TEAM Nigeria had only a medal to show at the just-ended Rio 2016 Olympics after parading 77 athletes at the quadrennial showpiece which started in 1896 in Athens, Greece. The ‘golden’ bronze which was won by the soccer team, the Dream Team placed Nigeria on the medal’s table among 78th joint-placed winners with nine other countries. Group Sports Editor, GANIYU SALMAN, in this piece examines the circumstances which led to the umimpressive performance of Team Nigeria, which at the Atlanta ‘96 Olympics finished 32nd on the medal’s table with two gold, one silver and three bronze medals even ahead of Great Britain which then finished with one gold, eight silver and six bronze medals to occupy the 36th position and now finished second at Rio 2016 with 27 gold, 23 silver and 17 bronze medals.
Unarguably, the saying that ‘if you fail to plan, you have planned to fail’ indeed played itself out for Team Nigeria at the just-ended Rio 2016.
Before their departure, the Minister of Youth and Sports, Barrister Solomon Dalung, had projected that the nation awaited at least 15 medals or at worst, five medals from the contingent.
Poor preparations took its toll on the athletes at the Games occasioned by paucity of funds. The majority of the athletes were unable to go on training tours before the Games and also lacked the world-class facilities to prepare for a competition of the Olympic magnitude.
Also, another controversy hit the Team Nigeria before its departure to Brazil as John Mikel Obi, a first timer, was named the flag bearer, while six-time Olympian, Funke Oshoniake was named his assistant. This appointment made by the office of the sports minister raised dust among stakeholders, as the appointment in the first instance was supposed to have been made by the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC).
Interestingly, this blunder was later tactically corrected as Oshonaike’s name appeared on the list of flag bearers released by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), just as the table tennis star led her colleagues during the opening parade at the Maracana Stadium.
High jumper, Doreen Amata eventually turned Nigeria’s flag bearer during the closing ceremony as the Nigerian table tennis team had already returned home after its event.
Also, the kits that were supposed to be used by the athletes arrived in Brazil late as the athletes who were originally scheduled to put on attires to promote the rich culture of Nigeria before the outside world had to make do with tracksuits during the opening parade.
Two-time Olympian, Eniefok Udo-Obong even faulted the arrival date of Team Nigeria to the Games, which was August 4, saying the 15-medal target by Dalung was unrealistic.
“We should be realistic. The question should be, ‘are we prepared to challenge the best athletes in the world? The answer is no. I am not trying to put the minister down, but winning medals is not something you wish to accomplish. You must work towards it.
“Based on the Nigerian spirit, we can win some medals if everything works for us, but nobody can beat his chest right now to say that Nigeria has the materials or has worked hard for medals in Rio,” the Sydney 2000 Olympics gold medallist had said.
The Dream Team captained by John Mikel Obi against all odds got to the semi-final before losing to a more formidable German side 0-2, but gave Nigeria its lonly medal after a breathtaking 3-2 victory over Honduras in the third place match.
A Japanese surgeon, Katsuya Takasu later rewarded each member of the Dream Team with cash award of $10,000. He had promised each player a cash award of $30,000 if Nigeria wins the gold and $20,000 if it loses in the final. Takasu also rewarded Samson Siasia and other members of the technical crew with cash incentives. The highlight of his gesture remains the decision to present the cash awards to Obi on behalf of the players and Siasia on behalf of his crew totalling $390,000.
The Dream Team was stranded during its training tour of Atlanta, USA and could not arrive at Manaus, venue of its first group game against Japan, until six hours to the kick off, following the intervention of the Federal Government which brought in Delta Airlines after the initial arrangements to fly the team to Brazil failed to materialise.
Nigeria managed a 5-4 win over Japan and pipped Sweden 1-0 to land in the quarter-final but lost the last group game 0-2 to Colombia. Denmark joined the list of Dream Team’s ‘victims’ in the quarter-final, with goals from Mikel and Sadiq Umar, who finished the tournament with four goals.
Etebo Oghenekaro, who scored four goals in the 5-4 win over Japan in the group’s opener also sets a record of becoming the first player to score four goals in a game after West Germany’s Bernd Nickel 44 years ago.
Nigeria’s senior men’s basketball team, D’Tigers coached by a German, William Voigt, failed to advance beyond the group stage as they could only record a win in the tourney beating Croatia in what was regarded as the biggest upset in the game in recent times.
D’Tigers lost their first three games to Argentina 66-94, Lithuania 80-89 and Spain 87-96 before beating Croatia 90-76 and also lost the last game to the hosts, Brazil
Nigeria’s performance was similar to the London 2012 episode as D’Tigers also finished 11th on the table at Rio 2016, one ahead of China. In 2012, its only win was against fellow African side, Tunisia also in five games.
This time, Nigeria went to the Olympics as reigning African champions having won the 2015 AfroBasket championship, while all nine members of the team made it to Rio 2016 with the exception of captain, Olumide Oyedeji, who opted out of international duties a few weeks to the Games and the duo of Portland Trail Blazers’ Al-Farooq Aminu and Festus Ezeli after the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) failed to sort out insurance matters with their club.
However, to some basketball stakeholders, D’Tigers were still impressive at Rio 2016.
A former coach of D’Tigers, Ayo Bakare, who led the team to their first Olympics appearance , London 2012 through a social media account writes “The players gave a good account of themselves, it was a painful loss but we will always be proud of them for their performance.”
That D’Tigers impressed in Brazil was also confirmed as they are now rated 16th, nine places up according to the latest FIBA world rankings released during the week.
Based on this development, Nigeria is the only African team among the top 20 teams as its closest rival, Angola, is ranked 23rd.
Seven wrestlers represented Nigeria at the Games but despite the efforts by the president of the NWF, Daniel Igali, none of his wrestlers was able to win in Rio. On arrival of the wrestlers in Rio, they had no partners to train with until Igali sent an emissary before the sports ministry could send some training partners to Brazil, a belated move which had no positive effect at the end of the day. Igali was so disturbed that he was unable to come to terms with the results posted especially by the women wrestlers.
In the freestyle event, Mercy Genesis lost 0-4 to Poland’s Nina Matkowska in a 48kg bout as Aminat Adeniyi lost 2-8 to Maarit Olli of Finalnd in a 58kg bout, while in the 69kg category, Amuchechi Reuben lost 1-11 to Canadan Erzsebet Yeats.
Blessing Oborududu was beaten also in round one of the 63kg clash by Battsetseg Soronzonbold of Mongolia, while Odunayo Adekuoroye in the 53kg failed to avenge her loss to Swede Sofia Mattson when both clashed again in Rio.
The two men wrestlers in the team who fought on the closing day did not fare better as Amas Daniel (65kg) and Soso Tamarau (97kg) were beaten by their opponents.
Amas, lost 1-2 to Georgia’s Iakobishvili Zurabi, while Tamarau lost 0-13 to Uzbekistan’s Ibragimov Idrisovitch.
In athletics, Blessing Okagbare who was heavily relied on prior to Rio 2016, this time failed to live up to the expectations.
Okagbare lost in the semi-final of the 100m when she finished third in a time of 11.09 seconds, while she finished fifth in the 200m heat with a time of 22.69secs and 13th overall in the category.
The reigning 100m and 200m Commonwealth champion who withdrew from the long jump event however, proved her mettle when she inspired the women’s 4x100m relay race to the final, but she alongside Gloria Asumnu, Jennifer Madu and Agnes Osazuwa, failed to make it to the podium finishing last in a time of 43.21 seconds.
Also, another athlete who commanded attention before the Rio 2016 was the high jump national record holder, Doreen Amata who made her third Olympic appearance in Brazil.
The 2007 and 2011 All Africa Games gold medallist, who finished 16th in the overall ranking at Beijing 2008 Olympics and 17th at London 2012 Olympics, with a personal best of 1.95m, however, was unable to go past the qualifying round at Rio 2016 following her inability to reenact her devastating form occasioned by injury.
“I was ready for the Games. I have cleared 1.95m this year and looks good to make my first final in the high jump. I even brought my coach here but things didn’t go as planned,” she submitted after her Rio debacle where she jumped 1.89m.
African triple jump champion, Tosin Oke, also failed to deliver in Rio as he made a jump of 16.47m, to finish 23rd in the final rankings. Oke at the London 2012 finished seventh, the best Nigerian result of the Games.
However, despite the challenges faced by Team Nigeria to Rio 2016, some athletes still made indelible marks given their heroics at the Games despite not making it to the podium.
Segun Toriola: The 41-year-old table tennis player became the first African to feature at seven Olympic Games. He also created an upset when he sent 79th world rated Czech Republic’s Dimitrij Prokopcov packing with a 4-2 score at the Riocentro Pavilion 3 before he lost to the 22nd world ranked Koki Niwa. Toriola was also at Rio 2016 inducted into the 7’ Club at the Olympic Games by the International Table Tennis Federation where the ITTF president, Thomas Wiekert, described his feat as “a fantastic achievement that needs to be celebrated.” Thomas at a colourful ceremony witnessed by three other table tennis stars who have competed in seven Olympic Games; Zoran Primorac (Croatia), Jörgen Persson (Sweden) and Jean-Michel Saive (Belgium). added that “We have enjoyed watching you play and we look forward to watching your more.”
Aruna Quadri: He became the first African to play in the quarter-final of the men’s singles of the Olympics. The reigning African champion first created the biggest upset at Rio 2016 when he dumped Chuang Chih-Yuan (6th) and Timo Boll (10th) before he lost to world’s number one, Ma Long of China in the last eight, the first time ever by an African.
Efe Ajagba: He was the only Nigerian boxer who qualified for the Rio 2016 and he didn’t disappoint despite his inability to make it to the podium. Ajagba in his first bout stopped Nigel Paul of Trinidad and Tobago in the first round. The Delta State-born Ajagba however, lost by unanimous decision to world’s number two Kazakhstan’s Ivan Dychko in their quarter-final super heavyweight bout.
Chierika Ukogu: The American-born rower was impressive in the women’s rowing Singles Sculls as she finished fifth in a time of 7:54.44 secs. The graduate of Human Biology of Stafford University, USA, emerged Nigeria’s lone entrant after earning the Rio 2016 ticket at the trials held in Tunisia where she finished third. Her modest feat in Rio was wildly celebrated by Nigerians as she almost made it to the podium.
Ese Brume: The Delta State-born athlete did not disappoint despite her inability to make it to the podium at Rio 2016. She finished fifth in the women’s long jump final with a leap of 6.81m. The reigning Commonwealth champion emerged the only African who made it to the final and one of the 11 athletes who for the first time had jumped 6.58m or farther in an Olympic final since 1980 edition. Brume with a personal best of 6.83m finished ahead of top jumpers like Estonia’s Ksenija Balta (6.79m); Australian Brooke Stratton (6.74m); and Britain’s Jazmin Sawyers who completed the top eight with a best of 6.69m.
Divine Oduduru: Arguably, his story was a success as far Rio 2016 was concerned. Oduduru announced his arrival on the athletics global stage when he finished second behind world record holder, Usain Bolt in a time of 20.34secs. He however, placed seventh in the semi-final with a time of 20.59 seconds also in a race dominated by Bolt. The Delta State-born Oduduru though finished 21st overall among the 24 athletes on parade, but left the Samba City proud as one of the future stars to watch out for.
To the Beijing 2008 Olympics silver medallist, Ene Franca Idoko, maladministration and inadequate funding must be addressed to take Nigeria back to where it belongs in the world of sports.
“Our administrators are not doing what they are supposed to do. There must be adequate funding by the government too for the athletes to excel and not that we will wait till the last minute for footballers to win our only medal at the Rio Olympics,” Idoko said.
Udo-Obong in his submission said that some athletes did their best in Rio, but noted that adequate investment in sports by the government would help the athletes to post better performances at the global stage, as he traced the rise of Great Britain which finished second at Rio 2016 from the 36th at Atlanta ‘96 to proper funding.
But to the sports minister, Rio 2016 was a success story after all, Nigeria came back with a medal won by the Dream Team unlike at London 2012 which brought zero medal.
“On the overall, Nigeria placed 78th out of 207 participating countries. We could have done better but we will now have to go back home and bring all stakeholders on board to begin planning and preparations for the next games.
“In the recent history of Nigeria’s participation at the Olympics, we went with a smaller contingent of 77 athletes who participated in 10 sports, including a few coaches and ministry officials who were in Rio for administrative purposes in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s directives.
“The players and athletes can attest to the unprecedented level of transparency. Camp allowances were paid directly to the athletes even before the end of the Olympics which has never happened before. Admittedly, there were administrative lapses here and there but we will make up for that in subsequent competitions. For now, we will savour the victory of our ‘golden’ Bronze and celebrate our athletes,” Dalung had declared.