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Amazing tales from Rio – by Reuben Abati

Reuben Abati

In some other countries of the world, a bronze medal at the Olympics is not something to be talked about or celebrated. 

Not even silver is satisfactory sometimes, just remember that look on Russian athlete Yulia Efimova’s face as her arch-rival, Lilly King of the United States took the gold in 100m women’s breastroke swimming. 

Nothing but gold is good enough – after all, the Olympics is the biggest showcase of human talent on the planet and a demonstration of man’s capacity to express himself or herself to the limits and excel. 

In the US for example, there is an obsession with gold at the Olympics, this being an extension of the average America’s patriotism-driven belief that the United States is the centre of the universe. 

The US has the largest number of gold medals in Olympics history.

“Go for Gold” is the classic Olympics slogan, but we have also seen in the on-going Rio Olympics, episodes after episodes and tales of human ingenuity in addition to memorable events: so much hard work and dedication – 

– Michael Phelps winning three gold medals and still counting, so far bringing his total Olympic gold medals to a record 21, 

– Uzbekistan’s 41-year old Oksana Chusovitina participating in her seventh Olympics as the oldest gymnast on parade, and making it to the finals, 

– 19-year old American Simon Biles putting pure genius on display in the gymnastics, 

– team refugees participating for the first time in the Olympics,  

– Kosovo winning its first Olympic medal (gold!), 

– a marriage proposal on the field showing love is more important than gold, well, 

– an Egyptian, Sara Ahmed won a trail-blazing historic bronze in weightlifting, 

– the mighty falling – Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Venus Williams crashing out of tennis, 

– Chris Froome coming up short in cycling, 

– and on the side lines,  BBC female presenter, Rebecca Adlington reaching out under the table to squeeze Mark Foster’s thigh,  

– and on the minus side, the organisers getting China’s flag wrong, 

– mixing up national anthems including Nigeria’s, 

– complaints about living conditions at the Rio Olympics village, 

– and on the streets, a marvelous opening ceremony, and a generous display of Brazilian female nudity, 

– and on the dark side: young Brazilian hoodlums, robbing visitors of valuables with such unpatriotic brazenness. 

It is less than a week, so far, but the tales are of characteristically intriguing and historic dimensions.

But again, we must not forget this: the Olympics is about the victory, and about national glory and pride. 

To win the gold, a country must be prepared, and its athletes must be prepared to show the excellence, the resilience and the courage that is the hallmark of the event. 

When the issue is not about gold however, it is about, on the humanistic side, the kind of courage in the face of adversity demonstrated by British athlete Derek Redmond at the 1992 Barcelona Games, when he tore his hamstring and simply refused to give up, reaching the finish line of the semi-finals, hanging on his father’s shoulder. 

The Olympics since the first modern one in 1896, has been about the human being and the many possibilities of human aspiration in the face of challenge.

Nigeria has participated in the Olympics (the Summer Olympics) 15 times, 1952 -2016. 

And over that period, this country of over 180 million people, has been able to win 3 gold medals (Chioma Ajunwa, 1996, Dream Team 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Men’s 4 x 400 metre relay team, 2000 Sydney Olympics), 8 silver, and 12 bronze medals, making a total of 23 Olympic medals. 

No cause for despair. 

After all, we are better than some 73 countries, which have never won a single Olympic medal, countries like Somalia, Chad, Swaziland, Oman, Palau, Benin, Belize, Cape Verde, American Samoa, Equitorial Guinea, Central African Republic, Congo, Malawi, Mali, Palestine, Nauru, Lesotho and Oman.  

My take however is that we could have done much better, if this had been a different country, if successive governments had paid more attention to sports as a tool for international glory and achievement.

Our poor record is the cumulative effect of the failure of the Nigeria Olympics Committee, the lack of political will in government at all levels to promote individual talent in sports on a sustainable basis, and the Nigerian disease: 

Last-minute syndrome which means everything is done at the last minute, things that other countries spend years and resources preparing for, we wade in at the last minute and expect that miracles would happen. 

Major breakthroughs in sports in Nigeria as in everything have been either through miracles or individual sacrifice. 

Our sports community, active and retired, is made up therefore of angry and frustrated men and women who feel that they have been used and forgotten by their country, the serving ones are so poorly treated they even sometimes wonder why they are still wearing Nigeria’s caps. 

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