For the first time in Nigeria’s Olympics history, the country’s medal hopes are being hinged on a wrestler, and the reason is not far-fetched: Odunayo Adekuoroye’s exploits in the sport have left no one in doubt as to her ability to dominate on the global stage if given the opportunity.
Nigeria first presented a Wrestling team at the Los Angeles ’84 Olympics, and subsequently participated in six more editions of the Games. However, despite having won medals in other combat sports such as Boxing and Taekwondo, the country is yet to get any silverware in Wrestling at the Olympics.
And so Adekuoroye, who competes in the women’s 53kg category, comes to Rio as Nigeria’s brightest medal prospect even though this will be her first outing at the Games.
But then she is no stranger to recording incredible feats. After all it took her only a mere 31 seconds to beat India’s Lalita Lalita to win GOLD at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
She has since won several medals including Bronze at the 2015 World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas, making her the first Nigerian wrestler to qualify for the Olympics. She also became only the second ever world medalist from Nigeria since Ifeoma Iheanacho won Bronze medals in the women’s 67kg in 2009 and 2010.
The wrestler’s growing prominence is not restricted to Nigeria alone as she has won several fans home and abroad, especially in India where she signed a two-year contract with Revananta’s Mumbai Garuda in the Indian Pro-Wrestling League.
The spectators couldn’t help but be enamoured by her unique victory celebratory dances. At the end of 2015, it was no surprise that the Akure-born wrestler was adjudged the Best Woman Wrestler in India. Coming to the Games, she is ranked No.1 in Africa and occupies the 3rd spot on the world rankings.
In affirmation of Adekuoroye’s status as the woman to beat on the continent, she was featured on the July edition of Forbes Africa Magazine, where she shared the cover with the likes of South Africa’s 400m World Champion, Wayde Van Niekerk who has since emerged Olympic Champion, and Kenyan Javelin thrower, Julius Yego, also a World Champion.
All of these stellar accomplishments caught the attention of leading financial institution, Union Bank, who felt that wrestler could even achieve more with their support. And so Adekuoroye was named as one of the bank’s five ambassadors to the Games.
The Rio Olympics will prove to be the African Champion’s toughest test yet as she faces the world’s best in Brazil. Will she be able to make history by becoming Nigeria’s first ever medallist in Wrestling?
While speaking with journalists prior to the Olympics, the African Games Champion kept coy and was wary of making any promises.
She said, “I wouldn’t want to promise Nigerians anything now. I am going to the Rio 2016 Games to do my best. Any medal God gives me I will take. I am not sacred at all. All that I have in mind to do at the Games is to make Nigerians proud.”
Hopefully, the spectators at the Carioca Arena 2 will be treated to the exceptional privilege of watching the Nigerian wrestler do her trademark victory celebration dance in Rio.