Before now, Nigeria’s Latifat Tijani, was relatively unknown in the world of para-powerlifting until on Thursday, August 26, 2021 when she won the gold at the ongoing Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in Japan.
Today, Tijani through her exploits at Tokyo 2020 has become a sports celebrity in the country and beyond. Tijani in this interview with NIYI ALEBIOSU, in Tokyo revealed how she closed down her hairdressing salon since 2017 to concentrate on her sporting career, a decision which has earned her Paralympic gold.
FOR Latifat Tijani, a powerlifter who hails from Abeokuta, Ogun State, it was a dream come true as she won the gold in the women’s para-powerlifting -45kg category at the ongoing Paralympics.
The mother of two who is also the national and African champion in her class after her triumph in 2015 on the continent settled for the silver at Rio 2016.
Since then, Tijani vowed to win the gold at next Paralympics and her dream came to pass when she lifted 107kg to grab the gold. She also became the first athlete to win a medal for Team Nigeria at Tokyo 2020.
Tijani, a hairdresser betrayed emotions as she burst into tears shortly after realising her 107kg lift had delivered gold medal to Nigeria.
This was not the first time Tijani had made it to the podium in a major international championship. She won the gold at the 2015 African Games in Brazzaville, while at Rio 2016 Games in Brazil, she claimed the silver after lifting 106kg.
At the Tokyo International Forum on August 26, Tijani was destined for glory, as her first attempt was false, but her second attempt was successful, while in the third attempt, she lifted 107 kg to grab the gold.
China’s Zhe Cui settled for the silver with a lift of 102 kg while Justyna Kozdryk of Poland claimed the bronze with a 101 kg lift.
The fair-skinned lifter also attempted to set a world record but failed as she was unable to lift 117 kg she went for after she had already set the Paralympics record with the lift of 107 kg.
Indeed, the Nigerian amazon had cause to celebrate her golden finish moreso, the first medal by Team Nigeria at the Games.
“In fact, the moment Cui lifted 105kg with me, I knew that there was ‘war’ and when we went in for the third attempt and she decided to go for 110kg, I started crying and at the same time praying.
“I was not feeling too okay following my inability to lift 105kg in my first attempt and later my coach said, ‘Lati, you can do it, you have done it before’. Again, seeing her beside me, I said there is ‘war’ here and I still have to be myself and do the needful. So, I went for 107 kg and to the glory of Allah, I got it right. The moment I lifted it she dropped to 102kg and I could not control tears at that point because it’s mission accomplished,” Tijani told Sportingtribune.
The 39-year-old went philosophical to celebrate her achievement as she was also full of praise for the Minister of Youth and Sports, Chief Sunday Dare, for believing in her ability.
“I dedicate this gold medal to Almighty Allah that made it possible for me because it is not by my power but His.
“I have not been finding it easy with two children [17 and nine years old] to look after, coupled with the fact that I had to close down my hairdressing salon since 2017 to concentrate on my career and thank God that the end has justified the means.
“My life is about weightlifting, I dream and eat it, so, I have no regrets whatsoever taking to the sport because it gives me joy. In fact, my life has been transformed through sports and I give glory to God. With this gold, I am very happy that I didn’t only bring honour to my state, Ogun but to the country in general at a big stage as this. So why won’t I thank Allah for making me to achieve this feat? I also thank my husband for his support, without his understanding, there would have been a big problem in the family but he has always been my number one supporter and pillar. My coach is also a great factor, one thing is to have passion, another is to have who will make it come to limelight. My coach believes so much in me and his words of encouragement has been helping me over the years. Even during these Tokyo Games when I almost lost hope, he inspired me, telling me to go in there and do it and I did it.”
Tijani, says she looks forward to the 2024 Games in France with a big dream.
“Now that I hold the Paralympics record, I have set my focus on Paris 2024 God willing, and my aim is to set a new world record this time. As you all saw it, I attempted to lift 117kg but I was unable, the world record is 118kg, and in Paris by God’s grace, I will go for it. My God has never failed me and He will not disappoint me. I will redouble my efforts at training so that I can achieve my ultimate dream at Paris 2024. My love for weightlifting has no part two and I will ensure this is achieved by the grace of God,” Tijani who won the bronze at the 2019 world championships told Sportingtribune.