Duro Ikhazuagbe in Rio de Janeiro
As curtain falls on the 31st Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil today, Nigeria’s last chance for medals in men’s freestyle wrestling rests on the duo of Amas Daniel (65kg) and Soso Tamara (97kg).
Team Nigeria’s five other female wrestlers all lost out of podium placement earlier in the week to leave the task of redeeming the country’s image squarely at the door steps of these Bayelsa State wrestlers.
Blessing Oborududu (63kg), Odunayo Adekuoroye (53kg), Aminat Adeniyi (58kg), Hannah Reuben (69kg) and Mercy Genesis (48kg) all lost their battles in the preliminary rounds.
The manner Oborududu lost was most painful.
After the 1-1 tie in the battle with Mongolia’s Battsetseg Soronzonbold in the 63 kg class, the Nigerian lady was ruled out of progressing on technical ground to away the fight to Soronzonbold 3-1.
But Daniel who is a three-time African champion and 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medalist could turn out the messiah Nigerians have been waiting for here.
Having narrowly missed out on qualifying for the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Bayelsa wrestler earned his Rio 2016 spot by beating Sahit Prizreni of Australian at the Africa/Oceania Olympic qualifier which took place in Algiers.
Tamara on the other hand is a gold medalist at the 2015 All Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville. He won a bronze medal at the 2016 Senior African Wrestling Championship in Alexandria, Egypt.
Like Daniel, he also qualified for Rio2016 at the Africa/Oceania Olympics qualifying tournament in Algiers where he won gold in the 97kg class.
Any medal from the mat this afternoon would more than compensate for the disappointment the ladies brought to President of the Nigeria Wrestling Federation, Daniel Igali who has done everything possible to put Nigeria on world map in the game. Igali won gold at the Sydney Games in 2000 for Canada his adopted country.
He told reporters here in Rio yesterday that he was gutted by the inability of his female wrestlers to get to podium placement.
“I would have placed a million Naira bets on these girls winning medals,” stressed Igali to buttress his confidence on the wrestlers.
However, the Nigerian wrestlers are not going to have it easy strolling to the medals. In the 65kg category for instance, Toghrul Asgarov of Azerbaijan won the men’s freestyle 60kg at London 2012 is aiming to become the first wrestler from his country to win multiple Olympic gold medals.
Yogeshwar Dutt of India who also took the bronze medal in the men’s 60kg at the London 2012 is also to battle in that category. He is also hoping to join Sushil Kumar as a second Indian multi-medalist.