Eye on Tokyo 2020 Day 10: Desert in an Oasis – Nigeria In Tokyo

Eye on Tokyo 2020 Day 10: Desert in an Oasis – Nigeria In Tokyo

There is a deafening silence in the Nigerian camp here in Tokyo.

The number of Nigerian athletes has dwindled significantly. How the athletes that leave or stay on in the Games Village are selected is still unclear. There are a few still in the Village that completed their assignments early but are still around. There are some that finished much later but left immediately and returned to Nigeria, or their base abroad.

That situation is understandable because when the games started it was impossible to know for sure how far any athlete would go, and who would still be around in the second week. So pre-arrangements for flights out of Tokyo could not be done ahead of competitions. As the results started to unfold, the Protocol department of the Nigeria Olympic Committee got busy, separating the ‘wheat’ from the ‘chaff’ amongst the Nigerian athletes, and rearranging flights.

As things stand, many have left but some would have to remain till the end to join the final official Government delegation that must have a special arrangement in place to return those that came from Nigeria to Nigeria.

A majority of the athletes that came to Tokyo arrived from bases and camps in the US (mostly the great basketball ambassadors that gave a good account of themselves and announced the arrival of Nigeria to the highest levels of the game in the world, despite the losses suffered by both the men’s and women’s teams in all their matches here at the Games).

Unfortunately, no one from that entire group in Tokyo would be returning to Nigeria to give an account of their stay, and how they felt about the sad experiences that characterised it in Tokyo.

Yet, it is from that group that ‘the Eye’ can get the unadulterated and undiluted version of the athletes’ reaction to all that transpired to, and within, the Nigerian athletes in Tokyo.

‘The Eye’ listened to one of them, Chimezie Metu talk about the unfortunate developments in the Nigerian camp and how it affected all the athletes at a post-match press conference following D’Tigers’ loss to Italy in their final match here.
Hear him.
“It’s extremely difficult to go out there and focus on the basketball game when you’re dealing with so much stuff off the court. For a lot of the athletes that are here to represent Nigeria, we love our country and we’re ready to risk all and put all on the line. But the Olympic Committee of Nigeria make it extremely difficult for us to go out there and just focus on performing. I’m not just talking about basketball, I’m talking about the track and field, also. I’m pretty sure everybody’s heard about the 10 track athletes that have been disqualified and they had nothing to do with it. It was a lack of attention to detail and lack of empathy for the hard work that’s been put in by us athletes, by the Committee, as well as the Government”.

“….for 60-something athletes to come out here, flying halfway across the world, and then be disrespected and humiliated by a country… that’s something that I’m pretty sure none of us can stand for. I thank coach Mike Brown because he’s put a lot on the line for us. He had his staff, they traveled halfway across the world, took a 30-hour trip from where we were in Oakland, California – it was supposed to be a 10-hour trip – ended up being a 30-hour trip because it’s, like I said, the lack of attention to detail by our Government and our Olympic Committee to go out there and try to make it as easy as possible for us to perform. Half of his staff couldn’t even come into the Olympic Village with us.

It was an extremely difficult first few days for us, we had to practice with no coach! With no coach before we played Australia, one of the best teams in the world! I just feel like I have to bring attention to that, and try to use this platform to speak out against it. It’s not just the basketball team. We have like 60-something athletes here, and every single one of us has had a hard time since we’ve been here. We walk around the village and we see other countries, and see how they’re living and how everything is going so smooth for them. Man, what I would give to just… All of us would die for our country.

We put it on the line, every last one of us. They make it extremely difficult to go out there and want to represent Nigeria. But you know, over and over again we continue to do it. I would want to use this time just to ask that the Government and the Olympic Committee just adjust the amount of stress and everything they’re putting on us athletes that are coming to represent Nigeria time in and time out. They make it extremely difficult. The game is what it was, but that’s secondary to me at this point”.

‘The Eye’ has nothing to add. That’s generally how the athletes feel here. They may not have got the best from the sports authorities.

As a result, the whole environment around the Nigerian contingent is now solemn. The athletes appear to be on their own, particularly those that are still competing. They are racing and fighting for self now more than for country because general relationship with the officials has gone sour.

The athletes and officials are still hopeful that with some good results in some of the events left, the tension and anger will abate a little. It is that spirit that is still fueling some hope here.

A few Track and Field athletes and all the wrestlers still provide fading hope that Nigeria would go back home with one or two medals despite the catastrophe that befell the team.

Undoubtedly, the medal ‘haul’ that was bandied by sports offìcial ‘experts’ before the Olympics began may have been recklessly optimistic, from what is unfolding here since the second half of the games began.

The good news for Nigeria may lie away from the tracks where the most attention is bèing paid now. Nigeria’s best chances now lie on the wrestling mats outside the main stadium in Tokyo where former Olympic Gold medalist (for Canada), Nigeria’s Igali, has been doing a great job for several years, building a formidable team of world-class wrestlers for the country. Harvest time is now here, and his team may be immune and unaffected by the brouhaha elsewhere in the camp.

Meanwhile, the Games have thrown up some last-minute unbelievable drama in athletics in the past 24 hours. These have justified why it was important for the Games to be held despite the fears and threats of the pandemic.

Through a few events the world has seen and appreciates the power of the human spirit to excel and to promote competition, friendship, peace, humanity and the human capacity to surmount any adversity.

Ms. Rosajy Ven of Venzuela, standing 6ft 4inches tall, became thè Olympic Gold medalist in the Triple jump. In an unforgettable series of jumps, she set a new Olympic record with her very first jump, and broke the World record and set a new one with her last Jump. 15.76 metres thus becomes the longest jump by any female in the history of the sport.

In the High Jump event, there was unbelievable drama. Two athletes from 2 different countries, Qatar and Italy, cleared the same height, 2.37metres, with the same number of attempts and failures. They agreed between themselves that rather than have an extended playoff they would share the podium as joint Olympic Gold Medalists.

In the finals of the 100 metres, there was no White runner..this time again. 7 of the 8 finalists were Black. Only a Chinese broke the monopoly.

Amongst them in the line up stood a lone Nigerian sprinter. Enoch Adejoke, who came second in his semi-final group race has revived the lost tradition of at least one Nigerian being in the final of the short-sprints in all major races in the world.
He could, easily have been on course to winning a medal, but for the unfortunate accident of a strained hamstring half way into the race that truncated his remarkable exploits in Tokyo. The race was to determine the new fastest human on earth, and to crown him King after the exit of Usain Bolt. It was won by the most unlikely and underrated runner in the line-up, a little known Black Italian, Lamont Marcel Jacobs.

That Nigeria’s Enoch was there in the line up at the finals is a painful reminder of Nigeria’s potential place in world sports. This is a country with too many uncut diamonds, abundant raw talents lying unharnessed, a desert in an Oasis of vast opportunities.

Finally, those responsible for the Nigerian team were very generous before the games in predicting a haul of medals for the country from Tokyo 2020. Those predictions are disappearing fast as in a plume of smoke.

Segun Odegbami

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