ANALYSIS: Lessons for Team Nigeria from 2019 African Games

Nigeria female basketball team at the African Games
Nigeria female basketball team at the African Games

With a total of 127 medals, 46 of which were gold, Nigeria finished second in the overall medals’ table at the just concluded 12th African Games in Morocco.

For many, Team Nigeria athletes deserve all the accolades they can get having done well enough under the condition they found themselves.

Despite knowing that a competition of this magnitude happens every four years, Nigeria often does last-minute preparations.

However, the overal medals won appear to mask Nigeria’s late preparation for the various sporting events.

According to the breakdown, Team Nigeria made some in-roads into some new sports, consolidated on its dominance in others but lost grip in a few places hitherto regarded as strongholds.

Surprises from canoeing and gymnastics

Not many would have predicted that the two sports would fetch the country as much as five gold medals in Morocco; especially canoeing that won four gold medals.

Canoeing medals were won in the Women’s C1 200 and C2 500 meters event by Bello Emmanuel who also teamed with Foloki for two more gold medals in the C2 200 and C2 500

To highlight how relatively new this sport is in Nigeria, work on the country’s first canoe and Kayak Building Center only began early this year when experts hired by the Nigeria Sailing, Rowing and Canoeing Federation came into the country.

With this impressive show in Morocco, in which Nigeria only finished behind South Africa in the canoeing, the long-term goal to have Nigerians make a big impact at the Olympic Games is on track, if this great momentum is sustained.

In gymnastics, Nigeria also broke new grounds at the African Games where Uche Eke emerged as the first-ever gold medalist for the country.

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Eke based in the United States told PREMIUM TIMES in Morocco his dream is to make gymnastics more popular in Nigeria with his exploits.

The youngster, who also won a Bronze medal, now has his eyes on becoming the first Nigerian gymnast to compete at the Olympics

“With my gold medal here, I have a chance to compete in the Olympic qualifiers as I look to be the first (Nigerian) gymnast at that level,” he said

Having seen the potential in these relatively new sports, Nigeria must consciously support the growth going forward.

Good runs that can be better

The bulk of Nigeria’s gold medals was gotten in weightlifting and wrestling which accounted for half (23) of the total haul of 46.

For wrestling, Nigeria was the undisputed top gun with seven gold medals; a dozen medals in all.

The Daniel Igali led Nigeria Wrestling Federation has developed a thick skin and was rightly chosen to hold their destiny in their own hands.

Often the country’s wrestlers struggle to attend international competitions and adequate funding has always been a snag.

One can only imagine what more can be achieved if the needed funds were provided and on time for this determined wrestlers ready to conquer all that comes their way.

For weightlifting that secured 16 gold medals for Nigeria in Morocco, it is a commendable feat.

When one sees that Egypt had almost double (31 Gold Medals) of Nigeria’s tally, then it is definitely not yet Uhuru.

Excitement

The President of the Weightlifting Federation, Yahaya Mohammed, admitted this much as he told PREMIUM TIMES in Morocco that they would not rest on their oars ahead of the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year.

He said: “We are happy with what we have achieved here in Morocco but I promise we will work even harder to get gold for Nigeria at Tokyo 2020 Games.

“I can assure that these lifters would get the best preparations possible, we would go the extra mile to see that they succeed even more than they did here in Morocco,” the official added.

Another sport where Nigeria finished as overall best was athletics where the country raked in 10 gold medals.

It is gladdening to see that the country has stamped its feet in a terrain which was formerly an exclusive zone for the likes of Egypt.

It could have been better if some pre-games favourites delivered on the expectations placed on them.

While not many gave Raymond Ekevwo the chance of winning the 100m gold, it was widely believed that Divine Oduduru will conveniently win the 200m men’s event.

Team Nigeria also faltered in the 4x100m men’s event where the country had a composition of fast runners but still ended in second place behind Ghana.

It was the same thing in the 4x400m men’s event where some still feel the coaches failed to get the right mix from the pool of athletes available for selection and had to make do with a third-place finish.

Other events Nigeria finished as the overall best team in Morocco include Badminton, 3×3 Basketball and Football which all deserve attention to be improved upon.

Need for diversification?

Nigeria would have to diversify into other sports like swimming, cycling, and even fencing if they are to ever have a chance of finishing tops at the African Games.

Except for the 2003 edition hosted in Abuja in which Nigeria was accused of masterfully inserting para-sports in the roster of events, Nigeria has never emerged overall tops in the history of the African Games.

Nigeria has a lot of riverine communities where potential swimmers can be invested in to become world-beaters.

Cycling is already having a semblance of revival with the Abuja Velodrome previously left to rot away now being put to use with the last Africa track cycling championship.

Also, the country now has a fencing federation who needs to work hard to see Nigeria favourably challenge for honours at the next African Games in Ghana.

Once the unchecked dominance of Egypt and South Africa are halted in these areas, Nigeria can rule the continent’s sporting world in no distant time.

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