoming an important role model to female athletes just like Mary Onyali was in her prime.
This season, Okagbare has won back to back Diamond League meetings where she defeated Olympic and World champions Shelley Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica and America’s Carmelita Jeter with her best of 11.01s.
If she keeps up this form, she should make a podium finish in the 100m. She will also hope to improve on her long jump where she has gotten a 6.96m lift this season, better than her bronze-winning 6.91m effort at Beijing.
Okagbare will also be part of the women’s 4X100m relay alongside Damola Osayomi, Gloria Asumnu, Lawreta Ozoh and Christy Udoh.
Tosin Oke (Men’s Triple Jump)
At first Tosin Oke competed for Great Britain where he was born 31years ago. However, in 2008 he switched allegiance to Nigeria after he was dropped from the British team that participated at the World Championships in Osaka in 2007.
Oke has since gone on to establish himself as a world class athlete by dominating the African space.
In 2010, Oke won gold medals at the African Championships in Kenya and the Commonwealth Games in India. Last year he won gold at the All Africa Games in Mozambique and just a few weeks ago, retained his African Championship title in Porto Novo with a jump of 16.98m. He will be up against Christian Taylor of the United States who has the world leading jump of 17.63m and homeboy Phillips Idowu.