Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games may have come and gone but the superlative performance of Nigerian athletes brings to mind the good days when Nigeria was a strong force at international meets. NIYI ALEBIOSU, who saw the Games live, here reports on how sport-loving Nigerians turned up with their investment and empowered Team Nigeria.
Chidi Imoh, Innocent Egbunike, Olapade Adenekan, Sunday Dada, the Queen of the tracks, Mary Onyali, first Olympic gold medalist, Chioma Ajunwa, Falilat Ogunkoya just to mention a few, made Nigeria a brand in athletics, by impressing and making greater impact and waves at major athletics events globally.
However, after decades of under-achievements , Tobiloba Amusan, Odunayo Adekuoroye and others re-wrote the story by bringing out the best of Nigeria’s unrelenting spirit in Birmingham.
Though, the general feelings prior to the Games was Nigeria came to make up the number in Birmingham Nigerian athletes rose to the occasion and proved bookmakers wrong by winning medals when the goings got tough in Birmingham.
Their incredible performances in Birmingham epitomised the Nigerian commitment to a cause they believe in. The never-say-die attitude displayed by the athletes, especially the female folks, has put smiles on the faces of Nigerians in the face of rising security and economic challenges.
Nigeria at the Commonwealth Games
This year’s Commonwealth Games were the 15th appearance of Nigeria in the competition, having competed at the previous editions since its debut in 1950, except in 1962, 1978, 1986 and 1998.
Although Nigeria has won at least one medal in every one it had attended, its best performance before now came in Victoria in 1994 where it recorded its highest number of medals in the Commonwealth games, winning a total of 37 medals: 11 gold, 13 silver and 13 bronze.
Nigeria’s next memorable performance came in the year 2014 in Glasgow, where the country clinched a total of 36 medals resulting from 11 gold, 11 silver and 14 bronze. Also, a total of 33 medals were clinched in Delhi, India, in 2010.
Nigeria’s performance in Birmingham 2022
Nigeria amassed a total of 35 medals made up of 12 gold, nine silver and 14 bronze. This year’s outing was even more impressive because world records were set by Nigerian athletes, all of whom are all females.
Led by the very outstanding track and field sprinter, and world record holder, Tobi Amusan, the country’s female athletes out-shone their male counterparts to place Nigeria with a seventh placed finish overall; considered to be her best ever performance in the history of the games.
Out of the 35 medals won, the women racked up 23, including all the gold medals, with the males making up the figures with 12 non-golden medals.
The tone for Nigeria’s gold medal splurge was set by Adijat Adenike Olarinoye, who won gold in the 55kg weightlifting event before Rafiatu Folashade Lawal overcame her competitors to add to Nigeria’s gold medals tally in the 59kg event.
The trio of Miesinnei Mercy Genesis (50 kg), Blessing Oborodudu (57 kg), and Odunayo Adekuroye (57kg) further increased the gold medal tally in the women’s freestyle wrestling.
Having set a new world record in the 100m hurdles at the world championships in Oregon, USA, Tobi Amusan, showed her prowess again in Birmingham and finished in a time of 12.30s to claim gold and set a new games record.
With Nigerians still hyped about her majestic performance, she again, led the women’s 4x100m relay team which consisted of Favour Ofili, Rosemary Chukwuma and Nzubechi Nwokocha to the podium as the Nigerian national anthem was sang to the delight of all Nigerians across the globe.
Yet, the quest for gold was not over, as Folashade Oluwafemiayo and Eucharia Iyiazi also registered wins in the Women’s heavyweight Para Powerlifting, and Women’s shot put, respectively, before Chioma Onyekwere, and Goodness Nwachukwu, added to the medals’ haul in Women’s Discus throw.
Delta’s very own Ese Brume, leapt a distance of 6.99m in the Long Jump event to put the icing on what was an already delicious cake and win Nigeria’s record breaking 12th gold medal in the competition. She had earlier set a new games record of 6.99m with her second jump that day.
The athletes’ outstanding outing ensured Nigeria finished as the best ranked African country on the medals table and overall seventh best at the Games. Their performances drew positive reactions from Nigerians across all spheres of life.
Reacting to the success story at the Games, the Minister of Youth Sports, Sunday Dare said “Learning from Team Nigeria’s performance at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the 2020 Paralympic Games, the World Athletics U20 Championships in Kenya, the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development relied on a scientific approach, using data to identify our areas of strength and comparative advantage to focus on the sports that can get us medals in Birmingham”.
He added, “In those nine sports, we also focused on our athletes and their placings in the world. Only the sports where we have athletes in the top 10 in the world could guarantee us podium finishes and those were the areas we placed our emphasis on.”
An highly elated Dare added “ Motivating these athletes was also a major factor considering the lean resources available to us. We had a lot of initiatives in place to help us support these athletes. The initiative was called the Adopt Initiative. State Governments, corporate bodies , well spirited and wealthy Nigerians were encouraged to provide funds between $10 and 20k to help athletes with training, travels, payment of coaches, insurance etc. This helped greatly in keeping the athletes focused on their performances and getting better in their different sports.
“The different sports federations also participated in a lot of international competitions which provided strong tests for the athletes. They were able to gauge their levels and step up their efforts at staying at the top and elite level”, he said.
He thus informed that the ministry will not rest on its oars but ensure that the country achieves more successes and that they are laying a foundation that will make this a reality even after he leaves office.