There was wild jubilation 57 years ago when Nigeria took part in the 1964 Olympic Games held in Tokyo, Japan.
Nojeem Maiyegun won Nigeria’s only medal, a bronze in the boxing event, to mark the country’s emergence into the medals table for the very first time in its Olympic history.
Another African country, Kenya, was on par with Nigeria in the 35th position, having also won a solitary bronze medal.
Sadly, 57 years after, while Kenya finished as one of the top 20 nations in the world with four gold, four silver, and two bronze medals, Team Nigeria’s additional silver medal is the only difference from her performance in 1964.
This is the sad reality even though it has to be mentioned that this Tokyo 2020 performance is Nigeria’s best outing in the last three Olympic Games.
That Nigeria failed to fulfill her potentials in Tokyo is a combination of factors that need to be addressed swiftly as the countdown to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games has begun for many nations.
Though the build-up to the Tokyo Olympics had its flaws, there was great optimism and rightly so, going by the performances of the country’s best athletes across the globe.
Some analysts believed Nigeria could win upwards of five medals and that optimism looked feasible.
Blessing Okagbare was consistent in all her races in the Diamond League and top Meets across the world.
The duo of Favour Ofili and Ruth Usoro got tongues wagging with their record-breaking performances in the United States schools’ circuits.
Tobi Amusan also appeared to be on top of her game even as many tipped her to break the long-standing African record still held by Gloria Alozie.
Ese Brume actually erased the 25-year-old Long Jump record held by Chioma Ajunwa; and on the home front, Enoch Adegoke and Grace Nwokocha’s performances gave Nigerians something to cheer about.
In a similar vein, many of the country’s wrestlers enjoyed high rankings in the build-up to the Olympics and for Table Tennis, the ITTF rated Aruna Quadri among the world’s best players in Tokyo.
It was understandable that many tipped athletics and wrestling to be the joker for Nigeria in Tokyo. While the two medals won by the country came from those two sports, it was a far cry from what was anticipated.
Indeed, Nigerian sports officials would have to take the larger share of the blame for bungling what could have been one of the country’s best-ever outings at the Olympics.
The Minister of Youth and Sports, Sunday Dare, in a public statement issued on Monday alluded to some lapses and has taken responsibility even though some pitfalls could have been avoided if the administrators heeded the warning signals.
The signs of what to expect in Tokyo were already showing up as Nigeria struggled without success to qualify for the Olympic relay events it could have secured berths in if the country had attended the World Relays.
Ego-driven fights between the parallel boards of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria cost the country more than it bargained for, and that internal imbroglio continues, indicating the PUMA sponsorship imbroglio continues.
While Nigerian athletes would have secured prize monies and Olympic qualifying slots by competing at the World Relays, the sports minster opted to spend millions of taxpayers’ monies on a tour of the United States where the nation did not achieve one qualification.
Aside from the 4x100m team that sealed their qualification berth in Lagos at the National trials and thereafter the Mixed Relay team, the other relay teams could not. They even made a desperate attempt via the back door for the 4x400m women’s team, which was rejected by the World Athletics.
While we thought we had seen the worst, Nigerians woke up to the sad disqualification of 10 of her athletes for missing mandatory Out of Competition Tests – OTC.
Though the AFN and Ministry of Sports have taken responsibility, the damage done to the career of the athletes cannot be quantified – both emotionally and materially. There was no surprise when the affected athletes carried placards to protest in Tokyo.
Mr Dare, in a press statement, said: “As the Minister, I must bear some institutional responsibility for this lapse. I also had to depend and expect that each person in the long and often technical chain will perform their role expeditiously and with precision. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, someone failed in their responsibility and as Minister, I bear the responsibility and brunt of the criticism.”
Beyond taking the blame, Mr Dare agrees that putting in the necessary framework is an absolute must to avoid a repeat of the mess witnessed in Tokyo.
He added; “But that is not enough. I must move to ensure that Nigeria never experiences another such moment.
“I have ordered a full investigation that will not only uncover what happened but will also, recommend a process where such lapses can never occur in the future and initiate leveraging compliance monitoring technology to guardrail this.
“I have personally apologised to the affected athletes. Here and now, I personally apologise to all Nigerians for this ineligibility episode. The AFN has also taken responsibility and apologized to the athletes and to Nigerians.”
Another sad episode in Tokyo was when a three-time national champion, Chukwuebuka Enekwechi, posted a video of him washing his competition jersey barely 24 hours before taking part in the final of the Shot Put event.
While the ugly incident called to question what became of the $2.7 million PUMA contract that was signed by a rival AFN board, the minister thinks otherwise.
He said: “The quantity of competition wears given to each athlete is the decision of the particular federation. No complaints came to my notice until the Tik Tok Video posted by one of the athletes went viral. We Immediately stepped in to manage the situation. The Federation involved (AFN) has been directed to provide a detailed explanation about the kit.”
Preparation is key if one is to excel in any sporting endeavour, but there is also the element of luck.
Some Nigerian athletes were just unlucky, and that affected Nigeria’s overall performance.
How best would one explain the early ouster of Aruna Quadri in table tennis or the defeat suffered by Odunayo Adekuoroye?
Divine Oduduru received his own bitter pill of hard luck, being controversially disqualified in the 100m. Enoch Adegoke, one of Nigeria’s biggest revelations in Tokyo, had it all going for him before pulling up in the sprint final.
The depletion in the 4x100m women’s team and the Mixed Relays only saw the country’s athletes struggling and the biggest of all was the suspension of Blessing Okagbare, who tested positive for Growth Hormone.
While many Nigerians may think there is nothing worth celebrating from the Tokyo Olympics, that actually is not the case.
Some athletes actually achieved enviable feats no other Nigerian has ever made, even though a majority of them did not translate into medals.
Even though Odunayo Adekuoroye failed to deliver, there was still something to cheer for Nigeria in the wrestling event as Blessing Oborududu won Nigeria’s first-ever medal in the event, Oborududu was beaten to the Gold medal by America’s Mensah Stock Tamyra Mariama in the final of the Women’s Freestyle 68kg.
While many would fondly remember the viral video of Enekwechi washing his ‘only’ competition jersey in Tokyo, there was more to the 28-year-old at the Olympics. Enekwechi is the first Nigerian, man or woman to compete in the final of the Shot Put event at the Olympics.
Unfortunately, he could only record a throw of 19.74 in the final, which saw him finish at the bottom of the 12-man field.
Seeing a Nigerian competing in Gymnastics at the Olympics felt like a dream, but in fact, it is now a reality thanks to the doggedness of Uche Eke.
Apart from the highlighted firsts, Nigeria had five Olympic finalists in the 100 meters Hurdles Women, Short Put, Long jump, Wrestling, and 100 meters men’s events.
Team Nigeria broke the 13-year-old jinx of no medal in track and field and 25 years of no finalist in the men’s 100 meters,
Hopefully, Nigeria would not get carried away with Tokyo being the best outing in 13 years but begin preparations for Paris earnestly. There are lessons to be learnt and we must learn them as quickly as possible.
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