Maryam Usman: It’s Time for Change in Nigerian Sports

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Duro Ikhazuagbe in Rio

After a post-mortem of her outing here at the 31st Olympic Games ending friday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Nigeria’s female weightlifting star, Maryam Usman, is thinking of calling it a day in the sport that she loves with passion.

Maryam who competed in the 75+ category finished 9th overall at the Rio2016. Her performance was a far cry from London 2012 when she narrowly missed the bronze medal because of an injured wrist in the clean and jerk.
Speaking with THISDAY on Tuesday night at the sprawling Games Village which housed over 10,000 athletes from all over the globe, Kaduna-born lifter Maryam insisted that she cannot go on like this without a medal to show for her efforts at the Games. The outing in Brazil was her third try to get an Olympic medal.

Specifically, Maryam believes that she, just like the rest Team Nigeria athletes did not have the type of grooming needed to get podium placements.

“We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. If our sports authorities want Nigerian athletes to begin to win like the rest athletes from around the world, we must begin to do things differently to get the type of results others are getting,” stressed the lifter in an emotion laden voice.

The three-time Olympian who is a member of the board of the Nigeria Weightlifting Federation (NWF) revealed that she was really determined to make an impact here in Brazil. “It hurts a lot when you know that you have the capacity to do better but because certain things are not right in our preparations for the Games, one then fails to meet set target.”

“I don’t want to sound as if I am giving excuses for my inability to make the podium. What I am saying is that we should not go to the next Games in four years time in Tokyo, Japan and also be in this same state of poor outing. I am appealing to whoever will be in-charge of Nigeria sports not allow things again turn lout like this. There should be better preparations, more encouragement for Nigerian athletes. Those other athletes (from other countries) that we competed against had everything as in everything to succeed. It just does not make sense to expect good result from Nigerian athletes who are competing with those who have been preparing in the last three years. We Nigerian athletes are just competing with tears and blood. It is through sheer personal determination to succeed that is driving Nigerian athletes. It just does not add up like that,” she said as a matter of fact.

The 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medalist insisted that the girl that won the bronze was her training partner in the United States of America whose preparation was boosted by her country. “But her country took her out of USA to somewhere else to fine tune her preparation for the Olympic Games. She got all the preparation she needed before coming here for the Games. That prepared her for the podium. I got little or nothing.”

Just like every top athlete in the world, Maryam said that an Olympic medal is the ultimate and would have loved to have one around her neck to show for her efforts. “I have won a couple of medals in several competitions but I yearn for an Olympic medal. It is the ultimate reward an athlete can get to show that one got to the peak of sport. And so it really hurts when one cannot get to the podium to receive an Olympic medal. Hurts real good.”

Asked if she is still going to compete for Nigeria at subsequent competitions before calling it a day with weightlifting, Maryam gave one condition. “The only thing that can encourage me to want to come back for another Olympic is to be adequately prepared. I need at least between two and half years and three years preparation to be sure that I can be among the top three of my sport to get medal. The Olympic is huge and the ultimate that every athlete from around the world want to excel in. We most Africans are usually seen as not capable of defeating our counterparts from other continents but from my experience I have come to realize that with better preparation, we even as Nigerians can do better than anybody because we have the natural talent.

Maryam did not mince word to conclude that Team Nigeria’s preparation for Rio2016 is the worst since she has been competing in the sport for the country.

But against the general notion that Nigerian athletes perform better with little or no training, Maryam was emphatic is stating she shares no such opinions. “I disagree with such sentiments. People have been training for four years and you cannot just come with your one and half months training hoping to beat those people. It is not possible. Why are other countries doing adequate preparation if such was not necessary? It has never been this bad. Yes we did not win any medal in London four years ago but I was close to getting a bronze before my wrist injury. We had some quality pre-Olympic training which put us in vantage position. But here, one or two months was certainly not enough to get us the desired results.”