The much-anticipated Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games officially begin today despite some sports like football and softball already recording some mind-blowing results. For Team Nigeria, the journey will start with medal hopefuls, Odunayo Adekuoroye and Quadri Aruna leading out the contingent at the ceremonial match past, bearing the country's green-white-green flag.
After attending several editions of the Olympiad without any commensurate silverware achievements like Atlanta in 1996, Nigerians have become nonplused. They are no longer sure of what to expect from Team Nigeria but disappointment. After Atlanta '96, Nigerian athletes tried to match that feat four years later at Sydney 2000 by winning two silver medals and a couple of bronze medals. Although one of the silver medals got elevated to gold following the disqualification of Team USA over dope use several years later, none of our outings in the subsequent Games produced anything near the two gold medals in the 1996 edition. Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012 and the last Games in Rio in 2016 did not fare better.
However, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. The delayed edition in Tokyo starting today may signal the turnaround for Nigeria sports. Suddenly, Nigerian athletes at Tokyo 2020 have become the talking points of their various events. Take for instant, D'Tigers and D'Tigress who made history as the first teams from Africa to qualify for the men and women's basketball events at same edition have been tipped to make waves. The men's team in particular stunned both world number 1 and 4, USA and Argentina in a pre-games outing in Las Vegas penultimate weekend to send warnings to all countries coming to Tokyo for the competition.
The story is the same in track & field, wrestling, taekwondo, gymnastics and canoes. It appears Nigeria's years of locusts are about to be rewritten.
Speaking ahead of today's opening ceremony, sprint hurdler, Tobiloba Amusan, insisted that she and her colleagues are raring to go and make Nigeria proud. Amusan will be making her second appearance at the Games debuting five years ago in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The 24-year-old will be hoping to become only the second sprint hurdler to win a 100m hurdles medal for Nigeria after Glory Alozie won a silver medal in Sydney, Australia in 2000. "Our stay in Kizarazu has been very helpful. The hotel, the food and everything has been great as we head for the Olympic Village," observed Amusan who made it all the way to the semifinal of her event at Rio 2016.
The petite hurdler who placed fourth at the World Athletics Championship two years ago in Doha, Qatar running inside 12.50 thrice wants Nigerians to keep the athletes in their prayers as they strive for podium finishes for the first time in 13 years.
"Our practice sessions have been good and the athletes have been putting in 100% each time. We are just praying that everything work well for us at the games. Nigerians at home should support us in their prayers and we know with God all things are possible," stressed the USA-based hurdler.
Amusan will start her chase for a podium finish on Saturday July 31. The semifinal is on Sunday August 1 while the final will be on Monday August 2, 2020.
Similarly, President of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, Tonobok Okowa believes the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics will rewrite Nigeria's record of participation at the quadrennial games.
Nigeria's track and field team has failed to win a medal in the last two Olympics and Okowa believes the story will be different in Tokyo.
"I am confident our athletes will rewrite their record of participation at the event. The AFN has provided the enabling environment for the athletes and I am sure they will live up to our expectations,' said the AFN president who will be in Tokyo to support the athletes.
Okowa is predicating his optimism on the pre-Games form of the athletes and the huge support received from both the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development and the Nigeria Olympic Committee.
"Ese Brume has proved her status as one of the best horizontal jumpers in the world. Her African record setting 7.17m leap at the end of May is the farthest any long jumper has landed so far this year," observed Okowa who also believes Amusan, sprinters Blessing Okagbare and Divine Oduduru and hammer thrower Annette Echikunwoke are world-class athletes ranked among the top 10 in their events. '
"Enoch Adegoke and Grace Nwokocha are dark horses waiting to spring surprises. Our 4x100m relay team is the best we have ever assembled in terms of individual performances and should make it a hat-trick of Olympic medals in Tokyo," said a confident AFN head who reserved special praise for the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare for his efforts in getting the athletes ready.
"The Minister's adopt-an- athlete initiative has proved a game changer. For the first time in over two decades we have athletes who live here, train here and compete here achieve unprecedented feats. Adegoke ran 10.00 seconds to win the 100m at the Olympic trials at Yabatech last month. It is the fastest legal time ever achieved by a home-based athlete on Nigerian track.
"Grace also achieved her phenomenal feat at Yabatech in March. Her 11.09 seconds time which qualified her for the Olympics is the fastest time achieved by a home-based athlete in Nigeria in over two decades,' revealed Okowa who charges the duo to emulate the feat achieved by Ese Brume at the 2016 Olympics.
"Ese also qualified for her debut Olympics here in Nigeria as a home based athlete when she jumped 6.83m at the AFN Golden League in Akure. She proved her feat in Akure was not by happenstance by jumping her way to the final in Rio. Enoch and Grace can do it.'
The AFN president advised the athletes not to get distracted by people who are bent on pulling them back.
"I will be in Tokyo when I am done with arrangements for the preparations of our young athletes for the World Juniors in Nairobi, Kenya. These are athletes that will become the fulcrum of our team at the next Olympics,' said the president who revealed the Secretary General of the AFN is already there with the Olympic athletes at their Kizarazu camp near Tokyo in Japan.
The track and field athletes will move into the Olympic Village on July 25, five days before the start of the athletics event.