After her qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Discus Thrower, Chioma Onyekwere, opened up to ENIOLA BAMBE on her target of getting a podium finish in Tokyo. Excerpts…
Is this your first time of participating in National Trials?
It is my first national trial, but I have been competing for Team Nigeria since 2016 at All the African Athletics Championships in South Africa, African Games. I also competed at the Continental Cup representing Team Africa in 2018 and as well as competing for Nigeria at the World Championships in Doha.
How has it been competing for Nigeria?
It’s been good for me. Because I tend to have a busy schedule, it’s always nice to come back home see my parents and old friends. I have enjoyed it, It’s always nice, the fans always have the biggest cheers whenever I come home; I love coming back to compete and they (fans) always cheer the loudest and always super excited seeing us wear green white green. I enjoy it.
You just said coming back home, are your parents here or overseas?
Yes, my parents are here; I come back home usually every year, apart from last year due to the pandemic. I have been in Nigeria three times this year. I enjoy the weather here and the environment, I also went to school here in Nigeria when I was younger, Greenwood in Ikoyi and two other schools.
Have you made a mark for Olympics and what’s your target?
Right now, I am already part of the Olympics. I qualifier based on throws that I have been having throughout the year. My first throw I had was 63:30m, the other was 63:50m, even without that, my world ranking is Number 15, so that already guarantees my spot, and also winning the national championships guarantees my spot plus with my world ranking. I think we really have a lot of spectacular athletes. I want to win a medal for Nigeria and I think we will really showcase what we have to offer in Tokyo and I’ll be participating in that. For a whole year, there was the coronavirus pandemic with total lockdown around the world, how were you able to cope without training and competition during that period? Yeah, it was very hard. With a lot of the gyms closing down and also cutting down the time period for the Olympic ranking, it was tough, trying to figure out what’s next. I was well prepared in the beginning of 2020, I even opened up my season with a 57 mark which was enough to open up my season for track and field but while preparing for my next meet, the pandemic struck, everything was shut down, and my season was cancelled. I was distraught but I had to think of my next game plan. I need to focus on working techniques, and when the gyms open, work on building my strength back up, and throw consistently really high. This season I have been able to throw over 60m numerous times and each time I compete, I continue to improve from 60 to 61, 62 and I already got my 63m. I think I am gearing up well towards Tokyo and hopefully will peak there.
In Tokyo, what should be the expectation from you?
You want to get to that podium but what are you doing to get there? Right now, I am just trying to know every of my small mistakes and techniques and learn how to throw consistently far, getting stronger and mentally prepared, physically prepared and I think that’s what my team mates are working on too. I’m making sure I’m prepared for the weather in Japan, the weather will be quite different from what I am used to, that’s my main focus at the moment. I think with the pandemic- they already spoke on their protocols, what they are going to do – we’ll get tested rigorously at the games; there is going to be 50% capacity of spectators and it’s only people who are natives of Japan, I think they are trying to uphold all their regulations to avoid the spread of COVID-19; I got my vaccine back in March, I think if people follow the protocols, everything will go according to plan. For me, the key thing is to work hard, make it to the finals and get on that podium.
With COVID-19 originating from China, is there any fear in your mind or other athletes about going to Tokyo?
I don’t think it is necessarily fear; although it originated from China, everyone in the world is dealing with it, and it’s a matter of how people were managing it at that time; some did better and some didn’t handle it well. So, I didn’t have fear because I knew what I was doing and I was taking care of myself, but I can’t speak for government or other people. I can say I have been following all the necessary protocols; I did everything I could and followed protocols to keep myself and my family safe.
If you are not competing or training, what else do you do as an individual?
I work as an Auto-Mechanical Engineer for a Ford company; I do balance that with athletics. At times, I do photography or play video games, overall my schedule is very busy and overwhelming with all the things I am trying to balance. Lately, all my focus has been on getting to the Olympics and since I have done that the next thing is all about making sure I get on the podium.
What is the correlation between working with Ford as a Mechanical Engineer and competing as an athlete?
I went to a university in Maryland and I studied Mechanical Engineering in school for years; knowing I wanted to pursue a profession in the track field, I was looking for companies in my field that also support athletes, who are also Olympics sponsor as well. Ford reached out to me for an offer, they said that they will be willing to be flexible with my work schedule while I still pursue my Olympics dream, and that was what attracted me to them. Apart from the fact that I wanted to do well in my career as an athlete, I also wanted to pursue my career in engineering. Athletics is not easy, it can get quite expensive sometimes and they have been very supportive and flexible with my work schedule.
Could you say going to school and being a mechanical engineer helps your career?
I think me being a student athlete and a Mechanical Engineer help me manage my life and I think that’s an important skill to have. It helps with some goal setting and skills in achieving my goals. It helps with what my end goals are and what you can do to achieve them; it helps with end goals, schedules, time management, even prepare me to know I need to make sacrifices. I think combining both has helped with my goals and proved my dedication.