by Ebuka Obi-Uchendu
(I wrote the article below and it was first published four years ago in ThisDay Newspapers on August 24th, 2008)
The games of the 29th Olympiad ending today in Beijing have been more of a painful confirmation that Nigerian sports, is dead!
When the Beijing Olympics were about to commence, a lot of people were not excited about the prospects of Team Nigeria; and rightly so. Preparations as usual, were beyond shoddy (are we not tired of saying this?), athletes were not motivated well enough and the delegation did not look like they met up to the standards of their counterparts from other countries. But in spite of all that, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua whilst bidding the athletes farewell on their way to the Far East, mandated them to come back with at least 8 gold medals from China. 8 gold medals? That should not be so difficult to get. Or would it?
In the meantime, miles away in Baltimore USA lived a 23-year-old man whom four years earlier at the Athens Olympics, won 6 gold medals and 2 bronze at the swimming pool. He decided that all of those medals were not enough and decided to go for more. As Beijing 2008 approached, he declared to the entire world that he was going to win 8 gold medals in China on his way to becoming probably the greatest Olympian of all time. Not a lot of people doubted him, even though we all just waited to see it happen first.
Then the games started. First Nigerians were promised at least a gold medal from boxing and we were a bit hopeful seeing that our very first Olympic medal came from the same sport some 44 years ago at an Olympics held also in the Far East (Tokyo 1964); and that we had done quite well in the sport over the years. But one after the other Nigeria’s four boxers all lost out in disastrous fashion without even getting past the round of 16. The Falcons, our female football team continued in the same fashion as they exited the Games after just three matches and not a single match won or even drawn.
Then our sole representative in badminton, Grace Daniel, lost her first match and went out in the very first round just like our table tennis players did in the singles and team events. One after the other, Nigerian athletes continued to fall.
Meanwhile not a lot of people knew that we actually had swimmers representing us in Beijing. I had first taken note of Ngozi Monu at the All Africa Games in Abuja even though she had been around for a while before that and so I was looking forward to seeing what she could do in Beijing at the 50m Freestyle event. Unfortunately, it turned out not to be too much as she came 6th in the heats. There was also Yellow Yei Yah (probably the most interesting name I heard in Beijing apart from the Chinese of course) who actually won his own heat in the 50m Freestyle for men but not surprisingly, could not make the qualifying time. Day after day as the games went on, Nigerian athletes continued to do the exact opposite of what we thought would be.
The weightlifters fell by the way side to continue the dismal showing. The sprinters continued in the same vein even though Nigerians believed for some reason that they would redeem the nation. Fasuba fell, Osayomi fell, Metu fell and Chukwuemeka fell. What was wrong?
While all these happened, Nigeria’s fellow 8 gold medals hopeful, Michael Phelps was on a row. One after the other, he conquered the pool and was breaking records in tow. Then came the moment when the entire world held their breaths; two moments actually. First was the 4x100m freestyle relay which the USA almost lost until their fourth swimmer, John Lezak came back in the last few meters to win the race for Phelps and the USA; and secondly the 100m butterfly which he seemed to have lost to Milo Cavic of Serbia until replay after replay after replay and electronic devices showed that he actually won by 0.01 seconds (how do they even measure that?)! He eventually won 8 gold medals like he had hoped to, making him the first to do so in the history of the Olympics.
Samson Siasia and his boys were our only relief while all these went down and they kept showing signs that they were the only sure bet for a medal in Beijing. It simply left some of us wishing that football counted as 22 medals for the entire team and that would have placed us somewhere around the 3rd position on the medals table. The boys played beautifully for the better part of the tournament and made nonsense of the absence of ‘high shouldered’ Mikel Obi and Taye Taiwo. Whilst our athletes faltered, we waited patiently for the next men’s soccer match to pacify us, without caring that it all simply counts as just 1 medal. Thankfully, day after day, pacify us they did!
Today, Nigerians are disappointed and are making that known, even though football does calm a few nerves. But then those who should care do not care one bit! They (the sports administrators) will come back home after what has been more or less a three week vacation in China, hold a dinner party for the male footballers, set up committees to investigate Nigeria’s failure in Beijing, make a lot of noise about setting up committees and then go to sleep until sometime in February 2012 when the London Games would be just a few weeks away!
I feel really sad for Nigerian athletes who toil so hard to do the country proud but never get anything in return. They have been complaining and will keep complaining from all indications, without results. Seriously, can’t we just simply get things right and weed out these senseless sports administrators?
Now that Michael Phelps has shown Nigeria the way to win 8 gold medals, hope we have learnt a lesson. Not just a lesson that hard work pays off but that it is much more respectable to shut up our big mouths when we have nothing to offer. Kapish!!!
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.