I’ve noticed a trend in the last couple of months since the run up to London 2012 began with Nigerians. The constant talk is of how Nigeria has lost its glory at the Olympics.
We all remember where we were when Nigeria won the gold medal for football against Argentina at the Centennial Olympics in Atlanta. Okay, maybe not everyone does, but we all definitely remember where we were when the original Dream Team defeated Brazil in the semi finals. My street in the Zone 2, Wuse Area of Abuja was crazy. 12am became as loud as noon and sleep was adjourned till further notice. I was young and still recovering from the scars of the World Cup 2 years earlier when the Super Eagles’ dream run was cut short by Italy.
That joy was so intense that poor Chioma Ajunwa’s feat of winning Nigeria’s first ever (and still only) individual medal at an Olympics, almost went unnoticed. She won gold in the long jump against all odds and thankfully got celebrated eventually. So much so that even her ban a few years earlier for the use of a banned substance, was not enough to stop her from being considered a national hero. We have since won another gold in the 4×400 meters men’s relay in Sydney after the original winners USA were stripped of their medal, bringing our total gold medal haul at the Olympics since inception to 3. Yes, you heard me right; 3 gold medals is our all time record.
I’ve noticed a trend in the last couple of months since the run up to London 2012 began with Nigerians. The constant talk is of how Nigeria has lost its glory at the Olympics. Quotes like “Gone are the glory days of sports in Nigeria.” Apparently, we used to be world conquerors and our presence at the Olympics usually sent shivers down the spines of other countries. Really? I may be quite young, seeing that my first real memories of an Olympics were from Barcelona ’92 (my memories of Seoul ’88 are about Ben Johnson and the drugs as well as Florence Griffith-Joyner’s nails) but in that short time, I can’t remember this glorious era people speak of. And thanks to the Internet, I know we haven’t had it better than we did at Atlanta 1996. So when were these glory days?
Nigeria first participated at the Olympics in 1952 and has been at every competition since then besides Montreal in 1976, which we boycotted in protest against the apartheid regime in South Africa. That gives us a total of 15 Olympic Games attended. Our total medal haul in all those games is 23, made up of 3 gold medals, 8 silver medals and 12 bronze medals. Now even a non mathematician like me knows that 23 medals in 15 games, cannot even give you an average of 2 medals per games since we started attending. That’s nowhere near impressive.
Up until Seoul in 1988, we had won just 4 medals altogether (1 bronze and 3 silver) with Los Angeles in 1984 being the only time we ever won more than one medal in a tournament. We won absolutely nothing in Helsinki, Melbourne, Rome, Mexico City, Moscow and Seoul. Boxing was our saving grace at the time as they brought 3 of the 4 medals we won before 1992.
Between Barcelona 1992 and Beijing 2008, the tune has been somewhat different and just a little more impressive. We have won at least a silver medal and 3+ medals in total at every Olympic Games except in Athens where we left with just 2 bronze medals. The sports that have brought the medals since Barcelona, have also been a little more diverse consisting of athletics, boxing, taekwando, weightlifting and football. Atlanta in 1996 has brought the most medals obviously with 6, followed by Barcelona and Beijing both with 4 medals each. But even you and I know that as bright as things may seem since 1992, there’s no way those should be called ‘glorious days’ by any real sports fan or patriot.
Nigeria has never had it ‘glorious’ at the Olympics. Especially since we can’t count a football gold as 11. A country with an average haul of 1.5 medals per Olympic Games can hardly be called great. That is the first thing we need to recognize. Secondly, realizing that will help us place the right pressure on the right people in charge today. The belief that 2012’s Team Nigeria needs to take us back to the glorious days is misinformed. If Atlanta is the so-called ‘glorious day’ then I’m sorry but I see no reason why 6 medals should be the benchmark for Nigeria at any Olympics. Yes surpassing the Atlanta feat would be good, but that is too low a benchmark to set for my dear country. Which probably explains why our sports will almost never grow.
The UK had their best Olympic showing ever in Beijing 2008, mostly thanks to their 8 gold medal haul in cycling. One of the most modern cycling valodromes anywhere in the world is situated in Abuja but I can’t remember one cycling tournament being held anywhere near there. A trip to the swimming pool at the National Stadium in Surulere, explains our attitude to sports in a nutshell.
We need to stop being delusional and accept that we have never been world-beaters. Local champions know their place and either accept it or strive to be better. We seem to want to be better but the ‘strive’ part is not in our dictionary. At every Olympic Game, it is almost glaring that without the personal efforts of the athletes themselves, Nigeria would be mostly off the radar at the global sporting event.
The 90’s may have been a little better than our earlier days at the Olympics. But I refuse to call them glorious days. Same way I refuse to use that as our benchmark. Do I blame the athletes? Of course not! For as long as we have sports federations being run by non professionals and our preparations are still not seen as long term projects (the Chinese prepared for 12 years for Beijing 2008 and won more gold medals than the USA for the first time), we will continue to talk about glory days that never existed.
Good luck to Team Nigeria in London. My green-white-green will be flaunted proudly for the next 3 weeks.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.