Despite the continuous protests in Japan against going ahead with the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in the midst of rising cases of the resurgent COVID-19 pandemic, the whole world is already fist and focus is being shift to Tokyo for the global sporting showpiece due to start on Friday, July 23 and run until August 8, 2021.
Without the usual throng of international sports tourists, and an absence of local fans at most venues, Tokyo 2020 Games is going to be the oddest Olympic Games ever.
Once seen as an opportunity for Japan to shine on a global stage after a devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster over the past decade, the Games were postponed last year due to the pandemic and have been hit by stoking fears that an influx of thousands of athletes and officials will fuel more infections much so that most Japan’s population is still not vaccinated against COVID-19.
However, once the Games kick off, the frenzy for medals on offer will completely overtake the fear of the virus and Corona’ will be consigned to the background of conversations as witnessed at the just concluded Euro 2020 and Copa America Championships.
The Tokyo Olympics, which is the 32nd edition of the games, will see an estimated 11, 091 athletes from 206 countries jostling for 339 medals in 33 sporting events and 50 disciplines. Nigeria is one of the competing countries and will be represented with 58 athletes and 18 coaches in nine sports.
Team Nigeria’s first participation in Olympic Games was 1952, and has sent athletes to compete in every edition of Games since then, except for the boycotted 1976 Summer Olympics.
In all, Team Nigeria has participated in 16 Olympic Games, and won a total of 25 medals, comprising three gold, 10 silver and 12 bronze medals. Two of the three gold medals came in 1996, when long jumper Chioma Ajunwa and Kanu Nwankwo-led Dream Team (U23 football team) became Olympic Champions. The third gold medal was announced in 2008 following the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s decision to strip the American 4 × 400m men relay team of their medals from ‘Sydney 2000 ‘after Antonio Pettigrew confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs, and their Nigerian rivals were awarded the medal.
But ever than before, Team Nigeria’s mission to Tokyo Olympics is encouraged by the superlative performances of some of the nation’s top athletes in pre-Olympics trials and championships as well as astonish displayed by the men basketball team, D’Tigers against USA, Argentina before losing to Australia which have given hope to start dream big, and to see the faint possibilities of a haul of medals as being touted by the Nigeria’s sports managers.
The minister of youth and sports development, Mr Sunday Dare, is confident that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be quite eventful for Team Nigeria, saying everything has been done to motivate the athletes to excel.
According to him, Team Nigeria’s athletes to the Tokyo 2020 Games are being powered through Public Private Partnership initiative.
“I want to assure you that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is going to be different because we have seen through our public private partnership our Athletes been adopted and supported both financially and their welfare has been taken care of. That is how we have excellent performances. We want to surpass the feat of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in Tokyo,” Dare boosted.
On the safety of the athletes due to the current spike of COVID-19 pandemic in Japan, Dare said; “There is a Nigerian Olympics Committee just like every country has an Olympics Committee. This Ministry and the government have been working closely with the IOC, NOC and the Japanese government through the Japanese Ambassador. We do know that there is an IOC guideline and book on COVID-19 and we are keyed to that to ensure the safety of our athletes,” he assured.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo while handing over the country’s contingent to Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) at the State House, urged the athletes to put in their best as they represent the hopes and aspirations of millions of Nigerians.
The vice president told the athletes that their performance at the tournament would be an opportunity to immortalise themselves.
“I am delighted to welcome here today the very best of the best Nigerian Athletes.; the great Nigerian team to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics; 58 outstanding athletes and 18 world-class coaches.
“When the Games begin on July 23, you will, as Team Nigeria, be joining other athletes from over 210 countries and territories of the world in the biggest and the most spectacular sporting event on the planet – the Olympic Games.
“Every one of you participating in the games is opening a page in history for yourself, your families, your community, and the nation. Your performance at the games will inscribe your names in national and world sporting history; you carry the hopes and aspirations of millions as you compete in Tokyo.
“But you will in this endeavor have the assurance of the prayers and best wishes of all Nigerians,” Osinbajo stated.
He implored the team to be motivated by the great exploits of former Nigerian Olympians.
However, with only a few days to kick start the most spectacular sporting event on the planet, the question on many lips is ‘how realistic are Team Nigeria’s chances for medals hunt in Tokyo?’
The Ministry of Sports, without much questions, has worked hard and done very well to prepare Team Nigerian athletes for the Games and hope is rising on a daily basis suggesting that Nigeria men and women look sharp and ready to rub shoulders with the world’s best.
Across the sport lines, hopes are high – the two basketball teams, male and female, present an interesting and formidable challenge for any opposing team at the Games, and it wouldn’t be a shock if any of the two teams make it to the podium if their recent performances are anything to bank on.
The wrestling teams, inspired by the performance of Odunayo Adekuoroye, ranked number one in the world now in her weight category, look set to shock the world and bring home medals.
The table tennis, with its duo of Quadri Aruna and Olajide Omotayo presents an interesting prospect, not ruling out Funke Oshonaike, who will be participating in her seventh Olympics, experience cannot be easily whisk away. Aruna, ranked 18th in the world, attending his third Olympic Games, is in the zone where anything is possible having made it to the quarterfinal at the last Olympics in Rio.
Omotayo, After playing for over six years in the Italian Table Tennis Super League, Omotayo recently signed a one-year deal to join the French Pro A team, PPC Villeneuve, for the 2021/2022 season and he is the current African Games champion following his historic defeat of his compatriot, Aruna Quadri, in the finals of the table tennis event at the 2019 African Games.
Known for his offensive playing style with a strong topspin stroke, Omotayo is one to watch out for in Tokyo as he rubs shoulders with the world’s best.
On paper, Nigeria’s best chances are in the female Track and Field events. The spirit of Nigerians was lifted following the wind-aided 10.62 seconds, 100 metres dash of Blessing Okagbare at the Nigerian trials, the best such time in the world.
Aside from that, there are a couple of newbies in Team Nigeria who will be initiated into the Olympic family in Tokyo and also stand a chance to shock the world.
Favour Ofili is among the youngest Nigerians to take part in the Olympics and she looks good for a medal despite her tender years. The Louisiana State University undergraduate has given plenty of reasons to be optimistic of a good show in her debut appearance.
Eke Uche will be the first Artistic Gymnast to represent Nigeria at the Olympic Games. He started the journey to the Olympics from the African Games in 2019 where he won a gold and also a bronze medal.
Now 23, Eke has been doing gymnastics since he was four, so it has been part of his life. A graduate with honours in Computer Science Engineering from the University of Michigan, Eke possesses exceptional skills that could make him the cynosure of all eyes in Tokyo.
Elizabeth Ayanacho, the 21-year-old is the first Nigerian female Taekwondo athlete to qualify for the Olympics in 16 years after Olympian Princess Dudu achieved the feat at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Despite the limitations occasioned by COVID-19 and paucity of funds, Anyanacho and her mentor, Chika Chukwumerije, have in the past months worked tirelessly for a good outing in Tokyo.
The 300 Level Statistics undergraduate of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) has fought her way to the Olympic Games with a handful of national and international laurels to her credit, including the gold at Beirut Open.
Seeded 13th in the Olympic ranking, Anyanacho will face fourth seed, Nur Tatar, from Turkey in the 67kg category in her first fight in the round of 16 on July 26.