GOING FOR GOLD
London is set to welcome athletes from all over the world into its beautiful city. Between July 27 and August 12, the eyes of the whole sports-loving world will be fixed on London. A once-in-a-lifetime event is taking place in this historical and unique land – the Summer Olympics, the glory of modern sporting events. To welcome the world, Britain will put on an extravaganza with music, fireworks, dancing, acrobatics, and the runners that carry the Olympic torch will light the Olympic flame to signal the beginning of the games. As the representatives of the participating countries flamboyantly parade their nations in a rainbow of colours, there will be only three colours on the minds of every country as they go for bronze, silver and, ultimately, gold!
Between the basketball, wrestling, boxing, athletics, taekwondo, weightlifting, relay and football categories, the London games will see Team Nigeria compete in more sports and disciplines and present the largest single team to represent the nation than at any other games in the last 50 years. As our extraordinary sports men and women make their outing, the hearts of millions of Nigerian supporters will be pounding and racing, fretting and praying for some recorded victory at the Olympics.
Since the 1952 Olympic Games, which Nigeria first participated in, till date, Nigerian athletes have won a total of 23 medals, mostly in athletics and boxing. And, in the greatest and most rewarding victory that we have ever recorded, our national football team beat the Brazilian national team to take home the Olympic gold medal in 1996. One would imagine that witnessing Team Nigeria participate in this veritable instrument of national integration, amidst the enthusiasm, it would be easy for one to convince himself that Team Nigeria will excel in some of the disciplines we are known to be good in and bring home a couple of medals. Memories of great moments such as the success of Chioma Ajunwa in Atlanta 1996 when she won Nigeria’s first gold medal propel thoughts of triumph in our minds.
From Los Angeles 1984 to Barcelona 1992 to Atlanta 1996 to Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008, there have been memorable moments of pride for Team Nigeria. To this day, one can remember watching several of the events including Chioma Ajunwa, Mary Onyali and Falilat Ogunkoya outrunning their opponents in the athletics. I can also remember Ruth Ogbeifo and Duncan Dokiwari flexing their muscles to take home the silver and bronze medals in the weightlifting and boxing categories respectively. Then, there was the national football teams that have brought home gold and silver medals for Nigeria in at least two Olympic games. Watching and remembering those and many other events, it is difficult not to feel hopeful, patriotic and optimistic about Team Nigeria’s prospect in London.
As suppositions as to why our rivals in our strongest categories will ultimately fail flood our minds, the final outcome can never really be accurately analysed and may turn out to be something totally unexpected. That doesn’t stop us though, because forecasts are part and parcel of the Olympics, whether they are accurate or not. By the time the competition starts in a couple of days, when all the 204 participating nations emerge on the centre stage with a fortuitous shot at glory, it becomes clear that no one can accurately predict the winners of the categories because the Olympics is a platform where anything can happen.
While our optimism of victory is largely based on the sentiment we feel for our country, one must balance that with reality. Although I feel a sense of nationalistic pride that Nigeria will make an appearance at this global gathering, at the same time, stark reality fills my heart with anxiety. My sense of patriotism bullies me into believing that Team Nigeria must, at least, match the success we had in the 1996 games in Atlanta.
Although some might argue that the Team Nigeria of today is a far cry from those glory days of the mid 1990s, with focus, organisation and hard work, I believe, several members of our team can recreate the magic that our wonder athletes in the 1990s displayed. No matter what the result of the tournament eventually turns out to be for Nigeria, it is imperative for the nation to scout out and develop young and vibrant talent. Nigerian athletes are blessed with raw talent but lack in direction, encouragement and basic technical aspects. Sport is a way to promote positive social values and a great teacher of discipline, dedication, perseverance and teamwork, to name only a few, for young people. For many of our idle, yet talented youth, finding something as active and healthy as sports becomes for them and for Nigeria a great gift. We must empower our young sports men and women and encourage them to appreciate the virtues and values of striving for the lofty goals of the games.
The anticipation that goes with the start of the Olympics is quite exhilarating and the hopes quite high. While I support Team Nigeria all the way and have hope that they will record some measure of success, I know for a fact that any hope we may have must be tendered with a huge amount of finger-crossing and prayer.
The Olympics is a great event that manifests all the positives in sports at its highest peak. It is about one being the best one can be: the pursuit of excellence. Those that have had the talent and privilege to represent their country at that level have been given an opportunity to impact the lives of others simply because of what the Olympics represents. As our athletic representatives emerge on the arena in their green-and-white attire, as they stand tall and sing our National Anthem, I shall be joining every Nigerian in supporting Team Nigeria, wishing them the very best and praying for their success in London and their safe and jubilant return to Nigeria in the next three weeks.
With days to the games, lady luck seems to already be in sync with Team Nigeria, as the International Olympic Committee announced the men’s 4x400m relay team of Nduka Awazie, Jude Monye, Clement Chukwu, Sunday Baba, Fidelis Gadzama, Enefiok Udo-Obong, the gold medal winners from the 2000 Olympics, following the disqualification of the previous gold medal winners, United States, as a result of a confession of doping by one of the US team members.
Congratulations to Team Nigerian on this early gold medal. We hope and pray to see more medals draped around their necks at the end of the games. Good luck to Team Nigeria and every other African team at the London Olympics in this special moment as they go for the ultimate gold!