By Olufemi Atoyebi/Punch
It was an unusual record compared to the nation’s achievements at the Games in the past two decades. It was one that reminded Nigerians of the woeful performance recorded when Nigerian did not win any medal at Seoul ’88.
In London, Nigeria’s hopes for medals were shouldered by the athletics team, where Blessing Okagbare was regarded as a match for Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica and Carmelita Jeter of the US in the women’s 100m. But Okagbare finished the final in the 8th position, blaming her poor performance on injury despite competing till the end.
In the long jump, she had an equally bad outing, failing to qualify for the final after finishing in the 17th position. In the women’s 4x100m relay race, Christy Udoh, Gloria Asumnu, Oludamola Osayomi and Okagbare did put up a fight but the 42.64 time recorded by them was only good as their season’s best with Nigeria ending in the 4th position.
Ajoke Odumosu also raised the nation’s hopes when she reached the 400m hurdles but she came last to end all medal expectations from the race.
The basketball team reached the Olympics for the first time with much expectation, especially after beating Greece and Lithuania, respectively ranked 4th and 5th in the world, during the qualifiers.
They even gladdened the nation’s heart with a win over African champions, Tunisia, in their first match at the Olympics, but defeats by to Lithuania, Argentina, US and France ended first basketball participation at the Games with one win.
There was disappointment after the table tennis team was ousted a day after the opening ceremony but there were last minute hopes that later produced no medals for Nigeria.
Team Nigeria’s Captain Chika Chukwumerije, who won a bronze at the last Olympic Games in Beijing, China was seen as a medal prospect in taekwondo because of the preparation he had before the Games. He did not begin his contest until a day before the closing ceremony, but in his only fight, he lost to Cuban opponent, Robelis Despaigne, in the men’s+80kg class.
A few hours after his defeat on Saturday, another hope was dashed when the women’s 4x400m relay team was disqualified in the final. It was however not the final straw as hopes of any type of medal rested on Sinivie Boltic, a male wrestler in the freestyle 96kgcategory. He drew bye into the quarterfinals where he met Republic of Moldova’s Ceban Nicolai on Sunday. But like other athletes that represented Nigeria, Boltic did not get to the medal zone, ending all hopes for Nigeria.
A few weeks before the Games commenced, there was controversy over the release of funds as sports federations bosses had to look for money to prepare athletes for the competition. Chukwumerije was the only athlete who had first class preparation for the Games. He was treated for an injury in London and sent to Korea to prepare for his taekwondo event.
Reacting to the nation’s failure in London, a member of the Association of Veteran Sports Administrators Forum, Martins Osaile, said Nigerians should hold the Federal Government responsible for the poor outing.
Osaile said, “Before 1999 when we returned to democratic rule, our sport was healthy, today it is almost dead. The present government in the hands of our people is not ready to develop sport in Nigeria. They play game with the future of our athletes. They have forgotten that there is political power in achieving excellence in global events.
“When the present head of the Nigeria Olympic Committee, Sanni Ndanusa, was the president of tennis federation, I challenged him to list his achievements in the sport. To the surprise of Nigerians, he became the sports minister and now NOC president. That shows how the Nigerian government has relegated sport in Nigeria.”
Osaile advised the athletes to challenge their leaders and free themselves from their hold.
“Usain Bolt made over $30m from endorsement last year and there are many others that were not documented for public consumption. How many Nigerian athletes made anything from endorsement in the past one year? The US announced last week that camp for the 2016 Olympics would open in September, here in Nigeria, we will not start until three months to the Games,” Osaile said.
Former boxer and an Olympian, Jeremiah Okorodudu, said the boxers who represented Nigeria in London were not ready for the contest.
He said, “We had three boxers but they were not good enough to win medals. They were picked from the National Sports Festival which was wrong. If we are going to use the festival as Olympic qualifier, it should be made open. You cannot take rookies to a big event like the Olympics.”
Okorodudu also said Nigeria was heading for a major failure when training tours are not properly handled before the Games.
“In the past when Nigeria did well at the Olympics, training tours were not limited to putting athletes in a hotel and training at a remote facility. Tours are meant to expose the athletes and put them in proper shape for the big events,” he said.