Team Nigeria recorded her best finish in 18 years at the just-concluded African Games in Congo as the country finished second just behind Egypt with a total medal haul of 144 out of which 47 were gold.
The last time Nigeria had it as good or better was when it actually hosted the Games in Abuja in 2003, finishing tops on the final medals table back then.
The placement on the final medals table at the 2015 African Games was surprising for many as expectations in various quarters were quite modest on the eve of commencement of action in Brazzaville.
While sports like football, which continually gulps the bulk of allocations, failed to meet expectations, the para athletes that donned Nigeria’s colours in Congo put up awesome performance; providing a dozen gold medals for Nigeria-the most by any of the sports entered for by the country.
Aside wining gold, the country’s Para Lifting contingent went further: setting as much as five world records, a feat that was not recorded in any other 21 events on parade at the 2015 Games.
The list of record setters has Bose Omolayo, Loveline Obiji and Precious Orji who simply held spectators spell-bound with their brave performances on the final day of competition.
Omolayo, competing in the Women’s up to 79kg, made a lift 137.5kg while Obiji in the Women’s up to 86kg lifted 149kg.
On her part, Orji in the Women’s Over 86kg lifted 164kg to complete a hat trick of records and gold medals.
Nigeria’s Yakubu Adesokan had set the tone with his record making performance in the Men’s up to 49kg category as he lifted a massive 182.5kg to win the first gold medal for Team Nigeria in the Para Lifting event.
A day later, another Nigerian power lifter, Esther Oyema followed suit with a new world record in the Women’s up to 55kg category. Oyema lifted 133kg to win.
Nigeria failed to do as expected in the football event. Sadly, the country only got a bronze medal in the men’s category while there was no shade of medal for the women.
The Coach of the Nigeria U23 team, Samson Siasia, said happenings in Congo were a pointer that more work still needed to be done especially as the Dream Team VI seek qualification for the Rio Olympics from the Africa U-23 championships billed for Senegal.
“I am totally disappointed; we can’t play like this in Senegal and expect to qualify for the 2016 Olympics, Siasia said while hinting on possible wholesale changes in his squad going forward.
The performance of the Falcons was even more dissappointing as many submit that something drastic is needed to revive the women’s game who were condemned to fourth place in the women’s football event.
As has always been the case in multi events like this, Athletics is always at the front burner for Nigeria and there was no difference in Congo.
Ending up with 10 gold medals, which put Nigeria top in Track and Field medal standings, was surprising for many as there was so much controversies on the eve of the games in Congo.
After a poor show in Beijing at the world championships, Team Nigeria was hit with series of withdrawals by top stars who claimed the AFN was treating them and handling issues unprofessionally.
The biggest threat came from Blessing Okagbare, accused of feigning injury and was reportedly banned from competing at the Olympics for choosing to skip the All Africa Games.
Okagbare, after several back and forth, made a surprise show in Congo where she helped powered the 4x100m relay team to gold.
However the deed had been done as Nigeria could not record a podium finish in the 100m women’s event for the first time in 50 years.
But rather than focus on the misses, Technical Director of the AFN Navy Capt, Nesiama Omatseye said the Federation remained proud of what was achieved in Congo where the country finished tops in the medals table for athletics.
“I think it is better we look at the positive sides and the marked improvements by our home-based and junior athletes just moving up the ranks,” the AFN technical director told PREMIUM TIMES.
“See what Amusan did in the 100m hurdles for women, she is one of our junior athletes we are just grooming; also Kelechi Nwanaga is an home-based athlete we all camped at our High Performance Center in Port Harcourt and they showed tremendous potentials going forward. We have laid a good foundation in Congo which we will build on going into the Olympics,” he added.
In his own submission, Alhassan Yakmut, director-general of the National Sports Commission, believes Nigeria should have her eyes on ruling sports in Africa hence should not be carried away with the second place finish.
Amongst other things, Mr, Yakmut highlighted the need for Nigeria to start taking full advantage of sports like swimming and fencing which accounts for a large chunk of medals.
The NSC boss promised that all hands would be on deck to make sure Nigeria no longer play second fiddle in the continental fiesta.
“I’m overwhelmed. that we finished strongly to place second behind Egypt. It is worth celebrating but we deserve to be number one in Africa’’
“It’s a thing of joy to finish second after 18 years but we have the wherewithal to be number one in Africa. We’re not going to celebrate this feat and forget where we should be,’’ Yakmut stated.
Going forward, Yakmut, who was appointed DG less than three months to the African Games, said the NSC would consciously make efforts at building on the perceived area of strengths while also setting the machinery to work on the weak areas.
Team Nigeria displaced South Africa in the second position with its last surge to finish with 47(Gold), 55(Silver) and 42(Bronze) medals behind Egypt’s 85(Gold), 64(Silver) and 68(Bronze).
Although President Muhammadu Buhari has already congratulated Team Nigeria for the feat, it remains to be seen how the Nigerian government will honour the athletes in the days ahead.
African Games final medals table
Top 10 Countries
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