For the umpteenth time, Nigeria Paralympians with their medal haul at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics have proved in words and deeds that indeed, there is ability in disability.
This is not coming to many as a surprise because over the years, the physically challenged athletes have become Nigeria’s saving grace whenever their compatriots fail to produce the desired results at the Olympics games.
The same scenario just played out in Tokyo where Team Nigeria, composed of 58 athletes, managed to win only a silver and bronze medal at the 2020 Olympics.
Considering the cost of preparation, the hype and assurances the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare gave that Team Olympics will surpass the achievement at Atlanta ’96 Olympics, the two medals in Tokyo came as a huge disappointment to Nigerians.
However, almost immediately, reprieve came the way of the disappointed Nigerians as the Paralympians took the vacated stage in Tokyo where they have once again lived up to their rating Nigeria’s best performers at the world’s largest games.
Team Nigeria made their Paralympics debut at Barcelona 1992 and since then, they have not missed out of any edition of the games. Therefore, the 2020 Paralympics is Team Nigeria’s eight appearances at the games.
Interestingly, even as they have won medals in powerlifting, athletics and table tennis, Powerlifting has remained Nigeria’s stronghold at the games as can be seen at the Tokyo Paralympics which ends tomorrow.
As at the time of press, Team Paralympics with a contingent of 22 athletes in Powerlifting, Para-Athletics, Para-Table Tennis and Para Rowing had won three gold, one silver and four bronze medals with all the gold medals coming in powerlifting, some with World and Paralympics records to go with them.
The trio of Bose Omolayo (79kg), Folashade Oluwafemiayo (86kg), Latifat Tijani (45kg) won a gold medal each in powerlifting, Loveline Obiji won silver medal in +86kg category, while Lucy Ejike and Olaitan Ibrahim settled for bronze medals in the 61kg and 67 kg respectively.
Team Nigeria’s remaining bronze medals were won by the duo of Tajudeen Agunbiade and Olufemi Alabi in para-table tennis and Njideaka Iyiazi in women F57 Shot Put event. Agunbiade and Olufemi are the only male para-athletes to win a medal in Tokyo. Before their achievementin table tennis, it was ‘powerlifting women affair’ for Nigeria at Tokyo Paralympics.
Meanwhile, available records have shown that while Team Nigeria Olympics has managed to win three gold, 11 silver and 13 bronze for a total of 27 medals in 17 appearances, Team Nigeria Paralympics has amassed 36 gold, 18 silver and 16 bronze for a total of 70 medals in only seven appearances.
Team Paralympics’ best performance came at the 2016 games in Rio, Brazil where Nigeria won 12 medals, eight of which were gold. Six of the gold medals came in powerlifting. Para-athletics produced the other two gold medals.
Resultantly, when 2020 Tokyo Paralympics end tomorrow, Team Nigeria’s Paralympics medal haul will swell to at least 78 medals in only eight appearances. When this figure is compared with what their compatriots in the Olympics have achieved in 17 appearances, the difference will no doubt be very clear.
It will also be recalled that prior to their departure to Tokyo, Team Nigeria Paralympics captain, Lucy Ejike had assured Nigerians that the team would perfect strategies to win medals and break records at the games.
“We have been training seriously to make sure we meet up with the standard we set at previous games. Everything is going well.
“We are confident we will bring glory to Nigeria. We have world records, so we hope to maintain the records and create new ones,” she assured Nigerians.
The Paralympians have indeed done exactly what their team captain, Ejike had promised Nigerians. They went, saw and conquered precious medals where their Olympics compatriots gasped for breath after disappointing performances.
The president of Nigeria Paralympics Committee, Ruel Ishaku, who won a gold medal for Team Nigeria at the 2008 games in Beijing, China, has expressed satisfaction with the performance of the Paralympians in Tokyo.
He said despite the hitches they faced shortly before the commencement of the games, the athletes dug deep to win medals for their fatherland.
Ishaku disclosed that some of the athletes tested positive to the COVID-19 and had to be quarantined for two weeks but when it mattered most, they still delivered for the country.
“Their performances have been good. Honestly, with the number of athletes we went with and what we went through, they have really tried. Some athletes didn’t train for two weeks because they had to be quarantined because they tested positive for COVID-19.
“Olaitan got to Tokyo three days to her event but managed to win a bronze medal after staying for two weeks without training,” he said.
He further eulogized the federal government for the massive support for the athletes while stating that God who took away the legs of the athletes has blessed them with bigger blessings.
“In all honesty, the government has really supported the athletes. The minister has done his best by promising $15,000 for gold medalists, $10,000 for silver medalists and $7, 500 for bronze medalists.
“No minister has ever done that. That motivated the athletes as they competed with all their hearts.
“If God takes something from you, He gives you something better. God took the legs from them but blessed them with power, strong mind and will to win. It is a blessing. They train with all seriousness and determination,” he noted,
Meanwhile, the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, has lauded Nigeria’s contingent to the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, describing them as global ambassadors worth emulating.
Dare said the contingent are heroes and heroines of sports in Nigeria for demonstrating the never-say-die Nigerian spirit and excelling in tough, challenging and very competitive fields.
The Minister also commended the athletes’ coaches and other support staff for the hard work done behind the scene.
The first batch of the Paralympics team returned home on Thursday to a rousing welcome as the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, Daniel Amokachi, Special Assistant on Sports to President Muhammadu Buhari and thousands of sports loving Nigeria were at the Muritala Mohammed International Airport Lagos to receive them.
The 2020 Tokyo Paralympics Games which started on August 24 will come to a close tomorrow, September 5.