On July 23, Team Nigeria’s journey to the 2020 Olympic Games officially began when medal hopefuls, Odunayo Adekuoroye and Quadri Aruna led out the contingent at the ceremonial match past, bearing the country’s green-white-green flag and hoping to bring some joy to Nigerians.
But Nigerians, over the years had grown accustomed to being disappointed by Team Nigeria after attending several editions of the Olympiad without any commensurate silverware achievements like Atlanta in 1996,
After Atlanta ‘96, Nigerian athletes tried to match that feat four years later at Sydney 2000 by winning two silver medals and a couple of bronze medals none of our outings in the subsequent Games produced anything near the two gold medals in the 1996 edition. Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012 and the last Games in Rio in 2016 did not fare better. And as such Nigerians didn’t put too much faith in Team Nigeria doing the nation proud.
But that perception changed a bit during pre-Olympics warm-up events which gave Nigerians some glimmer of hope. However, with the Games in full swing, disappointing results began to be recorded and here are the top ones
Reigning Commonwealth champion Odunayo Adekuoroye is a strong medal contender for Team Nigeria. The 27-year-old Ondo State native and three-time World Championships medalist will aim for a historic gold medal for Nigeria in wrestling.
Adekuoroye has established herself globally as one of the best wrestlers in the 57kg category by winning world championship medals and she aims to deliver Nigeria’s first-ever wrestling medal in Tokyo.
At the 2016 Games in Rio, she reached the quarterfinals and lost to Sweden’s Sofia Mattsson, who claimed a bronze medal.
She was on top of the game in the 57kg category of the women’s freestyle. She raced to 8-0 lead against her opponent and was just minutes away from picking the remaining two points when the unexpected happened.
“It was special but a sad moment for me. I hoped I could get a medal. But I think one of the major problems I had, I didn’t have very good preparations, and I was still young and just eager to win,” she told the official Olympic Games website.
She believed she was ready for that medal that eluded her five years ago until she lost to Anastasia Nichita of the Republic of Moldova on account of a pinfall. Adekuoroye was leading 8-2 on the scorecard before Nichita achieved the win via VFA (Victory by fall).
Just as every other Nigerian, Wrestling Federation Caretaker Chairman, Daniel Igali who won wrestling gold medal for Canada at Sydney 2000 admitted it will take Adekuoroye time to get over the defeat.
“Understandably, she is inconsolable. She feels she has disappointed a whole nation. We feel her pains. We are equally pained because over 80 per cent of wrestling enthusiasts had her as the odds on favourite to pluck gold here in Tokyo. But God’s ways are not our ways,” the wrestling federation boss philosophized.
Africa’s number 1 table tennis player, was not only optimistic of returning with a medal but vowed to end the dominance of the Chinese. It was however not to be as the Nigerian failed to replicate his Rio feat where he booked a quarter-final berth.
Instead, he was bundled out in the third round by Brazilian Gustavo Tsuboi who was ranked lower than him. Quadri had started the game on a bright note winning the first set 15-13, he lost in the latter sets as it ended 4-2 in favour of Tsuboi.
“That’s sports for you. I am a better player than him in ranking but he played very much better to win. You know anyone in top 100 can spring a surprise at any time. I did not underrate him because we play in Bundesliga and I know what he’s capable of doing,” he said after his ouster.
Oshonaike had lost 4-1 to American Juan Liu in the preliminary round of women’s singles of the table tennis event.
Despite starting well against the Chinese-born American, Oshonaike could not meet up with the speed of her left-handed opponent to bow out in 7-11, 3-11, 4-11, 13-11, 4-11 to become the first Nigerian to exit in the table tennis event.
However, Oshonaike remains proud of her efforts in Tokyo as she became the first African woman to compete at seven Olympics.
She also became the first female table tennis player to appear at seven Olympics and while she has ruled out an eighth Games she is not retiring just yet.
Oshonaike first started playing table tennis at the age of 14, and just two years later she was part of Nigeria’s team for the 1991 All Africa Games.
She made her Olympic debut in Atlanta in 1996. She then went on to play at the 2000 Sydney Games, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016.
The 25-time Nigerian table tennis champion has now equalled the record of compatriot Segun Toriola as the only African with seven Olympic appearances.
D’Tigers and D’Tigress
D’Tigers and D’Tigress made history as the first teams from Africa to qualify for the men and women’s basketball events at the same edition were tipped to make waves. The men’s team, in particular, stunned both world number 1 and 4, USA and Argentina in a pre-games outing in Las Vegas to send warnings to all countries coming to Tokyo for the competition but that was where it ended for them.
Nigeria men’s basketball team were dumped out as they lost 80-71 in their third and final group game to Italy.
After lost to Australia 67-84 in their group opener and 92-99 to Germany in their second Group B match, expectations were high that D’Tigers would get it right against the Italians but for the umpteenth time capitulated when it mattered most.
Similarly, Nigeria’s senior women’s basketball team, D’Tigress, failed to lift their game and consequently succumbed 102-83 to their Japanese counterparts in the basketball event
D’Tigress’ loss to Japan made it three losses from three games they played in Group B of the women’s competition’s group stage, having lost earlier to the U.S and France 72-81, 87-62 respectively.
4X400m mixed relay
Nigeria failed to qualify for the final after finishing last in the semi-final first heat of the 4×400 mixed relay at the ongoing Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
The country was represented by Ifeanyi Emmanuel Ojeli, Imaobong Nse Uko, Samson Oghenewegba Nathaniel and Patience Okon George.
Though they finished last, the quartet ran a new African Record of 3:13.60. During the race, Nigeria deployed the male-female-male-female strategy while other countries used male-female-female-male.
Ojeli took the first leg, Uko second and the third leg was taken by Nathaniel, who opened up a gap of over 100 metres against other female runners.
However, male counterparts from other teams caught up with George, making the Nigerian team finish fifth.