The Olympics has finally commenced and the destination, Tokyo-Japan. After being postponed for over 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic that has taken the world by storm, it will be the first time the global sporting event will be held in near empty stadia and arena. Apparently, however, this didn’t dampen the Olympic spirit. The organizers put up an unforgettable display during the opening ceremony worthy of such a global sporting event.
During the parade of Nations, Nigeria was led by the flag bearer Odunayo Adekuoroye and Captain Aruna Quadri, as Team Nigeria athletes proudly waved the country’s flag as they paraded the ceremony majestically. Sixty athletes will represent Nigeria at the Games across 10 sports that include: athletics, basketball, badminton, canoe, gymnastics, table tennis, swimming, rowing, wrestling and taekwondo.
The highlight, for me, during the parade of Nations was when the Refugee Olympic team entered the stadium waving the Olympic flag. They consisted of 29 athletes from 11 countries around the world. Their participation is bringing global attention to the magnitude of the refugee crisis currently plaguing the world. It was heartwarming to see that despite being refugees due to conflicts in their home countries, they can at least take part in the games and showcase their talents and capabilities.
The opening ceremony concluded with the storied tradition of lighting the Olympic flame at the Olympic Stadium. Tennis star Naomi Osaka – who was born in Japan and is participating for her home country at the Games – had the honor of lighting the cauldron with the Olympic flame, which signaled the start of the Tokyo Olympics.
This famed tradition always brings back fond memories prominent of which was the cauldron lighting at the 1996 Olympics, held in Atlanta, the United States. The iconic image of the late great hero, Muhammed Ali, remains one of the most indelible and stirring images of the Olympics. Suffering then from Parkinson’s disease, I held my breath as the boxing gold medalist in the 1960 Games in Rome visibly struggled to light the flame. The poignant moment shook up the world and remains one of the most inspiring and emotional moments in Olympic history.
Lighting the cauldron at the 1992 summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain was also an anxious filled nail biting moment. Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo shot a fire-tipped arrow (which had been dipped in the Olympic flame) over the cauldron to light it to get the Games started. While this auspicious moment lasted for a few seconds, those seconds were so crucial that the attendant who handed him his bow was shaking so nervously that he appeared to be fluttering in the wind.
Having spent a considerable number of years in the UK, an avid reader of Ian Fleming’s “James Bond” novels as well as a fan of the “OO7” movies, the 2012 Olympics in London is also on my list of most memorable. In, perhaps, a cheeky moment, the Queen along with Daniel Craig (as James Bond) seemed to parachute down from a helicopter above the Olympic Stadium with the famous Bond tune blaring in the background. Then as if by magic, the Queen appeared in the stands to the cheers of the crowd in the stadium.
For many Nigerians, the 1996 Atlanta games, where Nigeria earned her first gold medal and a total of six medals – two gold, one silver and three bronze medals, was perhaps the country’s best Olympics performance to date. Chioma Ajunwa’s 7.12 meters historic jump at the long jump event earned Nigeria’s first Olympic gold medal in a track and field event. She also made history by becoming the first West African woman to win gold in a track and field event.
At the games also, the self-styled “Dream Team” blazed a trail and shocked the world by storming to victory. The sensational semi- final match against Brazil, which went into extra time and was decided by the infamous golden goal rule scored by Nwankwo Kanu, shot Nigeria into the finals with Argentina. The final match was also a memorable fiesta and a 2-1 victory finally gave us the gold medal in the football event, which has entered into folklore and spawned a thousand songs of adulation.
Ever since, Nigeria has struggled to exceed or even match the performance of team Nigeria at the Atlanta 96 Olympics, performing somewhat lackadaisically since then. In fact, the last Olympic in Rio, Brazil, we only won a bronze medal in the football event. The Olympics before Rio, in London, we won no medal unlike the 2008 games in Beijing, were we won three silver and two bronze medals.
With our vibrant youth population we should be performing reasonably well at the Olympics and other sporting events. We ought to emulate and surpass the likes of our previous Olympians who have earned the country several laurels at sporting events over the years. The feats of Mary Onyeali, Sunday Bada, Falilat Ogunkoya, Gloria Alozie, Olusoji Fasuba, among others are Nigerian sporting legends worthy of emulating.
Catch-them-young program that helps to seek, find and harness young talents seems to be non-existent across the country. Such programs are vital in identifying and developing young talents that can compete with their peers at international meets. Sporting facilities as well as infrastructure should also be situated in every state or geo-political zones across the country. This will afford our homegrown athletes facilities for training.
Looking on the bright side, team Nigeria has since arrived Tokyo for the games with the hope of winning laurels for themselves and country. Already, some sports pundits have identified medal hopefuls to include Odunayo Adekuoroye. She is the reigning commonwealth wrestling champion. Blessing Okagbare is another of such hopefuls. This will be her 4th Olympics. She is one of the country’s prospects in the 100m sprint.
The men’s basketball team, D’Tigers qualified for the Olympics as the highest-ranked African team. During warm-up games for the Olympics, they defeated team USA, the highest ranked basketball team in the world. It is expected that the team will win a medal in the basketball event. In weightlifting also, there are hopes that the Nigerian representatives will do us proud in the event.
In track and field, our twin hopeful’s rests on two women, Blessing Okagbare and Tobi Amusan, in the 100m, 200m, and 100m hurdles. Another podium hopeful is Elizabeth Anyanancho, in the taekwondo event. Nigeria’s record at all her Olympics appearances is three gold medals, ten silver medals, and twelve bronze medals. I hope and pray the current Team Nigeria adds to this collection in Tokyo and place the country on the pedestal of Olympic greats.
While I shall be obviously rooting for Team Nigeria, I will also be looking out for my “girls,” as I fondly call them. Simon Biles, the American gymnast is one of them. She is the most decorated American gymnast and is widely considered to be one of the greatest and most dominant athletes of all time. The Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka is also one of my favorites. She is the reigning champion at the US and Australian Open.
Here’s to wishing great success to Team Nigeria as they make our nation proud and give it their all in Olympics 2020.