One of the high points for Nigerian sports and Nigeria as a whole at an Olympic game was the Atlanta 1996 Games when the men’s football team won gold, beating Argentina 3-2 in the final thanks to a 90th-minute goal by Emmanuel Amunike.
The other time the country’s anthem was ever played at the Games was after Chioma Ajunwa won gold in the long jump at Atlanta in 1996.
A third opportunity to hear Nigeria’s anthem was denied at Sydney in 2000 in the men 4x400m. An American team who initially took the Gold were stripped of it for doping offences, leaving silver-medallists, Nigeria, to take up the gold – an upgrade that happened 12 years after the original event.
With the hopes of over 200 million Nigerians resting on the shoulders of just 60 athletes, Team Nigeria would seek to take the country’s Olympic medal haul beyond 25 at the Tokyo 2020 Games, officially kicking off on Friday.
But whose feat would be enough to win a gold medal and see that the anthem, ‘Arise Oh Compatriots, Nigeria’s Call Obey’ is sung, loudly in Tokyo?
ANNETTE ECHIKUNWOKE (Women’s Hammer Throw)
Little-known Echikunwoke will not just be representing Nigeria’s track and field team for hammer throw at the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games but would be hoping she dawns the gold around her neck at the end of her throws. The Tokyo Olympics trials in Lagos in June 2021, brought Echikunwoke (who have both United States and Nigeria citizenships) to the country of her parents’ origin for the first time, having resided in Ohio her whole career. However, this African record holder with 75.49 meters, would hope that her switch would spur her more to win gold at her Olympic debut in Tokyo and raise her profile higher in Nigeria and the world.
ARUNA QUADRI (Men’s Table Tennis)
Africa’s table tennis king, Quadri would not just feature at Tokyo as the highest-ever ranked Nigerian in the history of the games, but also as the highest-rated African tennis player. Seeded number 15 among the players in the men’s singles category, Quadri who reached the quarter-finals at the Table Tennis World Cup in 2014 and replicated same at the Olympics Games in Rio in 2016, would be seeking to this time break that final 8 barriers, and progress to the semifinal, a feat that could end with a medal around his neck.
BLESSING OBORUDUDU (Women’s Freestyle Wrestling, 68kg)
Commonwealth champion in the women’s 68kg category, Oborududu, is another strong contender for a medal from Wrestling for Nigeria. An African gold-medallist, and four-time African Championships winner, Oborududu would be looking to go better than her performances at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games. But if she can be stopped from picking the gold medal which she has always hinted has been her dream, remain a question for her opponents in Tokyo.
BLESSING OKAGBARE (Women’s 100m, Women’s 200m, Women’s 4x100m Relay)
Considered Nigeria’s track star girl, Okagbare is one of Nigeria’s best chances at Gold in Tokyo. Featuring two events – the Women’s 100m, and the Women’s 4x100m relay, Okagbare is one of Nigeria’s reps who head to the Games with lots of experience, having won silver in the long jump. Ranked as the fifth-fastest woman by World Athletics, Okagbare would fancy rivalling the likes of Jamaica’s duo of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson, Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith and Cote d’Ivoire’s Marie-Josee Ta Lou.
CHUKWUMA-NWOKOCHA-OFILI-OKAGBARE (Women’s 4x100m)
Nigeria’s 4x100m relay team comprising of strong names such as Rosemary Chukwuma, Grace Nwokocha, Favour Ofili, Blessing Okagbare and Knowledge Omovoh (as backup), have since 2018 proven to be one of the fastest relay teams in African athletics. Asides from these ladies having to battle for one of the three medals on offer at the Games, they stand a good chance of getting a better medal than the bronze-medal-winning quartet of Beatrice Utondu, Faith Idehen, Christy Opara-Thompson, and Mary Onyali got in Barcelona in 1992.
DIVINE ODUDURU (Men’s 100m, Men’s 200m)
The phrase ‘I Never Exprredit’ (I Never Expected It) was what shot Oduduru to fame in 2016 after an interview video of him went viral. Oduduru capitalized on that fame by giving fans an unexpected thrill in his race with Usain Bolt, finishing second behind Bolt on his Olympic debut at Rio in 2016 with a personal best of 20.34s. Currently, the joint 2nd fastest African sprinter of all-time, with a 100m time of 9.86s, Oduduru’s improvement means he stands a strong chance of picking up gold in Rio.
D’TIGERS (Men’s Basketball)
Underdogs turned sudden medal contenders, D’Tigers took the Basketball world by surprise with their pre-Olympic exhibition wins over world number 1, the United States (90-87) and world number 4, Argentina (94-71). Perhaps, the wins did not surprise those who already considered the Nigerian team a strong side. Now, ranked as number 4 by FIBA ahead of the games, Mike Brown’s NBA-studded side twelve-man team could fancy their chances in a group comprised of Australia, Germany and Italy and go all the way to win Gold over familiar foes.
ESE BRUME (Women’s Long Jump)
Sometimes called the ‘Princess’ to Chioma Ajunwa’s Long Jump throne, three-time African senior long Jump champion Brume would have eyes on her as she hopes to jump past her personal best of 7.17m – a record that surpasses Ajunwa’s gold medal-winning jump in 1996. Representing Nigeria at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Brume placed 5th in the Long Jump final with a leap of 6.81m. Five years down the line, and regarded as one of the best jumpers in the World, Brume could not just be eyeing finishing better than her last Olympic record, but getting a podium finish – one that could just end up being Nigeria’s second-ever long jump gold medal.
ODUNAYO ADEKURUOYE (Women’s Freestyle Wrestling, 57kg)
World Championship Silver Medallist and World rated number 1 in the women’s 57kg category (according to the United World Wrestling), Adekuruoye will aim for a historic gold medal for Nigeria in wrestling when the Games kick-off. A reigning commonwealth champion, and three-time World Championships medalist, this 27-year-old year athlete remain one of the strongest gold medal contenders for Team Nigeria.
TOBI AMUSAN (Women’s 100m Hurdles)
Nigeria’s hurdles queen, Amusan was five years ago, anonymous to many when she stepped onto the track at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. But with a lot changing between the Rio and Tokyo-hosted Olympics, Amusan would be on the tracks this time with one thing on the minds of spectators: gold. Ranked in the top four in the world in the 100m hurdles, this 2017 NCAA national championship at the UTEP has every reason to eye finishing fastest in her races, standing highest on the podium and receiving her gold medal.