It takes place once every four years, but while it may not capture the same hype and intensity as the football World Cup (at least for pure football fans); for genuine sports lovers there is just nothing like the Olympics.
Unlike its football counterpart, which as we all know also takes place every four years, the Olympics has about everything for every single sports lover on the globe.
There is track and field for the athletics aficionados; swimming and other aquatic events for lovers of water sport; basketball for hoops lovers and in short practically a bit of every sport for everybody.
Yes while Nigerians may not be too much into such disciplines like fencing and archery, we must not forget that the Olympics is not just for the ‘Giant of Africa’ and as such these events will appeal to someone somewhere in the world (and perhaps even in Nigeria).
And giving the Olympics organisers credit, some 16 years ago, they were able to convince the International Football Federation (FIFA) to allow them raise the profile of the football event of the games by allowing some ‘overage’ players to take part, successfully arguing that limiting the number (in this case three was agreed) would not make it rival FIFA’s flagship event – the World Cup (which was a sticking point with FIFA).
Of course Nigeria was the first beneficiary of this new rule when we triumphed at Atlanta’96 with ‘Gentle Giant’ Uche Okechuku, Garba Lawal and Daniel Amokachi (the three overage players) helping Nwankwo Kanu, Celestine Babayaro and company get the better of Argentina in the gold medal match.
This time around as the games enter Day four (allowing for football which kicked off on Wednesday) and with Nigeria not part of the football event (both male and female), we still have cause for some optimism with a number of our athletes hitting the right form at the right time.
Unfortunately while this can not be said to be true of the men (especially in track and field), in Blessing Okagbare and Ajoke Odumosu we do have two stand out women who can do the nation proud in London.
Okagbare, who is the Assistant Team Nigeria Captain, was one of the few athletes who did the nation proud at the last Games in Beijing when she won a bronze medal in the long jump, which incidentally was her first outing at the Olympics.
Just last Friday at the Monaco Diamond League, Okagbare dusted American duo of Tiana Madisson and Jeneba Tarmoh to win the top spot in 10.96secs.
Earlier at the Aviva Diamond League a fortnight ago, Okagbare upstaged both world champion, Carmelita Jeter and Olympic champion, Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce to win.
She dipped under the 11secs for the first time (10.99) at the London race to give the impression that Nigeria may not be far from the podium in the event.
On her part, Odumosu powered to victory over 400m at the Spitzenleicht athletics Meet in Lucerne, Switzerland in 55.12 seconds, which is not a bad time by any imagination. With a personal best this year of 54.75s anything better and Odomosu should be a candidate for the 400m final where as we know anything can happen.
Of course while we can argue that the Grand Prix is not the same as the Olympics, the fact that she has been showing improved times means she cannot be ruled out of the equation when the women’s 100m final will be run on Saturday, August 5.
Even Team Nigeria captain, Chika Chukwumerije is a prospective medal winner for the country.
The 28-year-old son of Senator Uche Chukwumerije, who will be attending his third Olympiad after representing the country at both the 2004 and 2008 games in Athens and Beijing, battled his way to a bronze medal in the +80kg class of the taekwondo event in China four years ago.
However, the Algiers 2007 All Africa Games gold medallist, faces a difficult road to the podium as he has to fight his way through a qualifying round that sees him take on world number three ranked fighter, Korean Dong Min Chan, who won the gold of the weight category at the last Games in Beijing, world number four and five Canadian Francois Coulombe-Fortier and Robelis Despaigne Sauguet of Cuba.
Nevertheless besides the individual events, we also have a decent shout in the relays and weightlifting where we have been traditionally strong .
But while funding has been a major hindrance to proper preparations for London 2012 (which unfortunately has traditionally been the problem with our preparations for previous events), the Sports Ministry still tried its best to make the best out of a bad situation by getting some of the best hands possible to tinker the national teams while they also embarked on ‘crash’ overseas build up trips.
But perhaps the most stand out decision taken under the watch of the current Sports Minister, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi is banning official government delegation to London 2012.
Under previous ministers the ‘government delegation’ had been seen as an opportunity to ‘reward’ their friends, relations, cronies, politicians and even some journalists to ‘enjoy’ government’s largess.
As things stand, a 116-man strong contingent is in London made up of 55 athletes, 12 coaches, 29 administrative officials and nine medical personnel. Also in the British capital are five contingent and six secretariat officials.
Nigeria will be taking part in eight events, namely: athletics, basketball, boxing, canoeing, table tennis, taekwondo, weightlifting and wrestling.One only hopes that ‘Team Nigeria’ will be able to improve upon our last outing in Beijing where we returned with eight medals of which only one was silver (men’s football).
At the end of the day though, at least for the next two weeks we will be able to join the rest of the world in enjoying some high octane sporting events courtesy of the world’s top athletes; while forgetting our woes at home.