Team Nigeria’s contingent to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games posted a record-breaking performance and as usual, taught their unimpressive Olympic counterparts how to win medals.
The statistics tell the story. Olympics: 10 events, over 80 athletes, countless officials/government delegation, one bronze medal, 78th position. Paralympics: three events, 23 athletes, 12 officials, 12 medals, 14th position.
That was how Nigeria’s Paralympic athletes once again outshone their able-bodied counterparts at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
And the nigerian contingent can hold their heads high at the Maracana Stadium when the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games end on Sunday (today) after some amazing performances that saw them severally breaking the world and Paralympic records.
Against all odds, the Nigerian sportsmen and women, who competed in para-athletics, powerlifting and para-table tennis, placed 14th at the global Games with 12 medals: eight gold, two silver and two bronze.
Nigeria’s preparations for both events were in tatters, right from when the athletes began camping in May in Abuja and Lagos, and it remained so until both contingents embarked on the trips to Rio.
The Olympians and the Paralympians’ trainings were marred by lack of payment of camp allowances, poor facilities, and poor feeding, with the Ministry of Youth and Sports complaining of non-release of funds by the Federal Government, to kick-start preparations for the games in Brazil.
But while the Olympic athletes posted a disappointing performance at last month’s Games, which saw them scoop just one medal — bronze — in the men’s football event, it was the special sports athletes to the rescue, putting up dazzling performances that not just rubbished that of their Olympic counterparts, but also saw them emerge as the best African country at the Rio Paralympics.
It was no surprise that of the 12 medals, nine — six gold, two silver and one bronze —were won by the female athletes. In recent times, the country’s sportswomen have surpassed their male counterparts in global competitions.
In fact, Blessing Okagbare has been Nigeria’s number one athlete in the last eight years, since she won a long jump bronze medal at the Beijing Games in 2008.
This time, it was powerlifters Lucy Ejike (Women’s -61kg), Ndidi Nwosu (Women’s -73kg), Bose Omolayo (Women’s -79kg) and Josephine Orji (Women’s +86kg); as well as field athletes Lauritta Onye (Women’s Shot Put F40) and Flora Ugwunwa (Women’s Javelin Throw F53/54), who made the country proud by winning the gold medals.
Latifat Tijani (Women’s -45kg) and Esther Oyema (Women’s -55kg) also won silver medals in powerlifting while Eucharia Iyiazi won the bronze in the Women’s Discus Throw F56/57.
Roland Ezeruike (Men’s -54kg) and Kehinde Paul (Men’s -65kg) are the male gold winners while Innocent Nnamdi won bronze in the Men’s -72kg.
Majority of the gold medal feats came in stunning fashion. Veteran Paralympian Lucy Ejike was the country’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony and she did lead by example.
The 38-year-old Ejike, who was competing in her fifth Paralympics, shattered the Paralympic and world record three successive times by winning gold with a lift of 142kg.
The powerlifter, who was crippled by polio, won two gold medals at the 2004 and 2008 Games in Athens and Beijing respectively, before picking up silver in London four years ago.
In Rio, she first broke the Paralympic record by lifting 136kg before subsequently adding lifts of 138kg and 142kg to seal the world record.
Inspired by her astonishing accomplishment, Ejike asked officials to set the weights at 145kg outside of competition but she was unable to repeat her record-breaking feat for a fourth time.
Omolayo helped Team Nigeria win their sixth gold medal, breaking her personal and world records in the -79Kg powerlifting event on Day 5.
The favourite set a new record of 138kg to beat China’s Lili Hu, who lifted 135kg, to second place.
Multi-talented athlete, Onye, broke the World Record twice on the way to clinching gold in the shot put event. Her first throw of 7.83m saw her break her WR of 7.72m set last year in Doha.
The Nollywood actress bettered her second throw of 7.54m with 1cm on her third throw but her startling 8.40m throw on her fourth attempt handed her the gold in the event, while Tunisia’s Rima Abdelli (7.37m) and Holland’s Lara Baars (7.12m) settled for silver and bronze respectively.
“Jesus, I smashed the world record,” was all Onye could mutter after her heroics.
Thirty-two-year-old Ugwunwa erased Tunisian Hania Aidi’s WR of 18.86m set at the 2015 IPC World Championships.
The gold medallist at last year’s All Africa Games furthered the mark by almost 2m, throwing an impressive 20.25m in her third attempt to also shatter Liwan Yang’s PR of 17.89m set at the London Games four years ago.
Josephine Orji also broke the WR to win the women’s +86kg powerlifting event. Orji completely dominated the finals, lifting 156kg to create a new record.
She had a huge lead above second-placed Poland’s Marzena Zieba who won silver with a mark of 134kg, while Netherlands’ Melaica Tuinfort won bronze with 130kg.
She entered the competition at 151kg which was the highest entered in the finals but failed at her attempt at 154kg. She however smashed the world record on her third try. Although she was successful in an attempt at 160kg, the official mark at the end of the competition remained the 154kg she lifted in her third attempt.
Ndidi Nwosu won the country’s fifth gold in the women’s -73kg Powerlifting event. She lifted 140kg to equal the Paralympics record.
Nwosu was far behind France’s Souhad Ghazouani and Egypt’s Amany Ali, who emerged second and third respectively, in the early stages but she bounced back to win gold in unique fashion.
Initially wanting to attempt the 127kg, she later requested for 140kg in her third attempt, and she emerged victorious after both opponents failed to match her feat. She equaled Ghazouani’s Paralympic Record in the process.
For the men, Ezuruike won the event in astonishing manner, setting three Paralympics records in the process as he won Nigeria’s first gold at the Games.
Competing in the -65kg men’s category, Kehinde lifted 218kg to beat his rivals to the gold medal, setting a new WR in the process. But he wasn’t through just yet. He then went on to beat his own record by lifting a massive 220kg!
Tijani won the country’s first medal at the Games. She clinched silver in the women’s 45kg powerlifting event after lifting 106kg, just behind China’s Hu Dandan, who set a new world and Paralympic records with her lift of 107kg.
Oyema gave Team Nigeria their third medal, winning a silver medal in the -55kg powerlifting event. She won with a lift of 127 kg in the nine-athlete event.
Veteran Iyiazi won bronze for Nigeria in the women’s F56/57 Discus throw final to take the medal haul to 12. The 42-year-old improved on her Season’s Best of 27.54m to land bronze after six attempts.
Iyiazi, who is appearing in her fifth Paralympics, won silver at the Athens 2004 Games, two gold medals in the F57/58 Discus and shot put events at the Beijing 2008 and bronze at London 2012.
Nnamdi won bronze in the men’s -72kg class in the powerlifting event with a lift of 210kg. China’s Lei Liu took gold with a lift of 221kg, smashing the Paralympic Record and World Record, while Iraq’s Rasool Mohsin clinched silver with a lift of 220kg.
Dalung lauds special athletes
Sports minister, Solomon Dalung, who got the stick for Team Nigeria’s preparations for both Games, lauded the Paralympians for their feat, saying it was a challenge for the athletes without disabilities.
In an interview with a Lagos radio station, Dalung stated, “From what they (Paralympians) have done, it’s now not about the issue of preparation because if it’s preparation, the Paralympic athletes prepared the same way as the Olympic athletes did. And if they have been able to excel, then the Olympic athletes have to re-examine their roles and participation at the Olympics and try to do better.”
However, always one to court controversy, Dalung’s speech was seen in some quarters as trying to defend the poor preparations both teams had before the Games.
Nigeria’s Paralympians have over the years done the country proud despite the poor treatment they normally receive from the authorities.
Nigeria debuted at the Paralympics at Barcelona ’92 and won three gold medals to finish 35th on the medal log while the Olympians won three silver and one bronze.
It took the Olympians 44 years of participation to win their first gold courtesy of long jumper Chioma Ajunwa and the U-23 football team at Atlanta ’96 and while that performance is still being celebrated, not many know that the Paralympians did even better than the Olympians at Atlanta, winning three gold, two silver and three bronze medals.
At Sydney 2000 Team Nigeria won seven gold, one silver and five bronze medals and finished in the 22nd position while the Olympians had just one gold and two silver medals.
Though the Paralympians managed five gold, four silver and three bronze medals at Athens 2004, they ended up better than the Olympics athletes, who had just two bronze.
The story continued in Beijing 2008 and London 2012. The Olympians managed one silver and three bronze in Beijing and came home empty-handed from London four years ago but their Paralympic counterparts scooped eight gold medals from both Games, four in each editions.
Expectedly, it was not different at the Rio Games; it was the Paralympians who as usual, had the last laugh.