Lagos — Shortly before Team Nigeria departed for the just concluded London Olympic, expectations were thick enough to be cut with a knife. The National Sports Commission, NSC, and the Nigerian Olympic Committee, NOC, had made Nigerians to believe that Team Nigeria would improve on its previous outings.
It is on record that apart from the Olympics held in Helsinki in 1952, Melbourne 1956, Rome 1960, Mexico 1968, Moscow 1980 and Seoul 1988, Nigeria had always managed to appear on the medals table. The crowning moment for Team Nigeria came at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in the USA where Team Nigeria won the Olympic soccer gold after Chioma Ajunwa had broken the jinx at the same Games by jumping 7.2 metres to clinch the country's first individual gold medal in the Long Jump gold.
Expectations that Nigeria would build on the success in Atlanta fell flat as Team Nigeria only managed to appear on the medals table in subsequent games. Although Nigeria's performance at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China was not encouraging, it was not totally catastrophic as the country returned with a silver medal in the football event in addition to three bronze medals that came in taekwondo, women's long jump and women's 4x100m relay.
In all fairness, pre-London 2012 Games preparations brought hope for a better outing as the performances of the country's contingent at the 2012 Senior African Athletics Championship in Port-Novo inspired so much hope.
Thus the captain of the team to London Uche Chukwumerije and his assistant Blessing Okagbare pledged they would not mind spilling blood to ensure they return from London with medals hanging around their necks.
The Sports Minister, Bolaji Abdullahi and the Director General of the National Sports Commission, Patrick Ekeji were equally optimistic. Unfortunately, Team Nigeria came back empty handed to the disappointment and shock of Nigerians who expected so much from the team. For many, Team Nigeria failed woefully because the mother-luck which always comes to the rescue of the team was nowhere to be found in London.
Consequently, the blame game is on with members of Team Nigeria desperately trying to exonerate themselves of blame and why justice should be tempered with mercy. As usual, there are tales of going back to the drawing board and also the need for few heads to roll.
Since luck cannot be over-stretched, Team Nigeria went to London, saw but could not conquer. The athletes fell like a pack of cards beginning from athletics which held a lot of hope to canoeing which did not attract much attention even before the games.
The Team's score card shows the following result:
Athletics which normally comes to the rescue of Team Nigeria again held the brightest hope and the assistant captain, Blessing Okagbare actually raised the country's expectations with inspiring performance during the heats but she got blown away in the finals where she placed a miserable last position. The failure of Blessing set the tone for subsequent disasters in athletics. Okagbare's confidence went with the winds as she failed to make it in the 200m, 4x100 relay women and even her specialty, Long Jump.
Ajoke Odumosu also struggled to get to the finals of the 4x 400m hurdles but ended with nothing. For the men's event which was hitherto dominated by Nigerians in the days of Innocent Egbunike, Olapade Adeniken and the Ezinwa brothers David and Osmond, our men became the shadow of themselves by crashing out in the heats. Another medal hope in the Triple Jump Tosin Oke also failed to deliver thus bringing to naught the great expectations.
This is the sport that fetched Nigeria her first Olympic medal at the Games in Tokyo in 1964 when Nojim Maiyegun won the country a bronze. Thereafter, Isaac Ikhuoria continued from where Maiyegun stopped by winning another bronze at the 1972 Olympic in Munich. Peter Konyegwachi won silver at the Los Angeles Olympics. At the Barcelona Olympics the sport increased its medal haul when David Izonritei and Richard Igbineghu won two silver medals. These victories placed the country among the greats in the ranks of amateur boxing but today, the sport is a laughing stock as the country's boxers at the London Olympics disgraced the country. The two male boxers in the squad Lukmon Lawal and Muideen Akanji lost in the first round. The only mark made in boxing was through the female boxer, Edith Ojoke who narrowly missed picking a bronze medal after bowing to Russia's Nadeda Torlopova 18-8 in the quarterfinals. Pundits in the sport said boxing federation had imported a ring attendant in the USA to prepare the boxers. There was no way disaster would have been avoided.
It is said Nigeria's major undoing was banking her hopes faded players. Moses Segun Toriola, and his female team mate, Funke Oshanioke, though exceptionally talented ping pongers were attending their sixth Olympic. They had nothing more to offer. After struggling to beat Ho Andre of Canada 4-1 in their opening game, Toriola was subsequently dispatched by Swedish Jorgen Persson. Haruna Quadri, fifth time Olympian and Offiong Edem did not survive the first round matches. Like boxing, it is said table tennis too did not take a technically sound coach to the games.
British born Johnny Akinyemi became the country's first ever Olympian to compete in the sport. Unfortunately, Akinyemi finished 21 out 22 competitors in the 50 seconds penalty.
Bsketball was the last sport to qualify for the games. And going by the 'miraculous' qualification, many Nigerians expected the same luck to see the D'Tigers through against formidable opponents like the USA and European powerhouses. If not for the inspirational Ayo Bakare who guided the team to its first Olympic ever and the president of the sport federation, Tijani Umar who was hell-bent on seeing his team through to the Olympics, Nigeria would have been talking about seven sports. Expectations were high but most basketball pundits exercised caution. In the end, D'Tigers managed just one victory and went on to lose all other matches.
They surprised all by qualifying from qualifier in which Angola and went on to beat African champion, Tunisia in the opener to show that they are part of the best.
They even went on to defeat their first round opponent at the Games Jamaica before crashing to Lithuania and almighty United States.
Even if nobody gave Isah Mohammed Adam any chance, Beijing 2008 bronze medalist, Chika Chukwumerije held so much hope and was part of the reasons he was made captain of Team Nigeria. The senator's son did not survive the first match. It was a huge disappointment which nailed the coffin of the country as far as appearance on the medals table was concerned.
Nigeria's only hope in the male event Felix Ekpo came up a disappointing eighth in the 77kg before another medal hopeful, Maryam Usman did not finish the competition as she got injured during the snatch. Consequently, weightlifting also yielded nothing.
As said earlier, the bulk passing game is on but other serious minded nations have since commenced preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. It is left to be seen how the country would learn from this latest sporting debacle.