With less than 50 days to the rescheduled 2020 Olympic Games because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the quartet of Aruna Quadri, Funke Oshonaike, Edem Offiong, and Olajide Omotayo will represent Nigeria, part of the nine players who qualified for the table-tennis event at the Olympic Games.
Here is how the four players qualified for Olympics;
On Tuesday, June 1, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) confirmed the qualification of Nigeria’s Quadri Aruna for the Olympic Games in a letter to the President of the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) and President of the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF) and signed by the ITTF Competition Director, Gabor Felegyi.
This was in recognition of his being the No.1 ranked player in Africa. Aruna will make his third appearance at the Olympic Games, having taken part in the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games. The Oyo State-born table tennis player is the first African to make it to the quarter-final stage of the singles event.
Aruna stunned the world at the Rio 2016 Games in Brazil and his performance made him the first African to reach the quarterfinal after edging out some of the best players in the world including former world number one, Timo Boll of Germany, before losing to the eventual winner, Ma Long of China, in the quarter-final.
He became the first African to be crowned International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Male Star in 2014. The Germany-based player plays in the German Table Tennis League for TTC RhönSprudel Fulda-Maberzell.
This could be the last Olympic Games for the 46-year-old Oshonaike as she joins the ITTF’s ‘Club of 7’ at the Tokyo Olympics.
The Lagos Born player booked her slot for the Olympics after she defeated her friend and business partner, Sarah Hanffou of Cameroun 4-1 at the 12th African Games in Rabat, Morocco in 2020.
The six-time Olympian will set a record of being the first African woman to play in seven consecutive Olympics Games and will become the first woman to join the ITTF ‘Club of 7’ of players to have competed seven times at the Olympics.
In an interview with the ITTF website, Oshonaike said, “I’m the happiest woman in the world today, I still can’t believe it, it feels as if I’m still dreaming, for the past three weeks I have not been able to sleep, I started training in January because of my health, I trained very hard.
We are all nervous here, so to qualify, honestly, I am just the happiest woman, I can now tell everyone not to give up, no matter the situation, follow your dream put God first in everything and you will surely make it.”
The fresh face of table-tennis in Nigeria is Olajide Omotayo and he will appear at the Olympics for the first time.
He is the reigning African Games champion who defeated former champion and teammate Aruna Quadri, African legend Ahmad Salih and Lagos Pharaoh, Omar Assar, to get his ticket.
The 25-year-old picked the ticket after beating some of the fast-rising stars in Africa, the likes of the current West African champion Oba Kizito and Tunisia’s Ben Yahia Kerem
Reacting after securing his first Olympic ticket, Omotayo disclosed that, “I feel on top of the world, The Olympics is the biggest sports event on the planet and I’ll be attending one, so you can imagine how I’m feeling.”
Ranked 92 in the world, he set an African record at the World Table Tennis (WTT) Middle East Hub in Doha, Qatar earlier this year as he became the first player from the continent to win a match at the new WTT tournament after beating Kazakhstan’s Alan Kurmangaliev in the first stage of the preliminary round.
The 34-year-old will attend her fourth Olympic Games in Tokyo. She won all six matches at the Olympics Games qualification tournament in Tunisia.
The former National Champion will look forward to improving on her preliminary stage finish in her previous three appearances; Athens 2004, London 2012, and Rio 2016.
“I’m super excited, this is incredible, I don’t know what to say. After the African Games, I didn’t rest as I started working hard for the Olympic qualifiers.
“I was always at the gym almost every day in order to keep fit. I changed so many things, it wasn’t easy but I’m happy I made it,” Edem said in the post-match interview after she qualified for her fourth Olympics.
Nigerian table tennis players will feel the absence of seven-time Olympian, Segun Toriola, and Bode Abiodun in the team. Nigeria lost the single ticket in the team event and mixed doubles to old rivals, Egypt, at the 2019 African Games in Rabat and the 2020 qualifiers in Tunisia.
Nigeria will only focus on the men’s and women’s Singles at the Olympic Games hoping to secure medals.
Already 64 players have been confirmed for the men’s singles event while the ITTF will allocate the six remaining slots as wildcards.
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