After the exit of the entire table tennis team, the boxers failing to impress and the basketball team having no realistic chance of qualifying from the group stages, the attention of Nigerians now shifts to the track and field for a medal hope, writes KUNLE ADEWAL
The quartet of Nigerian table tennis team of Segun Toriola, Quadri Aruna, Olufunke Oshonaike and Offiong Edem all lost out in the early rounds of the 2012 London Olympics; the boxing duo of Lukmon Lawal and Akanji Muideen was ousted in the first and second round respectively; while the patriotic zeal of Jonathan Akinyemi was enough to earn a medal for Nigeria in the slalom canoe as he only lasted 190 seconds before he was disqualified.
Before the Games a member of the table tennis contingent Quadri was brave enough to say Nigeria needs a miracle to win medals in the table tennis event of the London 2012 Olympic Games. According to him, “We are lagging behind in terms of preparation for the Games, and the way things are going now, it will take a miracle for us to win any medal in London. The federation needs to call the players to camp in either Austria or China as soon as possible. These are places where there are adequate facilities that will keep us in good shape for the challenges ahead in London.”
Despite the fact no Nigerian has been called to the podium with the Games almost half through, minister of sports Bolaji Abdullahi, is still confident that Nigeria will still win medals. He said that the defeats came in spite of the Nigerian team’s impressive preparation ahead of the games, saying that the harmony and cordial relationship amongst the athletes and officials would ensure that Team Nigeria’s outing to the tournament is successful.
“Perhaps the most important achievement coming to this competition is that all of us are on the page unlike in the past; nobody is quarrelling, nobody is fighting with anybody. You have not heard that the National Sports Commission and Nigeria Olympic Committee, that everybody is fighting. So, all of us are on the same page. You can see the federation here. I think that is a major achievement and that will form the basis for other things that will come. We have tried very hard, we have prepared very hard, we‘ve had the best preparations going into a major tournament like this,” he said.
“So, it is my hope that our preparation will be good enough to take us a step forward from our previous performance. I am confident that things will go well in the end. I have reasons to believe we are going to win medals. But if we don’t win medals, we would have learnt important lessons on why we didn’t win medals because I have had opportunities to meet so many ministers of sports from different parts of the world. I have had the opportunity to discourse with them on what they are doing and how they are doing it. And let me tell Nigerians something: the last reception I attended, which was organised by the minister in Great Britain, so many sports ministers of countries in West Africa were asking for help from Nigeria. They want us to give them technical support; so, just as we are looking up to other people for assistance, there are so many other people looking up to us for same,” Abdullahi said.
With the attention now shifting to track and field events Nigeria will be hoping that one or two of its athletes can just sneak in a medal, with Blessing Okagbare, Ajoke Odumosu and the 4X100m relay team comprising Damola Osayomi, Gloria Asumnu, Lawreta Ozoh and Christy Udoh being the country’s best medal prospect.
Okagbare upset the record books recently at the Samsung Diamond League in Aviva, London, by claiming a gold medal in 100m in 11.01secs to beat reigning world champion, America’s Carmelita Jeter and Beijing Olympics champion and Jamaica’s Shelly–Anne Fraser-Price. Nigeria’s track and field queen, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi, reacting to Okagbare’s astonishing performance at the Grand Prix had said that her success was a deserved one.“I am not surprised Blessing won in London. I have followed her progression all through the season and found her very consistent. It is a big plus for her and Nigeria, with less than two weeks to the Olympics. I have no doubt that she is capable of running 10.8. If she does that at the Olympics, a medal is sure for her. In fact, she will hit it big at the London Olympics,” said Onyali-Omagbemi.
If she keeps up her form, she could make a podium finish in the 100m as she also hopes to improve on her long jump where she has done a 6.96m lift this season to better her bronze-winning 6.91m effort at Beijing. A lot of pressure will however be on Okagbare when the women’s 100m final and women’s long jump finals kicks-off August 4 and August 8, respectively, in East London.
However, it will not be only in the tracks and field events that Nigeria will be hoping to win a medal. Team captain Chika Chukwumerije, who is participating in his third Olympic will be competing in the men’s +80kg Taekwondo event, and having won bronze at Beijing 2008, he will be hoping to improve on his Beijing feat.
The country’s representative in the weightlifting event of the London 2012 Olympics, Ekpo Felix, is another lone medal hopeful on the weightlifting stage. Felix would battle for glory against the likes of Pavlov Kirill of Kazakhstan, Perive Toafitu from Samao, Mata Perez Andres Eduardo of Spain and Oliver Jack, Great Britain’s representative, in the Men’s 77 kg weightlifting category. He would be doing the country a great favour by winning a medal in order to console the country having lost out in the table tennis and boxing events. At the end of the London Olympics, one fact our sports administrators must wake up to is the imperative of going back to school sports. For instance, we paraded a table tennis team most of whom never went beyond the first round despite having been to a couple of Olympics. That fact is sufficiently telling: we have yet to produce younger players who would knock them off their perch.