By Onochie Anibeze
I have seen spectacles. I have enjoyed some great shows from music to movies and exciting atmospheres in sports from tennis to track and field and of course football. But nothing is like the Olympics. Some adore it almost as a religion. Yes, it even started like a religion before it became competitive.
The Greeks, some five thousand years ago, would appease a particular god by running a race to meet it. They ran, dissipating energy as they approached the god who would be expected to appreciate the effort each racer made to get to it.
Sports became some kind of religion in the ancient times and up till now it has remained such a moving spectacle that millions get very emotional about some performances.
Some get sick and weep openly when their team is down while the winners create scenes celebrating. I have been part of it.
I couldn’t hold back tears when our national anthem was being played for the first time at the Olympics and the whole world stood to celebrate our Chioma Ajunwa inAtlanta1996. I looked at her as she smiled, looking strong and controlling her emotions.
Most athletes give in to the emotion and tears of joy follow. It was not so with Chioma who smiled away and I was wondering why I was overwhelmed and in tears but the star of the moment stood firm, smiling and waving to the crowd.
It was a stupendous moment forNigeria. Chioma had givenNigeriaher first ever gold medal in the Olympic Games since she started participating from the Helsinki Games in 1952. And it was an individual medal. She jumped 7.12m to win the Long Jump gold Great. Awesome.
Many of our men now struggle to make the seven meter mark. Chioma was out of this world on that podium. And we all got emotional while she smiled on the podium. What an irony. And when we met I told her what an Amazon she was and inquired why she was not moved by the atmosphere whenNigeria’s National Anthem was being played in her honour.
She said that she didn’t know where she was and that what she achieved had not dawned on her at that moment.
“It was still like a dream,” she told me in her first ever interview after the feat.
“I was still wondering if it was true, wondering if I was really the person on that podium receiving gold. That’s why I was just smiling. It hadn’t dawned on me at that time. When it did, I cried. I got emotional and I thanked God for His blessing.”
Kanu Nwankwo and his teammates gave us another moment to cheer few days later when they lifted the soccer gold, beatingArgentinain the final after eliminatingBrazilin the semi-final. The world chased us for autographs and news. All Nigerians in that magnificent stadium owned byGeorgiaUniversitybecame champions and provided news pegs.
Everything aboutNigeriawas news. Some foreign journalists were interviewing me while I was interviewing our players for memorable quotes.
A particular journalist pinned me to interpret the songs of the Nigerian Supporters Club who, in my estimation also won a gold inAtlanta. Another journalist whose beat in the stadium was to capture the atmosphere and do stories on Nigerian songs appeared not satisfied with my interpretation of what Obi Kere Renke Obi meant. I had explained it as just a football song whose rhyme inspired more than the literary meaning. Obi Kererenke Obi. Obi Kererenke Obi.
There were unforgettable moments inGeorgia, the state that produced Ray Charles whose song,Georgiabecame the anthem of the people and his songs inspired millions of whites and blacks even in the days of white supremacy.Atlantamade us feel good.
There, Mary Onyali won an individual medal in 200m meters beating top athletes Marie Jose Perec on the line by dipping even ten meters to the end. It was the race of her life. She gave her all and so did Falilat Ogunkoya who won another individual bronze medal in 400m, setting a national record that is still standing at 49.10 seconds. Perec took the gold. We had great moments inAtlanta.
InSydney2000 Enefiok Udobong who was asthmatic was torn between dying and winning a medal forNigeriaor hanging in and living. He opted to die forNigeriain the 4x400m final. He anchored the race and four athletes were in front at the time he got the baton. Off he went like a Gazelle. His face conjured his strong will and his strides were actualizing it. At the 200m curve he had passed two athletes and at the 100m distance he had run past another just remainingUSAin front.
He increased his pace and was powering to the finish like a man who actually opted to die in the race. He wonNigeriaa silver but did not die. He lived on to celebrate it. One American athlete had tested positive to doping andNigeria’s silver ought to have counted as gold.
Udobong and Gloria Alozie who won silver in 100m Hurdles madeSydneymemorable. In Athens Udobong re-enacted his effort and won us a bronze in the relay. Blessing Okagbore was a miracle girl inBeijing. Some poor management saw her failing to qualify for the final of her Long Jump event but when a Polish athlete was disqualified for doping she got the chance and jumped to Bronze in the final. Great moment.
And as we land inLondonmy question is who will opt to die forNigerialike Udobong did? Who will dip like Mary Onyali and coast like Falilat? Will results come from Taekwando, Canoeing, Wrestling or Boxing? Our preparation has not been Olympian and any medal will be a surprise. I will feed you with news stories fromLondonas I rest this column for the Olympics. Welcome to London 2012.