OUR HOPE BEARERS IN TOKYO


Nigeria had participated in all the Olympic Games since 1952 except for the boycotted 1976 summer

Montreal Olympics in Canada. Altogether, Nigeria  has won 25 medals, mostly in athletics and boxing. In Tokyo, a contingent of 52 athletes made up of 23 men and 29 women will be hoping to increase the country’s medal haul at the quadrennial games. OLALEKAN OKUSAN and OLUWAMAYOMIKUN OREKOYA profile Team Nigeria’s hope bearers in the Far East.

 

Nigeria will be making her 17th  appearance at the Olympic Games when the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 begins on July 23 with 52 athletes wearing the country’s  colours at the biggest sporting event in the world.

An Olympic Games in Tokyo suffered a setback for the second time in its history after the global outbreak coronavirus pandemic.  It worth recalling that Tokyo  was unable to host the word  after it had been awarded the organization of the 1940 Summer Olympics, but this honour was subsequently passed to Helsinki due to Japan’s invasion of China, before ultimately being cancelled due to World War II.

This time after several going back and forth, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) with the Local Organising Committee (LOC) finally summoned the courage to call out all of the games in the beautiful city of Tokyo.

Already, athletes from various countries have started arriving in Tokyo for the games while the first batch of the Team Nigeria contingent left the country on July 6 with the second batch joining on July 13.

 

Athletics ready to erase Rio memory

Majority of the medals won by Nigeria at the Olympic Games come from athletics and again, the team representing Nigeria in Tokyo is ready to erase the memory of Rio 2016 where the team returned empty-handed.

With the presence of experienced Blessing Okagbare, the team is poised to put Nigeria on the world map in Tokyo. In the men’s event, the team has Oduduru Divine – 100m & 200m; Adegoke Enoch – 100m; Usheoritse Itsekiri – 100m, and Enekwechi Chukwuebuka – shot put.

 The women’s team is led by Okagbare – 100m & 200m, 4 x 100m relay; Grace Nwokocha – 100m & 200m, 4 x 100m relay; Amusan Tobi – 100m hurdles; Ofili Favour – 200m, 4 x 100m relay; Ruth Usoro – long & triple jumps and Ese Brume – long jump. Others are Echikunwoke Annette – hammer throw; George Patience – 400m, 4 x 400m mixed relay; Chukwuma Rosemary – 100m, 4 x 100m relay and Onyekwere Chioma – discus throw.

The mixed relay 4 x 400 relay team is made up of Uko Imaobong Nse, Nathaniel Samson, Okezie Chidi and George Patience.

But  Falilat Ogunkoya, the  1996 Olympic Games medallist, believes Okagbare, Amusan and Brume are

“We have a good chance, Blessing is running very well, Tobi too, Ese is also doing very well and I hope they will do well at the Olympics,” the former quarter-miler told NationSport.    “Olympics is a different thing entirely, once an athlete gets to the final in their event, any of them can win the gold and the three of them will make it to the finals.”

 

 Wrestling to wriggle through

Elsewhere, wrestling is in a vantage position for a podium finish with five Tokyo-bound wrestling cast of Odunayo Adekuoroye (57kg), Blessing Oborududu (68kg), Aminat Adeniyi (62kg), Adijat Idris (50kg) and Ekerekeme Agiomor (86kg) being  considered potential medallists based on their track records at continental events.

“For me, my assessment is that the ladies are in a good environment. The nutrition is well-planned, and we are following the things on our plan, and they are all in good shape. I am very happy that they are all in good shape, avoiding injuries. So, we are good for now,” national wresting teams coach Purity Akuh said.

The five wrestlers (four females and one male), will be hoping to make history for Nigeria in Tokyo by winning medals at the Games as no Nigerian wrestler has won an Olympic medal.

Nigeria is indeed pinning hopes on Adekuoroye as the women’s competition at the pre-Olympic tournament Poland Open, produced its share of upsets, with Adekuoroye claiming a major victory in the 57kg division. She beat reigning Olympic champion Helen Maroulis of the United States.

Adekuoroye was in dominant form with a 13-0 win over Maroulis in the quarterfinal, where her scoring included two four-point throws and two takedowns.

The rising Nigerian star continued her run, beating Olympic runner-up Valeria Koblova of Russia without conceding a point in the semi-final. Adekuoroye claimed the gold medal after Belarusian Iryna Kurachkina forfeited.

Already, Adekuoroye and Oborududu have been seeded number two in their various weight categories ahead of the start of the wrestling event in Tokyo.

 

Table tennis with tantalising offers

Nigeria has never had it so good in table tennis until Rio 2016 when Quadri Aruna stunned some of the world’s best players to reach the quarterfinal of the men’s singles to become  the first Nigerian and African to achieve such a feat.

Since Aruna’s feat in Rio, the Nigerian has become a threat  at major international championships ahead of the Olympic Games. The highest-ranked African will be making his third appearance at the games alongside  compatriot and debutant Olajide Omotayo whose emerged  continental champion at 2019 African Games in Rabat, Morocco.

Meanwhile,  Olufunke Oshonaike will also be etching her name in the annals of history in Tokyo as the first female table tennis player and first African athlete in any sport to compete in seven Olympic Games.

The former African champion has featured in all the Olympic Games since making her debut at Atlanta 1996 in the United States. Oshonaike will be joined in the women’s singles by compatriot Edem Offiong.

 

Testing time for canoeing, rowing

For the second time, Nigeria will be represented in both the canoeing and rowing events at the Tokyo Games.

The  19 year-old Ayomide Bello became the first female canoeist from Nigeria to qualify for the Olympics after winning the C1 200 event at Africa’s Tokyo 2020 qualifiers in Morocco in 2019. She also won gold in the C2 women’s final with her partner at the event in Rabat.

In 2018, Ayomide Bello competed at the Youth Olympics in Argentina and competed in four events: the girls’ C1 sprint, girls’ C1 slalom, girls’ K1 sprint and girls’ K1 slalom.

Ayomide is from Arogbo town in Ondo state and attended Adekunle Anglican Primary School Makoko before proceeding to Wesley Girls Secondary School Yaba but had to drop out of school after the death of her father to support her mother with the family fishing business and also work part-time as a hairdresser. She was first discovered at the 2017 National Youth Games in Ilorin first as a swimmer before crossing over to professional canoeing. She has represented Nigeria at various international competitions and was ranked 8th  in the world at the 2018 Youth Olympics Games in Argentina.

Nigeria’s only previous Olympic canoeist is British-born Jonathan Akinyemi, 30, who competed at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games.

 Meanwhile,   Esther Toko will become the first home-based and second female rower to fly the colours of Nigeria at the Olympics after American-born Chierika Ukogu represented Nigeria at the 2016 Games in Rio, Brazil where she reached the quarterfinals.

Also from the same town- Arogbo- as Ayomide, the 21-year-old  qualified to compete in the single sculls after coming third in the B-final at the 13th African Rowing Championships, the African Olympic and Paralympic Qualification Regatta in Tunisia in 2019.

Alongside her partner and Team Nigeria captain, Michael Moses, she won individual bronze in the coastal rowing event at the first-ever African Beach Games in Cape Verde in 2019. They also won silver in the mixed team event.

She won a silver and bronze medal at the Africa Coastal Rowing, Cape Verde in 2019; a silver medal at the West African Rowing Regatta, Cote D’Ivoire in 2018 and a gold and two bronze medals at Canoe Sprint African Championship in Morocco in 2015. She was also at the 2015 World Rowing Championships in France.

 

D’Tigers, D’Tigress ahoy in Basketball

All eyes will turn to basketball where both the Men (D’Tigers) and Women  (D’Tigress) will lock horns with the best of the world.

The D’Tigers have come a long way since they were thrashed by the U.S. at the London 2012 Olympics. The team recorded a 90-87 victory over the same US last weekend, showing the progress of the team over the years. The win was followed up with a 94-71 win over Argentina, who are ranked the 4th best team in the world, before crashing back to earth with a 55-97 defeat to Australia.

The pre-Olympic exhibition game win marks a huge turnaround for the Nigerians, who were beaten by a record score of 156-73 by an American team at the London 2012 Olympics.

Following this last weekend’s result, a first win for the Africans, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo was clear: “Nigeria has come a long way with their basketball.”

Yet, one of the key factors behind D’Tigers recent success has been the hiring of Mike Brown.

The 51-year-old American combines the role with being the Associate Head Coach at the Golden State Warriors in the NBA, having been named coach of the year in 2009.

This success in the NBA ensured he was able to track and convince Nigeria-born basketball players in the league to switch allegiance and play for their native country.

Nigeria has eight NBA players on their current 16-man roster for their Olympic training camp including  Detroit Pistons’ Jahlil Okafor; other NBA stars include Precious Achiuwa, Gabe Vincent, KZ Okpala (all with Miami Heat); Miye Oni (Utah Jazz); Jordan Nwora (Milwaukee Bucks), Chimezie Metu (Sacramento Kings and Josh Okogie (Minnesota Timberwolves). But the roster will be reduced to 12 prior to the start of the Games.

Though  Nigeria is  ranked 22 in the world, Mike Brown said  his team was going to the Olympics ‘to try and win’  as  D’Tigers face Australia, Germany and Italy.

“We’re not there [Tokyo] just to represent Nigeria, or Africa, or the black people of the world – we’re going there to try and win,” Brown said in a recent interview with Olympics.com. “I am doing things to put us in a position to try and have that podium finish come Olympic time, which is very exciting for myself and everybody else involved.”

 After making its debut in Athens 2004, The D’Tigress have won back-to-back International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Women’s AfroBasket titles are on their way to qualifying for Tokyo 2020.

Nigeria’s women’s team won its first FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup match in 2018 and went on to qualify for the Games with a win against Mozambique after twice coming close to defeating top nations the United States and Serbia.

Since August 2017, the team has been undefeated in Africa starting with a defeat of Mozambique and after going into the 2017 AfroBasket tournament as 42nd  in the world, they have since risen to 14th in less than three years.

Coached by American Otis Hughley Jr, the four-times AfroBasket Women champions will hope that Nneka Ogwumike, 2016 WNBA MVP who was left off the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball roster will play for them at the Tokyo Games.

Nigeria’s basketball federation announced last week that Ogwumike, who reportedly has dual citizenship, is among 15 finalists for the 12-woman roster, along with sisters Chiney and Erica.

Ogwumike is not yet eligible to play for Nigeria but is hoping for clearance from FIBA, basketball’s international governing body before the Games after making an appeal.

“I just wanted to bet on myself and also be a part of an organization that prioritizes me,” Ogwumike told ESPN.com. “My perspective was like, ‘If it’s not impossible, I’m going to go for it.’ Because I believe I have Olympic status and I plan on being an Olympian.”

 The 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup quarter-finalists are in a tough group after being  drawn  against  eight-time Olympic gold medallist and the most successful team in women’s Basketball USA as we as France and Japan.

 

Debuting  Eke to make hay  in gymnastics

Uche Devon Eke will be the first artistic gymnast to represent Nigeria at the Olympic Games.

His journey to the Olympics started from the African Games in 2019 where he won a gold and also a bronze medal. His all-around bronze medal at the Games earned him a continental quota spot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games as the first Nigerian gymnast to participate in the Olympic Games.

Eke’s first appearance on the global stage was at the 49th  FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany in 2019, where he participated in three events and got his best rank of 102nd in the pommel horse.

Born August 12, 1997, in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Eke grew up in nearby Brookeville, Maryland. His mother, Tara, is from New Orleans, and his father, Daniel, is from Nigeria. Eke’s maiden outing for Nigeria was in August 2017 and in 2021, he has become the country’s most decorated gymnast.

In his debut for Nigeria, Eke won a gold medal in South Africa, and in 2019 in Rabat, Morocco, he secured Nigeria’s first African Games gold medal in gymnastics.

 

Badminton in shape for battle

The trio of Dorcas Adesokan, Godwin Olufua and Anuoluwapo Opeyori will don the colours of Nigeria in badminton and they are poised to show their class as Africa superstars having dominated the continent in the sport.

Adesokan, who is African champion, will compete in the singles while the duo of Olufua and Opeyori as African champion will slug it out in the men’s doubles of the event in Tokyo. Having done the necessary build-up to the games, the trio can show the world what they are capable of on the court.

 

Taekwondo on lonely turf

For the first time in the last 16 years, Nigeria will be represented in the women’s taekwondo event of the Olympic Games.

Debutant and African vice-champion in the 67kg, 21-year-old Elizabeth Anyanacho will want to follow the footstep of his mentor Chika Chukwumerije in Tokyo where she is the first Nigerian taekwondo athlete to qualify for the Olympics in 16 years.

 It has been a remarkable breakthrough for Anyanacho only began ‘practicing kicks’ five years ago.

Nigeria’s first ever women  taekwondo Olympian Princess Dudu was manoeuvring around the Olympic mats at Athens 2004 while  five-year-old Anyanacho was enjoying one of her favourite martial-art-fuelled movies at her home in Abuja.

Standing 6-foot-3 (1.9m), the national under-67kg champion has competed in 13 tournaments, winning eight of them and finishing twice in second and three times in third place. All these events formed part of the road that led her to Tokyo.

The 2019 African Games bronze medallist took a major leap in her career at the Olympic qualifiers in Morocco where she humbled Rio 2016 Olympian Urgence Mouega of Gabon.

Time will tell if Anyanacho can prove bookmakers wrong with her performance in Tokyo.

 

 

 

Nigeria’s Olympic Games Medals Haul

Sport                     Gold      Silver    Bronze  Total

Athletics             2              5              6              13

Football               1              1              1              3

Boxing                 0              3              3              6

Weightlifting     0              1              1              2

Taekwondo       0              0              1              1

Totals                    3              10           12           25



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