By Ben Efe,
It’s another Olympics and all participating nations are counting on their athletes to make podium performances to boost national pride.
While top sporting nations like the USA are banking on individual athletes, like Olympic all-around defending champion in gymnastics, Simone Biles to win as many as seven gold medals, Nigerians are counting on their fingers, which athlete can even win one individual gold.
In Rio 2016, it was the Nigerian U-23 men football team that rescued a bronze medal for the country. They woefully failed to qualify for Tokyo 2020. Nigerian sports officials usually, on return from every failed Olympics, always spoke about ways to boost the country’s chances to win at least five podium achievements in future games.
However, it has always been all talk and no action in all four years; and now five years of preparations for Tokyo 2020. So from all reckoning, it is going to be another wait, pray and hope for the over 60 Nigerian athletes in Tokyo ready to compete.
Events involving Nigerian athletes began yesterday. Athletics, basketball, and wrestling are the three major sports the country’s top shots are betting their money on to win a medal and justify the spending that have been made, even as the country’s medal hopes can beat their chests, their training and build-ups to the Games did not receive any form of financial boost from the sports authorities.
In athletics, Ese Brume can be on the medal presentation assemblage of the women’s long jump. Brume recently wiped out Chioma Ajunwa’s 25 years old 7.12m Atlanta’96 gold medal jump with a 7.17m leap. She established herself as a medal potential; her 7.17m jump is the best so far this season. At the Doha 2019 World Championships, she won bronze behind Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk in a tightly contested competition.
Germany’s Malaika Mihambo won the gold. Brume needs to come up with another big jump to clinch the gold. Tokyo 2020 seems to be wide open for the athlete that can come up with the best performance. Six women have done 7.00m this season, they include American Tara Davies 7.14m, and veteran Brittney Reese with 7.13m. Mihambo is yet to find the form that gave her the gold at Doha 2019 with 7.30m, her best effort is 6.92m, and a wind-assisted 7.02m Blessing Okagbare is also in good form, she has gone under 11.00 seconds thrice in the buildup to the Olympics including a wind-assisted 10.63seconds, which raised a lot of dust around the world. She will be facing the toughest contest of her Olympic career at Tokyo 2020 with a strong field featuring Jamaicans Elaine Thompson Rio 2016 defending champion, ShellyAnn Fraser-Pryce London 2012 double sprint champion, Shericka Jackson all who have done 10.7 this season.
There also Cote’d Ivoire’s Marie Jose Talou with a season-best of 10.86 sec and Britain’s Dina AsherSmith. Okagbare practically needs to clock a 10.7 to be assured of a medal in this likely explosive contest. Fraser-Pryce leads the world with 10.63secs.
In wrestling, all eyes will be on Odunayo Adekuoroye. She is in a pole position to make history as the first Nigerian woman to win a gold medal in the 57kg category.
She is ranked number two in her category. The 27-year-old Adekuoroye demonstrated that she can be a world-beater in the recent ranking series tournament in Warsaw, Poland by claiming the gold. She will be facing top contenders like Belarus’ Iryna Kurachkina and American Helen Marouli.
Other Nigerian women wrestlers poised to do the country proud include Blessing Oborududu and Aminat Adeniyi. Oborududu is ranked 8th in the world in 68kg category, while 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medalist, Aminat Adeniyi, is ranked 11th in the 62kg category.
Nigeria’s men basketball team, D’Tigers sparked excitement all over the world of basketball, when they beat their USA counterparts in a warm-up game ahead of the Olympics. They topped it with another victory over Argentina before being given a reality check by Australia.
With that performance, D’Tigers the second team after the USA to have a collection of NBA stars indicated that the basketball contest beginning on July 25 will be an interesting prospect. D’Tigers will face Australia and Nigerian officials are hoping on the team to at least be in the final three of the tournament and secure a medal
Nigeria entered three badminton players for each of the following events into the Olympic tournament. Godwin Olofua and Anuoluwapo Juwon Opeyori (men’s doubles), with Dorcas Ajoke Adesokan on the women’s side, topped the field of badminton players from Africa to lock the places on the Nigerian squad in their respective events based on the BWF Race to Tokyo Rankings.
Dorcas Ajoke Adesokan
D’Tigers raring to go
Eight of the 12 Nigeria players in the D’Tigers squad featured for National Basketball Association (NBA) teams last season, while Ekpe Udoh who built his name for himself in Europe, has also played in the league. Some of the stars to watch in the Nigerian squad include:
Precious Achiuwa used the viral caption “You’re not that guy, pal. Trust me, you’re not that guy.” to describe his unreal block in the game against the USA when he met Kevin Durant at the rim and showed him that he IS that guy, pal.
Achiuwa checked in on 61 occasions in his rookie season with the Miami Heat and showed enough promise to remain a long-term project for the franchise. The same goes for Nigeria, a new fairy tale in the basketball world, a team that will rely on Port Harcourt native’s rebounding and defense for the next 15 years, for sure.
Jahlil Okafor in Tokyo for a medal
Team USA opened an exhibition play for the Olympics with a shocking loss to Nigeria. However, it’s only shocking if you don’t pay much attention: Nigeria has eight NBA players, which may be more than any team except the US.
Duke fans will probably recognize names like Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech) and Jordan Nwora (Louisville) and may recognize Precious Achiuwa (Memphis) and KZ Okpala (Stanford).
The D’Tigers are also coached by NBA veteran coach Mike Brown who was the NBA Coach of the Year in 2009. Essentially it’s an NBA team with an NBA coach.
One name will really jump out though: Jahlil Okafor, who was Duke’s big man on the 2015 national championship team, is on Nigeria’s roster for the Games. Okafor of course has struggled in his NBA career.
He had some serious personal issues in his rookie year and has played for Philly, Brooklyn, New Orleans, and, currently, Detroit. His best year was his first and this past season, he averaged 19 mpg, scored 10.4 ppg, and pulled down 4.7 rpg. He’s still listed at 270 but has put a tremendous amount of work in to refine his body and doesn’t look at all like the same player he was at Duke.
The thing is, Nigeria has a legitimate shot at winning. After all his struggles, wouldn’t it be amazing to see Okafor celebrate gold with Africa’s first championship team?
Obi Emegano is a Nigerian professional basketball player who plays for Fuenlabrada of the Spanish Liga ACB. He plays shooting guard position. During the 2018-19 season he played for French Pro A side JDA Dijon. He signed with Le Mans Sarthe in July 2019. Emegano averaged 13.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game. On May 25, 2020, he signed with Fuenlabrada. During the 2020-21 season, he averaged 9.9 points per game. Emegano re-signed with the team on July 15, 2021.
Chimezie Metu is a 6-foot-11, 225-pound junior forward who affects the game on both ends of the court. His athleticism and length make him especially impactful on the defensive end. Ranks seventh all-time in blocked shots by a Trojans with 109
When are the key events?
The opening ceremony took place yesterday, but the baseball, softball and football competitions began on Wednesday 21 July. The first gold medal is expected to be awarded in the women’s 10m air rifle early on Saturday 24 July, with the cycling road races following later that day.
The athletics events begin on Friday 30 July, with 10 days of action culminating with the men’s marathon, which ends on the final day in Tokyo, Sunday 8 August.
The women’s 100m final is on Saturday 31 July, and the men follow on Sunday 1 August.
The swimming events run from Saturday 24 July to Sunday 1 August, then attention moves to the velodrome for seven days of track cycling events from Monday 2.
The closing ceremony begins at 8 pm Tokyo time on Sunday 8 August.