True to her name ‘Enku Ewa Ekuta’ which means ‘God will open the way of success’, Enku Ekuta achieved her greatest success yet early in 2021 when she qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, becoming the first Nigerian female judoka to do so in 17 years since the last Nigerian woman – Catherine Ekuta – her mother, qualified for and competed at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens! She’s currently the only Nigerian (male and female) to have qualified in Judo for the Tokyo Olympics.
Hailing from a rich bloodline of judokas, Ekuta didn’t need to wait until she was old enough to take a decision on her choice of sport because she literally took her first step at eight months old at a Judo event during the 1998 National Sports Festival in Imo where her parents, Ewa and Catherine, were competing.
Ekuta’s father, Ewa, is a former judoka who excelled at the National League level. He won laurels representing his university at the Nigerian University Games Association (NUGA). Ewa is now an National Institute of Sports (NIS) certified coach and an International Judo Federation (IJF) Referee with experience spanning over 10 years. He is also the current Technical Director of the Nigeria Judo Federation.
Meanwhile, Catherine is a former National Champion, an African Games GOLD medallist and Olympian! While competing at the Athens Olympics 17 years ago, she made it to the Round of 16 in the women’s 57kg event before losing to Switzerland’s Lena Göldi. She’s been the Assistant Director of Sports in Akwa Ibom State and a coach. In 2018, she led a young judoka team to the African Youth Games in Algeria and returned with two Silver and three Bronze medals to finish as second best to hosts, Algeria.
Ewa and Catherine’s older daughter, Eyere, is also into judo and has won medals for Akwa Ibom State where the family resides. Such is the love story that exists between the Ekutas and Judo.
For Ekuta, training to become a World Champion takes a village since she has the full backing and support of her family, the Nigeria Judo Federation and private sponsorship to thank for her remarkable strides in the last couple of years leading to her Tokyo Olympic qualification.
While the 22-year-old has been coached by her father since childhood, her mother has been playing the part of a role model for Ekuta in ways a mother and Olympian should.
Ekuta said, “First she is a woman just like me; she has inspired me in her own way too. I can recall when she came back from the Olympics in 2004, she gave me an Olympic pin, and I still have it till today. That’s was a big motivation for me.”
With the support of corporate sponsors in her corner, Ekuta went on to finish on the podium at all five championships she competed in, with one GOLD, one Silver and three Bronze medals. However, the highlight of this adventure for Ekuta was defeating the 2019 African Games Champion and 2014 Commonwealth Games Silver medallist Helene Dombeu of Cameroon, in the final of the women’s 63kg category to bag GOLD at the 4th African Judo Open in Dakar, Senegal in 2020.
Ekuta said, “When I met with the current African Games GOLD medal winner Hellen, I defeated her. If you had asked people’s opinion before that bout, they would have said, she is the champion of that class and was going to defeat me, but what happened was the opposite.”
Speaking about the role her support system has played in her Olympic qualification in an interview with aclsports.com, Ekuta said: “Proper preparations that met a good opportunity paid off for me. If I was not active in Judo and had the opportunity of having a sponsor (ACUUGAS), it would not have happened. With hard work and opportunity, we can achieve anything we put our minds to.
“I want to thank my mother for giving birth to me. My mother was at the Athens 2004 Olympics, that is exactly 17 years ago and I am glad that I will continue the tradition of the Olympians in my family. I want to also thank my father for coaching me”.
Ekuta is in her third year at the University of Port Harcourt, where she’s studying Philosophy and has since been combining her academics with Judo. Therefore, to go as far as possible in Tokyo will be success for Ekuta, as well as the sense of fulfillment her parents will derive by witnessing their daughter surpass their own achievements, while making history in the process.
“My dream going to the Olympics is to go there and do my best, and for my best to be good enough to crown my efforts and struggles all this while I’ve been in Judo. What is there is for me to have excellent preparation. My Dad (my Coach) and I have put in a lot of time in training and preparations before most of my competitions. We will surely put in our best in making a good result at the Olympics by the grace of God”, she added.
When asked if she could surpass her mum’s record at the Olympics, she said: “Without being modest, I think my mom knows God has taken me far beyond where she reached, which is a sign of blessing for her. It shows that my parents helped in directing me through the proper procedure of getting to where I am for this outstanding progress I have made in sports. I cannot compete against my mother; I can only get better than I was yesterday”.