Friday, September 23, 2016
Celebrating Nigeria’s Rio Paralympians
Congratulations to Team Nigeria’s contingent to the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games for their sterling performance which fetched the country the best performing African nation at the global event. For the umpteenth time, our special athletes wiped our tears, did us proud and burnished the dented image of our dear country. Unlike their Olympian counterparts who participated in 10 events with over 80 athletes and won one bronze medal in men’s football to take 78th position overall, 23 paralympians participated in three events – para-athletics, powerlifting and para-table tennis – to cart away 12 medals (eight gold, two silver and two bronze) which placed them 14th position on the final medals table and number one in Africa.
Of course, the victories did not come cheap. According to the report in Sunday PUNCH of September 18, 2016, “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’ training were marred by lack of payment of camp allowances, poor facilities, and poor feeding, with the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports complaining of non-release of funds by the Federal Government, to kick-start preparations for the Games in Brazil.”
The above mentioned challenges have been Nigeria’s trademark. It has been a recurring decimal. However, while the physically challenged athletes were able to turn their lamentations to testimonies and their agonies to glory, their Olympian counterparts continue to wallow in self-pity and self-defeat. The latter managed a marginal improvement on the London 2012 Olympics where they returned empty handed.
Let’s take a look at the statistics as provided by the SUNDAY PUNCH report put together by ‘Tana Aiyejina. It shows that Nigeria debuted at the Paralympics at Barcelona ’92 and won three gold medals to finish 35th on the medals’ table while the Olympians won three silver and one bronze. It took the Olympians 44 years of participation to win their first gold courtesy in long jumper Chioma Ajunwa and the U-23 football team at Atlanta ’96. Incidentally, 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.”
The report further revealed that, “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.”
What a feat by Nigeria’s Paralympians! There are several things that made Team Nigeria contingent to Rio Paralympics stand out. It was their best thus far. Not only that, several world records were broken by Nigerian power lifters. The 38-year-old Lucy Ejike, who was competing in her fifth Paralympics, shattered the Paralympic and world records three successive times by winning gold with a lift of 142kg. Bose Omolayo also broke her personal and world records in the -79Kg powerlifting event. Lauritta Onye also set a 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.
Thirty two-year-old Flora Ugwunwa competing in Women’s Javelin Throw F53/54 also erased Tunisian Hania Aidi’s WR of 18.86m set at the 2015 IPC World Championships to win another gold medal for Nigeria. Josephine Orji also broke the WR to win the women’s +86kg powerlifting event. She lifted 156kg to set a new record. Paul Kehinde who competed in the -65kg men’s category lifted 218kg to beat his rivals to the gold medal, setting a new WR in the process. He then went on to beat his own record by lifting a massive 220kg! Roland Ezuruike set three Paralympic records while Ndidi Nwosu won the country’s fifth gold in the women’s -73kg powerlifting event when she raised 140kg to equal the Paralympics record.
In spite of these sterling performances, none of Nigeria’s special athletes failed the dope test which means that their victories were untainted. As with the previous achievements, it was the female athletes that got the country on the podium more than their male counterparts. It was power lifters, 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.
The performance of our paralympians is a metaphor on the country. When we say Nigeria is a crippled giant, it shows that we are only outstanding among the persons with disabilities. It is not altogether a negative achievement but we need to do a lot more and better if actually we intend to join the league of high flyers as we have conceived in Vision 20: 2020, that is to be among the 20 best economies by year 2020 which is barely four years away. For some 15 years, we failed woefully to achieve any of the eight Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations General Assembly. In 2015, the MDGs were replaced by 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. How shall we fare? Time will tell.
It is a sad commentary on Nigeria that it is the rejected stone that has become the cornerstone.The Persons with Disabilities that we care less about, and treat with disdain are the ones now doing us proud at the international sport arena. It is high time we changed our negative attitude and perception towards these special people. They have proved time and again that there is immense ability in disability. President Muhammadu Buhari should accord these sports heroes and heroines national honours, mouth-watering financial rewards and provide an enabling environment to do better in future sport meets.
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