Funke Oshonaike has never hidden her dream of becoming the first African female athlete to participate in seven Olympic Games, but doubts were cast over her ability to achieve the feat, more especially after her lacklustre performance at the last National Sports Festival in Abuja, where she was defeated by little known, Nimota Aregbesola. The former African champion however rose from those disappointments to book her Tokyo 2020 Olympics ticket
Nigerian Funke Oshonaike became the first African female athlete to qualify for seven Olympic Games after the former African table tennis champion penultimate Thursday secured her place in the singles event at Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, matching the number of appearances of compatriot, Segun Toriola, for an African athlete competing at the Olympic Games.
Oshonaike booked her place for the biggest sporting event after defeating Cameroon’s Sarah Hanffou 4-1 in her final group match at the ongoing Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Tunis after having earlier defeated Algeria’s Lynda Loghraibi 4-1 to set up the tie against Hanffou.
Qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics means Oshonaike is now ahead of Mozambican track legend, Maria Mutola, who she shared six appearances at the Games with.
Oshonaike had featured in six previous Olympic Games starting with Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016.
Oshonaike described her historic seventh Olympics qualification in table tennis as a dream come true.
“I’m very excited to be the first female to be going to seven Olympic Games. It wasn’t an easy task but I thank God for the achievement. I did it for Nigerian and African women,” said the veteran ping-ponger.
Oshonaike has indeed said she suffered depression but had to stand strong in order to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
In a Facebook live feed, Oshonaike expressed her joy by becoming the first African female athlete to compete in the Olympics on seven occasions in table tennis, or in other sports, combined.
“I went through depression last year. I was crying almost every day. I was heartbroken by many people. I developed high blood pressure and now I have to live with it. I was operated on two times. My left arm was even injured.
“I couldn’t play table tennis for a long time after All African Games in Morocco. I had another surgery this year in January, I cried bitterly. My name was not on Africa Top 16 list, I was very sad because I was supposed to be there for the competition. I fought but lost,” she said.
She further thanked Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, as well as some other Nigerians who came to her rescue in her time of depression.
“The same people that planned the removal of my name tried to remove me from Olympic qualification but God is greater. The Minister of Sports in Nigeria and some good people rescued me.
“I have been having sleepless nights because of these mischievous people. I have a lot to talk about but I leave it for another day.
“Tokyo 2020 here I come. 7 times Olympian. Don’t give up on your dreams,” she declared.
Oshonaike, who would be retiring after the 2020 Olympics, claimed a 4-1 victory over Algeria’s Lynda Loghraibi.
The Africa’s queen of table tennis started competing for Nigeria since early 80s and has attended six Olympic Games beginning from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
“Table tennis is something I have the passion for, so much so that over 41 years I am still playing. Sometimes, the situation of the country tends to weigh me, I think probably it is because of my German lifestyle I am used to, and over there things are quite different. But I realise that this is Nigeria and we have a way of doing things. I am hopeful that one-day things will change,” she told THISDAY.
The loss to Aregbesola left a big doubt as to whether Oshonaike still has the strength to forge ahead in the game, while many are of the opinion that she should just quit honourably.
“Maybe I will retire soon, but, right now, I’m still having fun with what I am doing. It is not giving me stress. As long as I have everything I need, then why should I stop. Many people have told me that age is telling on me but I believe age is nothing but numbers. Age is in the head and heart,” Oshonaike had said then.
For every glorious career, there is always a starting point, Oshonaike’s foray into table tennis began at her teenage years in elementary school in the streets of Shomolu, a bustling town in Lagos State. At that age of her life passion for the sports helped to water the ground for this life expedition. While in Shomolu, Oshonaike started developing this perceived potential which she describes as a ‘talent from God’ using a makeshift table and soak away slabs to play the game with her elder brother.
From there, the ship took sail to her secondary school, where she started representing the school at competitions, earning her the awards and recognition from the school principal, who recognised this budding talent and decided to propel her to greatness. This opportunity did not only launch her to limelight, but set her apart as a rare talent with promise and potentials.
“I started playing table tennis at the age of 12, during my primary school days in Shomolu and I was driven by the belief that it was a God-free given talent and the fact that my elder brother played was also an inspiration. We had a small makeshift table to play with before somebody in my street bought a table tennis board and from there a coach discovered me. Then I started representing my school, the state and the country. At the state level, I won several awards and was also recognised by the state,” she recalled.
According to her, “the journey has been wonderful for me, and I have no regret whatsoever. Table tennis has taken me everywhere and given me everything I have achieved today. Though there have been some challenges, but that is life nothing good comes easy. There have been good and bad times in my career, but I try to move on despite these ups and downs. One of the saddest moments in my career was during the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2011, when I was dropped from the team. Despite that, I did not lose faith in the team and the country; today I still represent the