Going for Gold: Team Nigeria’s Medal Hopefuls at Rio

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Demola Ojo and Olaseni Durojaiye

As the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, gets into full swing, many Nigerians will be hoping that the country’s contingent – across 10 different sports – will at least match the record attained in Atlanta 96 when the country achieved her best performance in the history of the Games. Nigeria won two gold medals at that event, the first by Chioma Ajunwa in the long jump, and the second in the men’s football competition.

Ever since the feat of the 96 football team, there has always been expectations, regardless of how impressive or otherwise the team has prepared. To this end, it should be no surprise that followers of Nigeria’s most popular sport expect the team to win a medal, especially since Nigeria won silver at the Beijing Games in 2008.

The feel-good factor is already in the air, as the men’s football team vanquished Japan 5-4 three days ago in a thrilling opening game, in spite of barely making it to Brazil from Atlanta due to administrative lapses.

Today’s game against Sweden will give a clearer picture of how far the team can go but Nigerians will be optimistic that their football team led by Chelsea’s Mikel Obi can help erase the sad memory of the London Games in 2012, when Nigeria failed to win a single medal.
Apart from football, Nigeria will compete in Athletics, Basketball, Boxing, Canoeing, Rowing, swimming, table-tennis, weightlifting and wrestling. Below are some of those Nigeria would be looking up to, to make the country proud.

Blessing Okagbare:
After posting a dismal outing at the London 2012, Okagabre has been a stand out performer at the Common Wealth Games held in Glasgow Scotland bagging two gold medals in the 100m and 200m at the track event of the competition..

Aruna Quadri:
Aruna Quadri who starts his campaign today, has been a revelation in table-tennis since 2014 when he was named best player of the year in the country. He has been enjoying a good run of form since then, becoming the continent’s number one table tennis player and leap frogging notable players in global ping pong ranking along the way. Though largely considered an outsider, he remains the country’s brightest medal hope in the sport.

Ese Brume:
The 20 year old jumped to glory at the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, where she won gold although she was unimpressive at the All Africa Games held in Brazzaville and came fifth.

Ese has recorded a personal best of 6.68 meters, a fair distance from the world record of 7.52 held by Galina Christyakova of former Soviet Union, Nigerians are looking up to her acclaimed talent and youthfulness to out-jump the tournament favourites, and cart home a medal for the country.

Odunayo Adekuoroye:
Odunayo comes highly rated and pundits have described her as very professional and immensely gifted in her chosen sport. Based in India, she is the number one female wrestler in the Indian Wrestling League. She qualified for the Olympics in stunning style during which she posted three victories over highly rated opponents.
Not new to the medals podium, she won gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and bronze at the World Wrestling Championship in 2015. Pundits who dream of the Green-White-Green flag of Nigeria fluttering from the medals podium are betting on her to make that dream reality.

Antwon Hicks:
Antwon Hicks is an American/Nigerian track and field hurdler who started his career competing for the United States before switching to Nigeria barely two years ago. He competes in the 110-meter hurdles and was the gold medallist in that event at the 2002 World Junior Championships in Athletics, the first American to do so.

A regular participant at national events in the US, he came close to Olympic selection on two occasions, coming fifth at the 2008 United States Olympic Trials and fourth at the 2012 United States Olympic Trials.

At the 2008 event he recorded his lifetime best of 13.09 seconds in the semi-finals. This time ranked him fourth in the world that year and moved him into the all-time top thirty hurdlers.

Hicks never competed on the global stage as a senior athlete, despite ranking near the top ten in the world in the period from 2008 to 2013. He was a prominent athlete on the professional track circuit, however, and won the Bislett Games during the 2009 IAAF Golden League season. He ranked seventh at the 2009 IAAF World Athletics Final.

Nigerians will be hoping he has saved his best performances for last, as he pushes to win an Olympic medal in his first Olympic Games. He set a new Nigerian national record of 13.27 secs which helped him qualify for the Rio Olympics.