After two weeks of drama, emotion, highs and lows, the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will climax on Sunday.
The delayed Games branded as the ‘strangest’ in history has had its fair share of drama on and off the sport’s arena. Team Nigeria is no exception but in the middle of all the distractions, Nigeria made remarkable progress in Tokyo Games.
Team Nigeria bagged two medals, a silver and a bronze, placing her 68th out of the 205 participating countries at the Tokyo 2020 and 4th among 54 African countries that compete in various events.
The silver and bronze medals won by Blessing Oborududu and Ese Brume in wrestling and long jump events respectively placed Nigeria in that position. But with many medals still up for grabs going into the final day of competition, Team Nigeria may still drop further in the rankings.
The Team Nigeria’s chance of improving on her ranking was dashed on Wednesday as medal hopeful, Odunayo Adekuoroye, lost by a pin fall in the women’s freestyle wrestling 57kg category. She was leading Anastasia Nichita of Moldova 8-0 with just minutes away from picking the remaining two points when the unexpected happened. It was sad seeing Adekuruoye trapped in a pin that ended her dream of winning a medal at the Tokyo Games.
The Ese Brume’s bronze medal was Nigeria’s first medal in long jump at the Olympics, 25 years after Chioma Ajunwa won gold in Atlanta 1996 just as Oborodudu’s silver medal victory in 68kg women wrestling was the country’s first Olympic medal ever in the history of the sport.
Nigeria’s performance at the Tokyo Games aside bettered the country’s record at the London 2012 Olympics with zero medal and the Rio 2016 Olympics with one bronze medal respectively, shows that there is much to hope for in the future as most of the athletes are young.
The Nigerian Olympians made a record five finals at the Tokyo Games and set several new personal best PBs records in Athletics with 21-year-old Enoch Adegoke emerged the third Nigerian to get to the finals of the Men’s 100m event and the first 100m Olympic finalist since 1996, clocking 10.00s in heat 2 of men’s 100m semis, 25 years after Davidson Ezinwa achieved the feat at Atlanta ‘96.
As the minister for youth and sports development, Sunday Dare, said, “Most of our athletes are young and debutants – experiencing the Olympics for the first time. They remain committed patriots who gave their all and I have nothing but pride for their tenacity and commitment to deliver smiles to the faces of Nigerians. We have started building a new generation of Young Nigerian athletes. There is much hope.” #Olympics2020.
Ex-international Chikelue Iloenyosi is one of those who believe Team Nigeria have done well, given the nation’s performance at the Tokyo games.
Iloenyosi, who spoke to newstap.com.ng, said anybody who wants to do an objective assessment of Team Nigeria’s performance would not be calling for the sports minister’s head since in his words…”so many factors come into play when you go into a competition such as the Olympics.”
Iloenyosi said he is happy that first and foremost the country did better in Tokyo than the two previous outings in London and Rio, adding that with some element of luck on the country’s side it could have been talking about returning from Tokyo with at least two gold medals.
“I’m not holding forth for the minister or anybody for that matter, but for me, we have not done badly in Tokyo. Winning a silver and a bronze was better than London and Rio. Beyond that, that element of luck which is part of sports was not on our side in Tokyo. If not, we would have been talking about Odunayo Adekuroye winning a medal, Blessing Okagbare winning a medal and even Adegoke and Divine Oduduru. We all saw how Adekuroye lost out, how Oduduru lost out in the 100m and how Okagbare surprisingly failed a drug test…tell me if the minister could have done anything about all these shortcomings. I agree that there are areas where we fell short, but let’s also know that there are areas we did well.
“D’Tigers and D’Tigress may not have done well, but let’s not forget that qualifying the two teams for the Olympics is a huge achievement. The little girl in Taekwondo Anyanacho is an athlete that would be good for a medal at the Paris games. So, for me, rather than bicker over our showing in Tokyo, we should begin immediately to prepare for Paris 2024.
“If the former sports minister, Solomon Dalung had gotten things right after the Rio games, we would probably have done better in Tokyo. Dare has taken some good steps that would make our sports better moving forward…what we need now is to consolidate on them.”
Joshua Caleb Kolawole, a sports fan, who spoke to LEADERSHIP weekend, believed Team Nigeria’s athletes performed well due to the realities on ground.
“For me, the athletes tried their best but as always, it wasn’t good enough because they had to compete with the best of the bests from all across the world. What team Nigeria lacked and probably would always lack is ample preparation and infrastructure to help them optimize their skills and potential. And for as many of them that were disqualified, they need to do better and exercise a high level of discipline so that this scenario would not repeat itself,” Kolawole stated.
But for Odunayo Popoola, the disqualification of ten Nigerian athletes and suspension of Blessing Okagbare affected the Team’s performance psychologically. “We were all hoping that Blessing Okagbare and Odunayo Adekuoroye would have won medals for us but the suspension of Okagbare and the pitfall for Adekuoroye was a major blow for us not winning more medals at the Olympics. The athletes did their best despite all the distractions and psychological trauma they went through at the games.
“The preparations ahead of the Olympic and the welfare of our athletes played a major role in Nigeria outing at the Olympic, the sports ministry and corporate organisation must ensure that the athletes are prepared well before going for future Olympics,” Popoola said.
Also speaking to LEADERSHIP Weekend, a sports enthusiast Aminu Yusuf said “The issues in the AFN were to blame for the misfortune recorded in Team Nigeria’s camp in Tokyo, they need to put their house in order for the good of the athletes and development of the sport in Nigeria”.
While some Nigerians have also scored Team Nigeria’s performance at the Tokyo Olympic Games low, the combination has generated mixed feelings about the country outing.
Meanwhile, all athletes have been asked to leave Tokyo within 48 hours of completing their sports to minimize the risk of infection and the spread of the virus among the local population. It means a smaller number of athletes will be around to enjoy the closing ceremony on Sunday.