There are many aspects of the just concluded 20th National Sports Festival that deserve public discourse. There were surprise winners, records were broken and new ones created. Surprises can come in various ways but largely the festival, Nigeria’s version of the Olympic Games, was a huge success despite the threat posed by the second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. Swimmer Ifeazibe Gagbe of Bayelsa State was a multiple gold medal winner at the games. She won a total of 15 medals comprising eight gold, two silver and five bronze medals.
Gagbe was the cynosure of all eyes at the games with her exceptional feat in which she set a new national and seven festival records. It was not a surprise that she was declared the best athlete of the festival. A Bayelsa businessman and sports philanthropist, Ebi Egbe, pledged a cash gift of N5m to the promising athlete. Other athletes also displayed talents at the swimming event and it is up to the administrators of the country to bring out programmes to further develop and expose these swimmers to be in shape to face their counterparts at continental and global levels. There was Timipamere Akieyefa of Delta State who also won 15 medals comprising eight gold, five silver and two bronze medals also in swimming.
Gagbe and Akiefaye deserve attention now to enable them to make the right impact at the Olympics and other big events. In gymnastics, 10-year-old Stephanie Onusiriuka who won one gold, two silver and one bronze for Anambra State at the games was a pleasant surprise. No one saw that coming. Also, Bayelsa State with a total of 56 gold medals was third behind Delta and Edo. Looking at the overall medals table, it was strange to find Bayelsa in the top three at the end of the games.
That’s why the state’s commissioner for sports, Daniel Igali, should be commended for his midas touch which reflected in the overall performance of the state at the games. The impact of Igali in wrestling is also evident. Odunayo Adekuoroye who won gold medal for Ondo State in the 56kg freestyle wrestling is number one in the world in that category. She rose to this level under the supervision of Igali. She promised to clinch gold for Nigeria at the Tokyo Olympic Games. There are other promising wrestlers like Blessing Oborodudu who also picked a gold medal in her 69kg freestyle category.
In athletics, Ese Brume, Mike Edwards and Peter Moreno were some of the elite athletes. Brume won gold in long jump but missed it in high jump. Big Brother Nigeria star, Edwards, only managed to win bronze in men’s high jump event and he is yet to win a ticket to the Olympics. Moreno won silver in pole vault and he is yet to pick an Olympics ticket. It is instructive to note that all the foreign-based athletes that took part in track and field did not have it easy at the games initially expected to be an easy ride for them. Sports minister, Sunday Dare, has promised to get track and field back to the podium in Tokyo. With athletes like Brume, Tobi Amusan, Divine Oduduru and Blessing Okagbare, Nigeria could make the podium but so much work must be done between now and July.
These elite athletes will have to be motivated in form of grants for build-up while their personal coaches must be involved in the preparations to the games. The ministry by now should have a time table for the top athletes with medal prospects. Adekuoroye, Oborodudu, weightlifters, Aruna Quadri, Tobi Amusan, Brume and Okagbare are some of those athletes who deserve to be well monitored to peak at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The federations should engage psychologists to work on the athletes and boost their preparations for the games especially at the time when the world is trying to cope with the effects of COVID-19 pandemic. With good planning and focus, Nigeria could make an impressive impact at the games in Tokyo. Some of the exciting winners at the games in Benin will be at the Olympics and so it is expected that the ministry should match actions with words by setting up a machinery to boost the last stage of the country’s preparations which should include training tours abroad to countries relevant to the sport disciplines.