By Amos Joseph
Ten Team Nigeria athletes are among over 4000 competitors expected to contest for glory at the Tokyo Paralympic games from next Tuesday to September 5.
The athletes will be stepping out for the country’s 8th consecutive outing in the games with a focus on four events including Powerlifting, Para-Athletics, Para-Table Tennis, and Para-Rowing.
Between 1992 and now, the Nigerian Paralympic team has won about 70 medals with 116 competitors compared with 780 Olympic competitors who have managed just 74 medals despite participating since 1952.
Nigeria’s most successful outing was at London 2021 finishing 22nd on the medals table with 13 medals consisting of six gold, five silver, and two bronze.
Again, the camera lights will be beamed on these athletes who have often complained about less funding and neglect by authorities. In the face of inadequate support, athletes have gone ahead to write their names in gold.
Experienced Team Lead
Team Nigeria will be led in Tokyo by 43-year-old powerlifter Lucy Ejike. Her prowess cannot be overlooked, hence the reason why she has been listed among the para-powerlifters to watch in Tokyo. She has been to five separate Paralympic Games with hopes of defending and breaking her record in the women’s 61kg category. Lucy is practically one of the most successful Paralympians with gold medals from Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, and Rio 2016. She also managed a runner-up performance in Sydney 2000 and London games in 2012.
“We have been training seriously to make sure we meet up with the standard we set at previous games. Everything is going on well,” Ejike said after arriving at training camp in Kisarazu, Japan.
”We are confident we will bring glory to Nigeria. We have world records, so we hope to maintain the records and create new ones.”
UK-based Kingsley Ijomah will be hoping to finish strong in the rowing events. By choosing to represent his country of birth, Nigeria over Great Britain, he would become the first West African male to take part in the sports at the event.
The software engineer who suffered polio when he was barely a year old said he found the sport by accident but described his journey as one of self-discovery and learning. He achieved a personal record of 100,000 metres of non-stop rowing during the lockdown, and he’s full of expectations in Tokyo.
“I have my eyes on gold, that’s the only colour,” he said in a recent interview on ITV.
In Athletics, Lauritta Onye will compete in women’s shot put F40. The Nollywood actress who was born with a form of achondroplasia won her first gold medal in the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. Her compatriot Flora Ugwunwa competes in the Women’s javelin throw F54. The 37-year-old also won a gold medal at Rio 2016 amongst other world and continental championships.
The Table Tennis squad will be led by two experienced Paralympians. Alabi Olabiyi Olufemi and Tajudeen Agunbiade were both gold and silver medalists in Sydney 2000 Paralympic games. The team will also have 33-year-old Isau Ogunkunle who qualified for the games via world ranking.
Ahmed Owolabi Koleosho and Victor Farinloye will feature in Class 3 and 4 respectively. The only female in the squad, Faith Obazuaye qualified after her impressive performance 2019 ITTF African Para Championship.
Athletes have been in camp for more than three months and have safely arrived in Japan. Just like their colleagues who competed in the recently concluded Olympics, medalists will be rewarded by the Federal Government of Nigeria. Gold medalists will pocket a sum of $15,000, silver medalists will get $10,000 while bronze winners will be rewarded to a tune of $7000.