By Solomon Nwoke
Nine-time African champion Blessing Oborududu who recently improved her World ranking to number three in the Women’s 68kg weight class after her bronze medal feat at the recently concluded Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series tournament in Rome, Italy has set an Olympic medal target for herself at the forthcoming Tokyo 2020 Games for self. Oborududu, one of the strongest female wrestlers in Nigeria currently spoke of her determination to further raise her ranking at this month’s African Wrestling Tournament in Algeria before the Olympic qualifying tournament slated to hold at El Jadida Morocco in March. In this interview, Oborududu reflected on her early days in the sports and what is keeping her on the wrestling mat.
Can you tell us about how your love for wrestling started?
My love for wrestling started way back in my days at Saint Jude’s Girls Secondary School Amaratan, Yenagoa in Bayelsa State. Before, then, I just loved wrestling being our heritage in the Niger Delta. I have been wrestling as a school girl. During our Inter-House Sports competition at Saint Jude’s Secondary School in 2006, the state Director of Sports, Mr Jackson Bidei and the officials of the Nigeria Wrestling Federation (NWF) which had the then President of NWF, Chief Austin Edeze were invited to come and see a budding wrestling sensation that was beating all her opponents. They were marvelled at what they saw, and promised to invite me to camp. During the National Sports Festival (NSF) in Ogun State, the Gateway Games in 2006, I was invited to the camp to represent Bayelsa State by Bidei. That was my first official outing and I couldn’t win anything. It felt so bad that I lost my bout and wept bitterly but was consoled by Mr Bidei who told me not cry, that I will be a future champion.
In 2007, I went to the All Africa Games camp uninvited out of sheer determination to hit the top and trained with the wrestlers. I stayed with some of my friends in camp then like Oyins Tangi, Happiness Burutu and others. When food is served, they will bring their food to the room to share with them.
In 2008, I was able to break into the national team but couldn’t travel with them for an official assignment due to visa problem. In 2009, I won the gold medal at the National Sports Festival and in that same year, I made the Team Nigeria Wrestling list to the African Championship and won a bronze. From 2010, I started winning gold medals all the way till now.
However, I had an elder brother, a Police DSP, though late now, who never supported me going into wrestling. At that initial stage, I used to hide to go for training. Luckily he met with the president of the NWF, Chief Edeze who convinced him to allow me to take to wrestling that I have a future in the sport and that I will be a future champion. After their discussion, I was then left to go ahead with the sport. I really love wrestling and it’s not something you do because you see someone doing it. You must have the passion for it.
You have won virtually everything in wrestling, what is the motivating factor for you?
Like you rightly said, I have virtually won gold medals in all the major championships, but because I have not won the Olympic medal and that is the driving force. I want to add the World and Olympic Gold medals in my medals haul and I am hopeful it will happen soonest. Also the encouragement from my coaches especially the President of the NWF, Dr. Daniel Igali who keeps telling me that I can make it, is keeping me on.
The women wrestlers seem to have overshadowed the men, what do you think is the magic?
( laughter) There is no magic there. You know the women are very serious people. We are very serious in everything that we do ( laughter again), we train everyday. The men feel because they are stronger than the women so they don’t take their training seriously. That is not the same for the women, we train everyday to be better. The women train everyday because they have a target or goal to attain.
Do you think wrestling can give Nigeria an Olympic gold in Tokyo?
Yes, it can if we don’t joke with our preparation. So with good preparation, wrestling can actually fetch us an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo this year.
Nigerian wrestling have undergone tremendous transformation in recent years. What do you think is the cause?
For me, I will say it’s because of the leadership of the federation we have now under Hon. Daniel Igali. He is a wrestler himself, not just a wrestler, but an Olympic and World wrestling champion. He knows what it takes for you to get to a competition, he knows what it takes to train everyday to win the gold. Most times, in the camp, he will sit us down and talk to us on how he became an Olympic and World champion, so those that have ears will hear and pick up the tips and winning mentality on how to become an Olympic and World medallist and show more seriousness. Apart from that, he is the most successful President of the wrestling federation. In the past three years, we have been winning gold medals at all international tournaments we attended. The credit goes to him, he is a firebrand as far as the game of wrestling is concerned.
Having been to two Olympics, London 2012 and Rio 2016 editions, what are the experiences like?
For me, 2012 Olympics was my first time and as a first timer, I had no experience. But in 2016, I don’t know what went wrong. I would have won a medal. I fought well and along the line there was a mix up somewhere on the part of the referee otherwise, I would have gotten to quarter or semi finals. But now if I have to qualify again, this time will be better.
Now do you feel any pressure picking an Olympic slot to the Tokyo 2020 Games given that Adekuoroye has already qualified?
No, I don’t have any pressure. I’m just hoping that I will qualify because the level that I am in now, I am focused to wrestle and win a medal. If it is the will of God that I will go to the Olympics , I will go. That is my belief.
So what is your target at the forthcoming African/Oceanic Olympic qualifying tournament in March in El Jadida Morocco?
My target is to go there and qualify for the Olympics.
Is there any wrestler you think that can pose as obstacle to your third Olympic dream?
( Laughter) Sometimes you know you cannot predict a competition, but I think by God’s grace I will qualify.
Having come this far in wrestling, has there been any endorsement for you by any corporate outfit?
No. Not yet, no one has come my way.
So what do you think is the way forward for Nigeria wrestling?
It is for us to attend enough competitions, going to some training tours outside the country, meeting those wrestlers that are good and training with them. Most times when you train with people that are more experienced and exposed than you, you are bound to get more experience. So I think we need more tournaments, camping outside the country like Canada, USA and other countries good in wrestling. This is an Olympic year, they (Government) shouldn’t be saying there is no money and all that stuff. When you spend money on something, you reap the benefit. It’s like cooking, when you spend good money in cooking, your food will taste nice and you have that satisfaction. So they should try for all sports, not just wrestling alone. Like I said , this is an Olympic year so that there will be medals.
You’re among the beneficiaries of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Scholarship ahead of the Olympics, how has this helped you?
In fact it has helped me a lot in the sense that it has helped in raising my ranking in the world to number three. I was able to attend all these ranking competitions.
As the World number three in your weight category (68kg class), what is the way forward for you?
The way forward is for me to attend more ranking series to further raise my ranking to either second or the first in the world.
So what measures are you putting in place to sustain this level you have attained?
It’s to train more and correct some of the mistakes that I made during competitions, watch the tape with my coach and making amendments. Again, training without competition is equal to nothing, so I have to keep on working harder.
If you are not a wrestler, what would you be doing?
If I retire from wrestling, I will like to be a coach or a referee or be an administrator in an office, but I wish to be a coach.
When you talk of retirement, is it coming anytime soon or perhaps after the Olympics?
Yes, soon. (laughter)
That will be a shock to you ( laughter). It will be a bang!
What else can you tell us about yourself?
I am an easy going person, simple, not too harsh, always smiling but not smiling when on the mat.