Despite COVID-19 New Wave, XXXII Olympiad Begins

Despite COVID-19 new wave, XXXII Olympiad begins
Uche Eke

• 61 Nigerians take on world’s best athletes

Today in Tokyo, Japan, the best athletes from across the world will gather in various centres to compete for medals and cultivate new relationships. It is the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the 32nd edition of the global festival, which was originally billed to hold last year, but was pushed forward by the outbreak of the new human scourge, coronavirus (COVID-19).

Despite the third wave of COVID-19, which is said to be more devastating than anything the human race has witnessed since modern civilization, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) and the government and people of Japan have worked hard to ensure that the games hold in an atmosphere not harmful to all the participants.

They have, however, warned everybody coming to Japan that they can never be too careful. Athletes, officials, journalists and the few dignitaries allowed to be part of the games have been given safety handouts aimed at ensuring their safety at all times.

There are also escorts attached to every individual to ensure he does not deviate from the areas stipulated for him. Tokyo 2020 is about the most policed games in modern history.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will be the first edition that will happen without spectators and no local participation across the sports venues. So, Nigerian fans will make do with the action on television.

Nigeria is in Tokyo with 61 athletes, but the country with three medals in the football event is not featuring in the sport this year. However, there are the basketball teams, who have been tipped to get close or even win medals in the games.

Although competition in some of the events has already started, the official opening ceremony will hold today.

Discussing Nigeria’s chances in Tokyo, Dr. Bruce Ijirigho, a former Olympian, believes the country will break the no-medal jinx that has dogged the nation since the London 2012 edition. But he cautions against expecting too much from the games.

He said, “I don’t expect any medals from our entries in the sprints or sprint relays at the Games. My hope of medals is on Tobi Amusan in the 100m hurdles and Ese Brume in the long jump.

“Check World Athletics’ current world rankings and make up your mind. Blessing Okagbare should make it to the finals but podium appearance will be a challenge for her. We saw what happened to her in 2012 when the weight of the entire nation was on her shoulders to produce a medal for our redemption in the 100 metres. Divine Oduduru is not running at the level he was at the NCAA Championship in 2019 and that is where he ought to be in order to be a medal hopeful.

“I am praying that Nigeria will do better than my expert assessment here. Generally, I have some hope in our basketball men (possibility of a bronze medal) and women teams, our wrestlers and Para-Olympians. I wish all our Olympians much luck and a memorable outcome. After all, the ‘Glory is in taking part’ and not necessarily winning medals.”

One of the athletes tipped to win Nigeria’s first athletics medals since 2012 is sprint hurdler, Tobiloba Amusan.

This is her second appearance at the Games following her debut five years ago in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The 24-year-old hopes to become only the second sprint hurdler to win a 100m hurdles medal for Nigeria after Glory Alozie, who won a silver medal in Sydney, Australia in 2000.

The petite hurdler, who placed fourth at the World Athletics Championships two years ago in Doha, Qatar, running inside 12.50 thrice, wants Nigerians to keep the athletes in their prayers as they strive for podium finishes for the first time in 13 years.

“Our practice sessions have been good and the athletes have been putting in 100 per cent each time. We are just praying that everything works well for us at the games. Nigerians at home should support us in their prayers and we know with God all things are possible.”

Amusan will start her chase for a podium finish tomorrow. The semifinal is on Sunday August 1, while the final will be on August 2.

Also starting their competition tomorrow is the table tennis trio of Olufunke Oshonaike, Olajide Omotayo and Edem Offiong.

Oshonaike, who is in her seventh Olympics, will meet United States’ Liu Juan in the first round of the table tennis women singles event at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

Nigeria’s second lady in the event, Edem Offiong, will start her singles campaign against Hungary’s Madarasz Dona, while Olajide Omotayo will begin his battles in the men’s singles against Portugal’s Apolonia Tiago.

The country’s top star in the event, Quadri Aruna, will begin his campaign in the third round on Tuesday against a yet to be decided opponent. Aruna is among the seeds drawn bye in the event.

Matches of the table tennis event will end on August six with the medals and classification games.

For the first time in Nigeria’s participation in the games, the country will feature in the gymnastics event. And the history maker, Uche Eke, has set his sights on winning a medal.

After a gold-winning debut at the African Games in Morocco in 2019, the 23-year-old is out to show the world the result of 20 years of training; preparations that started when a then three-year-old Eke began doing backflips in his parents’ sitting room.

“I am not under any pressure, I just want to go out there and do my stuff,” he said. “I want to win a medal for Nigeria, but first I will need to get to the final. That is the first step to winning a medal.

“I will be competing in six events and if I make the finals, anything can happen. I want to go out there and put all the hard work of 20 years, when I first started gymnastics, to the test.

“I am not going to be concentrating on any other person; I will focus on myself and do what I have to do out there.”

Eke is scheduled to compete at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, in Tokyo, the venue of the Olympic Games gymnastics events from tomorrow.

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