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Tokyo Olympics: Team Nigeria Ready to Do Country Proud

Tokyo Olympics

July 25, (THEWILL) – As Odunayo Adekuoroye, one of Nigeria’s medal hopefuls at the Tokyo Olympic Games, marched excitedly in front of the country’s 60-athlete strong contingent at the opening ceremony of the event, the pride of Nigeria’s best was on display for the world to see.

Resplendent in their sport attires, these men and women had an extra year of great expectations with the postponement of the Games from the previous July 24 to August 9 schedule from last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They toiled in self sacrifice, pushed themselves beyond their limits on endurance and resilience to achieve their goals of crossing the line to become Olympians.

As Nigerian athletes have done since the country made its debut in the 1952 Summer Olympics, the XV Olympiad, that held from July 19 to August 3 of that year in Helsinki, Finland (apart from African boycott of the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal), they held aloft the Green-White-Green flag as it fluttered above the summer breeze of the host city to announce the presence of Africa’s only Football gold medal winner with her ambassadors ready to do more.

Nigeria’s hope for medals in the 10 sporting events that will feature at the games rests squarely on the shoulders of these ambassadors. In the absence of representation in football, Team Nigeria will challenge for podium-finishes in events ranging from Athletics to Wrestling and from Basketball to Taekwondo.

Below, THEWILL has collected the ultimate guide to follow the Nigerian contingent with information about the athletes that will be competing for medals in each of the 10 events and, where applicable, the groups they have been drawn in including their opponents in each group, standing in their way towards the ultimate Olympic success: gold.

Barring unforeseen occurrences, such as injuries or COVID-19 positive tests, all 60 athletes that are flying the country’s flag will face opponents in Athletics, Badminton, Basketball, Canoeing, Gymnastics, Rowing, Swimming, Table tennis, Taekwondo and Wrestling.

Nigeria will be represented at the 100m event by the trio of Enoch Adegoke, Usheoritse Itsekiri and Divine Oduduru. THEWILL recalls that Oduduru holds a personal best record of 9.86 seconds for the 100m and the Nigerian national record of 19.73 seconds for the 200m, a distance for which he is the sole male athlete for the country in Tokyo. He is also a two-time Nigerian national champion and four-time NCAA champion in American collegiate competition, running for the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

In the women’s events, Nigeria’s only 100m hurdles ambassador is Tobi Amusan, while Africa’s sprint queen Blessing Okagbare and Rosemary Chukwuma will compete in the 100m dash. Okagbare is a strong medal contender for Nigeria. The long jump Olympic and World Championships medalist and 200m world medalist also holds the Women’s 100m Commonwealth Games record for the fastest time at 10.85 seconds. But, she will be up against Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price’s record time of 10.63s.

Favour Ofili and Nzubechi Grace Nwokocha will compete together with Okagbare in the 200m and Patience Okon George will challenge in the 400m race. Meanwhile, the quartet of Chukwuma, Nwokocha, Ofili and Okagbare will chase the country’s 4x100m relay glory.

In the other relay event, the 4x400m, the athletes to race for gold while exchanging their batons are Samson Oghenewegba Nathaniel, Chidi Okezie, Glory Patrick and Imaobong Nse Uko.

For the Field events, there is only one male in contention: Chukwuebuka Enekwechi, who is entered in the Men’s shot put event. In the rest, Ese Brume will compete in the Women’s long jump, Annette Echikunwoke in the Women’s hammer throw, Chioma Onyekwere in the Women’s discus throw, Ruth Usoro in the Women’s long jump event on the one hand and the Women’s triple jump on the other.

There are three badminton players for Team Nigeria at the Badminton events in Tokyo. The Men’s Doubles event will see two of Africa’s best Godwin Olofua and Anuoluwapo Juwon Opeyori represent Nigeria against Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe of Japan in the first group matchup and against the pair of Kim Astrup Sorensen and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen of Denmark in the second. In the third, their opponents will be Russians Vladimir Alexandrovich Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov.

Nigeria’s female badminton player, Dorcas Ajoke Adesokan, will face Clara Azurmendi of Spain and An Se-young of South Korean in her Women’s Singles Group games to have a chance at the elimination stage of the competition.

Basketball will be an interesting event to watch for both the male and female teams of Nigeria. This was made even more appealing after D’Tigers, who qualified as the highest-ranked African squad, gave the world champions and highest ranked team in the world, the US basketball team, the shocker of the year with a winning-streak breaking victory during their pre-Olympic warm-up exhibition matches recently in Las Vegas.

Although they later lost by a huge margin to the most improved side this year, the Boomers of Australia, they hold a lot of promise coming into Tokyo. Their report card from the 2019 Basketball world cup that qualified them for Tokyo illustrated their African leadership and the edge to go far at the Olympics, especially with the difference the NBA coach Mike Brown has made to the squad.

The same can be said for the D’Tigress as well. They may have lost their own exhibition match against the U.S team, which happens to be in their group at the Olympics, in just the same way Australia is drawn in the same group as D’Tigers, Nigeria’s female basketball team has been able to recruit some foreign talent that Nigeria’s coach, Otis Hughley Jr. can blend together with his squad to produce some beautiful results at the Games.

Although an appeal to the world basketball governing body to allow former American basketball players with Nigerian origins, Nneka Ogwumike and Elizabeth Williams, to play for D’Tigress and bolster their chances in Tokyo was denied, the female squad of Hughley Jr. will include Erica Ogwumike and a cast of good players including Elizabeth Balogun and Promise Amukamara.

The rest are Adaora Elonu, Atonye Nyingifa, Ezinne Kalu, Victoria Macaulay, Ify Ibekwe, Oderah Chidom, Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpannah, Aisha Mohammed and Amy Okonkwo. And they are up against Group B opposition in Japan, France and the USA for a spot in the next round to be keep their podium finish objective intact.

The men’s squad forged through the crucible of coach Brown’s determination to see D’Tigers make a difference for Africa and for Nigeria in this year’s Games include some experienced and talented Nigerians playing basketball at the top of the Basketball food chain whom Brown has reposed the confidence of improving on their sensational victory over Team USA.

Of the 12-man final squad only four: Caleb Agada, Ekpe Udoh, Obi Emegano and Ike Nwamu, play outside the NBA. The rest are at the top of their game in America’s most prestigious basketball competition plying their trade with the best of the best including Chimezie Metu, Josh Okogie, Gabe Vincent, Jordan Nwora, Precious Achiuwu, Jahlil Okafor, KZ Okpala and Miye Oni. They will hope to survive Group B challengers, the strong Australia, Germany and Italy to progress.

Nigeria will mount a maiden challenge in canoeing after Ayomide Emmanuel Bello qualified for the single boat Women’s C-1 200m competition. The brilliant canoeist obtained her slot in the Olympics by her gold winning performance at the 2019 African Games in Rabat, Morocco. As a result, she goes into the records as Nigeria’s first ever Olympian in the event whilst marking the country’s Olympic debut in this sporting discipline as a whole.

There is another debut for the country because an artistic gymnast travelled along with Team Nigeria contingent. Male gymnast, Uche Eke, successfully booked a spot for his event with a third place finish at the men’s individual all-around and apparatus events at the 2021 African Gymnastics Championships in Cairo, the other first for Nigeria.

In the Women’s Singles Sculls event, Nigeria also qualified one boat in the B-final while securing the last of five berths available at the 2019 FISA African Olympic Qualification Regatta in Tunis, Tunisia. This means Esther Toko will represent the country in Tokyo.

Team Nigeria is in the swimming event as she received a universality invitation from world governing swimming body FINA to send a top-ranked female swimmer in her respective individual events to the Olympics, based on the FINA Points System of June 28, 2021. Swimming for Nigeria in the 100m freestyle therefore will be Abiola Ogunbanwo.

For table tennis, there will be four athletes balanced as two in the Men’s event and two in the Women’s. As THEWILL reported, Aruna Quadri qualified based on his ranking, while Olajide Omotayo, along with Olympic veterans Offiong Edem and Olufunke Oshonaike, scored semifinal victories to occupy the available spots each in the men’s and women’s singles, respectively, at the 2020 African Olympic Qualification Tournament in Tunis, Tunisia. In fact Oshonaike set a historic record by becoming the first ever African woman to participate in seven editions of the Summer Olympic Games.

A Nigerian taekwondoka is part of the contingent to the competition at the Games for the first time since the 2012 London Games. At the 2020 African Qualification Tournament in Rabat, Morocco, Elizabeth Anyanacho secured a spot in the women’s welterweight category (67 kg) with a top two finish to gain entry into the event for the country.

In wrestling, Nigeria secured a five-for-five berth with five wrestlers for each of the following classes: Ekerekeme Agiomor in the 86kg class for the men’s freestyle while the rest, who are all women include Adijat Idris (50 kg),  Odunayo Adekuoroye (57kg), Aminat Adeniyi (62 kg), and Blessing Oborududu (68 kg) all coming through their respective weight categories at the 2021 African & Oceania Qualification Tournament in Hammamet, Tunisia.

In these champions lie the fate of the country’s Olympics fortunes and their own path to glory and fame plus the honour of defying the odds, outdoing the competition, overcoming all hurdles to stand on the podium while the pride of achievement is forever marked with a medal finish and the sonorous playing of the country’s anthem.