‘Nigeria can win five medals in Tokyo’
• MoC Boss Akani Wants Focus On Relay
Team Nigeria’s failure to get to the podium in track and field events of both London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics Games notwithstanding, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Making of Champions (MoC), Bambo Akani, has projected that the nation could win as many as five medals in Tokyo.
The last time Nigeria made a podium appearance in athletics at the Olympics was in 2008, when Blessing Okagbare got a bronze medal in the long jump, as well as the bronze from the quartet of Franca Idoko, Halima Ismaila, Gloria Kemasuode and Damola Osayomi in the women’s 4x100m. Their medals (4x100m) have since been upgraded to silver. That was 13 years ago, and Nigeria’s search for an Olympics medal in athletics has yielded no positive fruit since then.
In a message to The Guardian, Akani said he believes Tokyo Olympics, which will commence in July, could be different if the country focuses on certain events, especially the relays.
“Till date, Nigeria has won 25 Olympics medals in total, with 13 of them coming from athletics,” Akani said. “But crucially, since 2008, the nation has only one Olympics medal, a football bronze at Rio 2016. Gone are the days when Nigeria could expect to have two men in the 100m or 200m finals at the Olympics, like at Atlanta ’96 or Barcelona ’92. Gone are the days when Nigeria was always a medal contender in the Olympics relays. Eight of Nigeria’s 13 athletics medals in Olympic history were in the relays.
“Nigeria has won medals in all four relays our athletes have appeared at the Olympics so far, the men and women 4x100m and 4x4x00m. Relay medals are the most obvious for Nigeria to target to return to winning ways at the Tokyo Olympics,” he stated.
He continued: “A new generation of athletes are showing the promise that could make Tokyo our best Olympics showing since Atlanta ’96, where Nigeria won a total of six medals, four in athletics alone.
In 2019, Ese Brume won Nigeria’s first World Championships medal in six years in the long jump, while Tobi Amusan narrowly missed out in the 100m hurdles. “They will likely be Nigeria’s greatest individual medal hopefuls in Tokyo. We must not also count out the likes of Divine Oduduru and Blessing Okagbare in the 100m or 200m events,” Akani said.
According to him, Nigeria’s chances of winning five medals in athletics at the Tokyo Olympics would not happen by chance. “As a nation, we must have a flawless preparation to bring our relay teams to train and compete together despite the challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic.
“Nigeria could actually contest for all five relay medals in Tokyo, but not without putting in the work. South Africa’s sprinters were already in relay camps even before the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic. Nigeria’s 4x100m men lost to Team Ghana at the 2019 African Games, despite having the faster 100m sprinters on pages of newspapers. Without adequate preparation, another barren Olympic Games for Nigeria in the relays would be inevitable.”
Akani also spoke on the positive role Making of Champions (MoC) has played in reviving Nigerian athletics, producing the likes of national champions, Joy Udo-Gabriel (in 100m) and Emmanuel Ojeli (in 400m), as well as national 200m silver medallist, Jerry Jakpa. The trio is already regular members of Nigeria’s relay teams, and at the verge of qualifying for their first Olympic Games.
MoC’s third annual Grand Prix will hold between April 2 and 3 in Lagos, and will feature Nigeria’s first ever attempt to qualify for the Mixed 4x400m (with two men and two women per team), which will be appearing at the Olympic Games for the first time in Tokyo.
Akani cited the success story of Team Bahrain, when the Mixed 4x400m event made its inaugural appearance at the 2019 World Championships, with the Arab nation winning a bronze with a quartet of Nigerian-born Athletes.
“One of the key reasons Nigeria did so well at the Olympics from Barcelona ’92 till Beijing 2008, was the support of major corporate sponsorship in athletics. In the two decades from 1990 to 2010, the word ‘Mobil’ was synonymous with Nigeria’s annual Track and Field Olympic Trials. Those were the years that Exxon Mobil was the title sponsor of the event, and it was one of the top five National Trials in the world. Then, Nigeria had same quality of performance with the likes of USA, Canada, Great Britain and Jamaica. 20 of Nigeria’s Olympic medals in history out of 25 were won within that 21-year period.
“Unfortunately, the great impact Mobil had on Nigeria’s Olympic movement was not a narrative that was clearly and widely articulated, and the benefits to the brand of remaining behind athletics began to diminish. Amidst rumors that prize money, which was meant for the athletes was no longer reaching them, Mobil pulled out its support of the National Trials in 2011. It is no surprise that Nigeria hasn’t won a single Olympic medal in athletics since the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
“Nigerian athletics has not had a major long term corporate sponsor since then, and this has led to its decline. Nigeria has seen the mass exodus of her best talent to other countries such as Qatar and Bahrain. Today, the World 400m Champion and third fastest woman in history in the quarter-mile is Salwa Eid Naser. In 2013, she was known as Ebelechukwu Agbapuonwu before she left Nigeria for Bahrain. As part of a quartet of Nigerian-born athletes, she inspired Bahrain to bronze in the first ever Mixed 4x400m at the World Championships in 2019,” Akani stated.
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