As the Tokyo Olympics beckons, many wonder if Nigeria can win any medals at the Games, considering the nation failed to get to the podium in Track & Field at both London 2012 and Rio 2016. That notwithstanding Bambo Akani, the Founder & CEO of Making of Champions (MoC), speaking over the weekend, asserted that he believes Athletics alone can win Nigeria at least five medals at the highly anticipated quadrennial showpiece which commences in July.
The last time Nigeria made a podium appearance in Athletics at the Olympics was in 2008 when both Blessing Okagbare and the quartet of Franca Idoko, Halima Ismaila, Gloria Kemasuode and Damola Osayomi respectively won Bronze medals in the Long Jump and women’s 4x100m, with the medals being upgraded to Silver a few years later. While it’s now been 13 years without an Olympic medal in Athletics, Akani believes this negative trend can be stemmed if focus is given to certain events, especially the Relays, ahead of the Tokyo Games.
He said, “To date Nigeria has won 25 Olympic medals in total, with 13 of them coming from Athletics, but crucially since 2008 the nation has only 1 Olympic Medal – Football Bronze at Rio 2016. Gone are the days when Nigeria could expect to have 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 Olympic Relays – 8 of Nigeria’s 13 Athletics Medals in Olympic history were in the Relays. Indeed, Nigeria has won medals in all 4 Relays that have appeared at the Olympics so far – men’s and women’s 4x100m and 4x4x00m. Relay medals are the most obvious for Nigeria to target to return to winning ways at the Olympics.”
He added: “The good news for Nigeria is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Despite a difficult decade in the doldrums relative to the two decades prior, a new generation of Athletes are showing the promise that could make Tokyo the nation’s best Olympic showing since Atlanta ’96, where Nigeria won 4 medals in Athletics and 6 medals in total.
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“In 2019, Ese Brume won Nigeria’s first World Championship Medal in six years in the Long Jump, while Tobi Amusan narrowly missed out on a medal in the 100m Hurdles – they will likely be Nigeria’s greatest individual medal hopefuls in Tokyo, but don’t count out the likes of Divine Oduduru and Blessing Okagbare to contest for 100m or 200m medals.
“Nigeria could well win five medals in Athletics at the Tokyo Olympics, but this 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 the ongoing 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 together even before the coronavirus pandemic, while Nigeria’s 4x100m men lost to Team Ghana at the 2019 African Games, despite having the faster 100m sprinters on paper. Without adequate preparation, another barren Olympic Games for Nigeria in the Relays would be inevitable.”
Akani also highlighted the positive role Making of Champions has played in reviving Athletics in Nigeria, with MoC Track Club 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, with the trio already regular members of Nigeria’s relay teams and at the cusp of qualifying for their first Olympic Games.
MoC’s third annual Grand Prix on the 2nd–3rd April will feature Nigeria’s first ever attempt to qualify for the Mixed 4x400m (with 2 men and 2 women per team) which will be appearing at the Olympic Games for the very first time in Tokyo, with Akani citing Bahrain’s success in the inaugural staging of the event at the 2019 World Championships where the Arab nation won Bronze with a quartet of Nigerian-born Athletes.
“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. I coined the term ‘Bahrain Drain’ as far back as 2016, when we discovered that Bahrain’s whole track team at the World U20 Championships in Poland that year were Nigerian-born.”