With a great thud, she landed on the sands and just within seconds after taking a glance at the umpires and the electronic score board, she realized she had won. A leap of her life, a jump to glory-longer than any other in the event. Chioma Ajunwa looked sideways, to the right, to the left and forward, she took a jump to the air with both hands showing the victory sign, she wore a broad smile. No doubt, she was happy; but one could still tell that she was anxious about something. Yes, something was missing. While some white folks cheered her, some other spectators of her colour hailed her and clapped their hands, but it was not a guarantee that they were her own. Suddenly from the stands the green and white flag was spread and lowered to those who seemed to be her team officials and coach, in a twinkle of an eye the anxiousness and apprehension she had displayed amidst her joy disappeared as she ran towards the flag whilst the flag bearer ran to her. They both ran around the sides of the stadium rejoicing and showing the victory sign. Every spectator realized that the green and white flag meant a lot to the lady.
Back in her home country, it was a surprise to all. The lady’s pre-Olympic ratings did not put her in a position for her countrymen to be expecting a medal, not to talk of the gold medal she won that day for 120 million Nigerians. History was made as Chioma Ajunwa became the first Nigerian to win an Olympic gold medal and the first African woman to win a gold medal in an Olympic field event. My own joy knew no bounds as I was greeted by the news when I switched on the Television that evening thanking God for the then National Electric Power Authority (NEPA)’s magnanimity in supplying electric power about the same time that the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA)’s evening review of the Olympic events was aired .My cousins, siblings and I jumped and shouted at the top of our voices only to disrupt my father’s afternoon siesta. I suddenly realised that I was the only one dancing when I could only hear my own voice. The rest had kept mute but still had a broad smile on their faces when Dad walked into the sitting room. I turned to notice Dad’s penetrating stare, right into my own eyes. ‘’I have had it wrong again’’ I thought, but to be frank, I did not feel any remorse. Before I could utter a word a word, my cousin Nnamdi broke the news.
‘’Daddy, anyi e winela gold’’ he said in a mixture of English and Igbo which Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo of the New Masquerade fame describes as Engligbo.
‘’Mechie onu!’’ Daddy said ‘’agba be ghi finals football’’. My father disagreed stating that the finals of the football was yet to be played, being quite aware that we had medal prospects in the track events. Well, he had no reason to doubt when we all concurred to what Nnamdi had said. Dad, a civil servant and sports educator with a degree in Physical and Health Education gave us a brief lecture in the sitting room on how our country had fared in the Olympics and his hope that the Nigerian contingent will come out with something more significant in the centennial Olympic games which was taking place at that time in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. However his hope for medals was in the soccer, boxing and athletic track events especially the sprints. To show you the reader the power of sports, Dad walked back into his room emerged in the parlour again, brandishing some Naira notes. Notwithstanding the economic situation at that time, as it was halfway into the month, he gave an order to Ugochukwu my younger brother and Chima my cousin to go to Mama Obinna’s place, the nearest shop to our place of abode and buy drinks for all, stating the various brands. That was the kind of mood we loved to see Dad in, because it made us sure of some good time.
It is still like yesterday but it is ever green to me. How I long for such joyous moments again. A time that various Nigerians, irrespective of their tribal or religious differences would celebrate together and hold their heads high, anywhere in the world because of the accomplishments of her sportsmen in the most glamorous sports show, the Olympics. The soccer gold was described as ‘’not just the mother, but the grand mother of all other Olympic gold medals’’ by Lt. Gen. Oladipo Diya, the then Chief of General Staff. Up till this day, I am still reminded by my patients here in Saudi Arabia of the exploits of the 1996, U-23 gold winning soccer Dream team I. Apart from our crude oil, the other thing that comes to their mind is our football prowess. Duncan Dokiwari made us smile in the boxing event by picking the bronze medal in the Super heavy weight category while our amazons, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi and Falilat Ogunkoya picked bronze medals in 200m and 400m singles. Our dependable relay team; the 4x400m women’s silver winning quartet comprising of Falilat Ogunkoya, Bisi Afolabi, Fatima Yusuf and Charity Opara made us cheer. It was a joyous moment in Nigeria.
The Olympics could be described as the Mecca of sports, as it is the largest sports gathering in the world. Right from its inception in 1896 it has served as a unifying factor and a platform for inspiring youngsters to reach their fullest potentials. The glamour of the games alone, is something that is unforgettable as various cities bid for the games and try to outshine each other in the opening ceremony as well as the entire games proper. The game attracts lots of visitors to the host cities as well as various sponsorship deals and TV rights for beaming the games to the world. Today deserving athletes make a lot of money through rewards from the governments of their home countries, philanthropists and conglomerates. Some sign even juicier contracts with sports clubs and mouth watering endorsements and sponsorship deals with companies. This is a great departure from what it was years ago when winning athletes were decorated with wreaths. The Olympics have not been devoid of maladies like the Black Power Salute of the 1968 Olympics, the Munich massacre of the 1972 summer Olympics when members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage by the Palestinian terrorist group, Black September, a group with ties to Fatah Organization; eleven of them were murdered. The controversial boycotts of the 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988 summer Olympic games. Nigeria, alongside over 20 other African countries led by Tanzania boycotted the 1976 games protesting the participation of New Zealand, a country whose National Rugby team toured and played South Africa despite the ban on South Africa due to Apartheid. The Nigerian contingent has had its share of controversies, apart from issues of team selection, inadequate preparation and finances; the 1980 Moscow Olympics sex scandal made major headlines.
We have come to herald once another Olympic games-Beijing 2008. Chinese city, Beijing was elected the host city on July 13, 2001, during the 112th IOC Session in Moscow, beating Toronto, Paris, Istanbul, and Osaka to the bid. There may be a lot of controversies surrounding the games especially issues of pollution, Tibet clamour for freedom and China’s questionable human rights records, but analysts like me believe that this will not rub off the shine of the Olympics. China seems more than prepared for the games. China, an Asian tiger now majorly described as an industrialized nation which is growing fast economically will definitely use this games to showcase its love for aesthetics and its technological advancements. The cultural display in the opening ceremony is one that will always be remembered. Not to talk of the architectural masterpieces that will be on display from the moment athletes arrive China and all through the Olympics. The sports complexes including the ‘’bird nest’’ National Stadium, the ‘’H203’’or ‘’water cube’’ National Aquatics Centre, The Fencing gymnasium and a host of others will easily come to mind. The new technology from Phillips in the form of digital microchips a departure from the a little bit bulky but less data containing tapes to be used in video cameras opens another chapter in media technology. However, the decision of China to regulate the websites accessible to journalists is regrettable as it contravenes the right to freedom of information. Notwithstanding that, a look at the big picture shows that the sporting fiesta holds a lot of promise. About 10,500 athletes are expected to compete in 302 events in 28 sports. There is a great hope that old records will be broken and new ones will be set.
I am all alone, right here in my room, Dad is far away in Nigeria. My cousins and siblings are all grown up, all almost on their own now. I developed nostalgic feelings as I watched the Nigerian U-23 Football National Dream team IV secure a goalless draw with their Dutch counterparts on Thursday, after our female team lost to Korea a day earlier. The men’s’ soccer team may not be with Mikel Obi, Taye Taiwo, Vincent Enyeama and Ike Uche ,but the boys in the team are showing a lot of promise and we are confident in the abilities of Samson Siasia (though I prefer to call him Sammy ).We have a measure of hope in the sprints based on Olusoji Fasugba’s exploits at the indoor World Championships some months back. My friend, Uche Emedolu may not be in the best of form but I am praying for him. In fact a part of our hope lies in the athletic relays though it is unfortunate that Team Nigeria (permit me to still use the phrase) will not participate in all our traditional relay races. I am also an advocate of possibilities as someone can emerge from nowhere and surprise us with a gold medal as Chioma Ajunwa did in 1996 though I am not expecting a medal haul because our preparations were not the best. This is not intended to kill your optimism and enthusiasm. If you are lacking in any of it, you can stir it up by looking unto President Umar Yar’Adua’s directive to the team to go and win eight gold medals. A presidential directive you may call it. Not a bad one, the only drawback was that funds were not released on time, it was accompanied with usual fire brigade approach and a lot of politicking was involved in selecting the contingent.
Only time will tell how far we will go and how well we will do in the ongoing Olympic games. I have saved a few bucks to give myself a treat any day our beloved country wins the gold medal in any sport. The money is waiting to be spent.
Best wishes to Team Nigeria and all the Olympians competing; and to Beijing, I wish them happy hosting!