For the first time in its Olympics history, Nigeria will be represented by four athletes in various water sports. Jonathan Akinyemi (Canoeing), Chierika Ukogu (Rowing), Samson Opuakpo (Swimming) and Rachel Tonjor (Swimming) are set to don the country’s green and white colours at the ongoing Olympic Games in Brazil, and will hope to set the pace for generations to come.
NIGERIA’S HISTORY IN WATER SPORTS
The first time Nigeria competed in any water sport at the Olympics was at the Barcelona ’92 Games where two athletes participated in Swimming. However, both of them were unable to make it past the preliminary stages.
Musa Bakare competed in the men’s 50m Freestyle and 100m Butterfly, while Ikhaghomi Joshua participated in the women’s category of both events. Nigeria has since participated in the Swimming event at three more Olympic Games, even though all of the country’s swimmers have been unable to break the jinx of not advancing from the heats.
Gentle Offoin and Ngozi Monu took part in the Sydney 2000 Games, competing in the men’s 100m freestyle and women’s 50m freestyle respectively. Eric Williams competed in the men’s 100m breaststroke, and Lenient Obia in the 100m backstroke at Athens 2004.
Beijing 2008 saw Yellow Yeiyah in action in the men’s 50m freestyle, and Monu once again in the women’s 50m freestyle.
The Rio Games is the first Olympics experience for Ukogu, Opuakpo and Tonjor, with Akinyemi being the only member of the quartet to feature in his second outing, having made his debut in London four years ago.
WHO IS JONATHAN AKINYEMI?
Not many were familiar with this name prior to the London Games. Born and raised in the United Kingdom, Akinyemi became the first ever Nigerian to compete in the Canoeing event of the Olympic Games, having featured in the London 2012 Games.
He competed in the Canoe slalom Men’s kayak single (K-1), finishing 21st in the heats, thereby failing to qualify for the semifinals.
ROAD TO RIO
Once again he qualified as Nigeria’s only canoeist to Rio 2016 in the men’s K-1 class by obtaining a top finish at the 2015 African Canoe Slalom Championships in Sagana, Kenya. Having overcome flight hitches enroute his trip to Rio, he became the first Nigerian to arrive the Games, touching down in Rio on Tuesday, July 26, ahead of the rest of Team Nigeria that got to Brazil on August 2.
Akinyemi will be hoping for a better performance than his debut four years ago, as he competes in the preliminaries of his event on Sunday, August 7 by 5:28pm (Nigerian time).
INTRODUCING CHIERIKA UKOGU
Ukogu was born and raised in the US to Nigerian parents, and is a Stanford graduate. She plans to attend Medical school in the near future, but has put such plans on hold in order to develop her rowing career.
The 23-year old etched her name in the annals of history by becoming the first athlete to qualify Nigeria for the Rowing event at the Olympics, a feat she achieved at the 2015 African Continental Qualification Regatta in Tunis, Tunisia.
So keen was she to compete for Nigeria in Rio that she opened a GoFundMe account to solicit for funds to help achieve to dream. This dream will turn to reality when she commences her campaign in the preliminaries of the Rowing Women’s single sculls on Saturday, August 6 by 1.30pm (Nigerian time).
MEET SAMSON OPUAKPO
After an eight-year hiatus, the pair of Okpuako and Tonjor will compete in the Swimming event in Rio, having received a Universality invitation from Fédération Internationale de Natation’s (FINA) to send two swimmers (one male and one female) to the Olympics regardless of their time.
Opuakpo is one of Nigeria’s best swimmers in recent years and holds several National Records (NR) including the men’s 400m freestyle, 800m freestyle, 50m backstroke, 100m backstroke, 200m backstroke and 400m Individual Medley (I.M) amongst others.
Opuakpo qualified for the Rio Games by virtue of a Universality invitation from the International Swimming Federation, having participated in the 16th FINA World Championships in Kazan last year.
The 30-year old will compete in the Men’s 50m freestyle Heats on Thursday, August 11 at 5:02pm (Nigerian time). Hopefully, he will be able to break the jinx of Team Nigeria not making it past the first round at the Olympics.
WHO IS RACHEL TONJOR?
Tonjor is one of the country’s most outstanding female swimmers. She currently holds NRs of 33.81s in the 50m breaststroke, and 1:15.49 in the 100m breaststroke. Tonjor competed in the heats of the 2015 FINA World Championships in Kazan, placing 64th in the women’s 100m breaststroke. She did not progress to the next round of the competition.
Just like teammate Opuakpo, Tonjor made the Olympics team to Rio after being handed a Universality invitation by FINA, following her participation at last year’s World Championships.
Tonjor will commence action in the Women’s 100m breaststroke Heats on Sunday, August 7 from 5pm (Nigerian time) on SS4.