If there’s anything as constant as the Northern Star, it has to be Nigerian Powerlifters who show up at the Paralympics: not just to make up the numbers, but being counted and singlehandedly shouldering its country’s medals hopes at the Games.
Only China (13) won more medals than Nigeria (6) as at the time of their last Powerlifting event on Monday at the ongoing 2020 Paralympics, further underlining the African team’s prowess in the event, even though they seem to be performing below 100% of what they are capable of.
Nigeria went to Tokyo with 11 Powerlifters, and using the 2016 metric in Rio where the country won 9 medals, the high expectations from its teeming supporters five years after was justified. Although the returns this time around was three medals short from 2016, these six medals is worth so much more.
GOLD medals from Bose Omolayo (two-time Paralympic champion) and Folashade Oluwafemiayo (first time champion), took Nigeria’s tally on Sunday to three GOLDs, which shot up the country on the medal table.
Ladies in the podium: 💁♀️
— #ParaPowerlifting #Tokyo2020 (@Powerlifting) August 29, 2021
For Omolayo, she set a new Paralympic Record of 141kg in women’s -79kg, improving from the previous Record of 138kg to win the event. In fact, a buoyant and confident Omolayo made a play for Vera Muratova’s World Record of 143kg, attempting 144kg on her 4th attempt although she didn’t match it on the day.
About shattered records, Oluwafemiayo wasn’t going to settle for less, lifting 147kg in the women’s +86kg on her first attempt, which instantly surpassed the existing Paralympic Record of 135kg. Her subsequent 3 attempts (149kg, 151kg & 152kg) either broke the PR or set a new World Record, finishing with two WRs.
For more context, China’s Feifei Zheng who won Silver, had her best lift of 139kg. No other athlete came close to 140kg, but Oluwafemiayo finished with 152kg which was 13kg heavier than her closest challenger mustered in the competition.
— Paralympic Games (@Paralympics) August 30, 2021
More GOLD medals would have been added for Team Nigeria through Loveline Obiji who challenged China’s Xuemei Deng right to the last attempt. Deng proved to be the much better Powerlifter on the day, going on to lift 153kg to win GOLD, while Obiji had to settle for Silver with a lift of 147kg.
The last two medals on Monday propelled Nigeria into 21st place on the medal table, making the country the highest ranked African nation at the moment in Tokyo. Not a bad placement for Nigeria, considering that all the medals have come from one sport, and it’s been one-way traffic from when the first medal was won last Thursday.
Latifat Tijani set out Nigeria’s stall in Tokyo, landing GOLD in women’s -47kg. It was a remarkable personal achievement which saw her improve on the Silver medal she won in Rio, this time winning the Holy Grail.
Although there were a couple of misses in the men’s category through: Yakubu Adesokan, Nnamdi Innocent and Ibrahim Dauda, who all finished outside the medals, there were more medals to cheer in women’s -61kg and -67kg respectively.
Lucy Ejike felt she let GOLD slip through her grasp, leading after the first two attempts only to surrender the lead and having to settle for Bronze. For Paralympics debutant Olaitan Ibrahim, the importance of finishing on the podium on her bow, cannot be quantified.
Might not have gone her way today (she led until the last attempt & was close to winning GOLD), but no Nigerian athlete in history has Lucy Ejike's Olympics/Paralympics range: 3 GOLDs, 2 Silver & 1 Bronze medal since her Sydney 2000 debut. She has never missed out on the podium. pic.twitter.com/GLVxhBYigO
— Making of Champions (@MakingOfChamps) August 28, 2021
While some of these Powerlifters might be aging, and the need for a succession plan paramount, what they have been able to achieve with limited resources is the true definition of breaking barriers and performing against all odds.
No Sport has won Nigeria more medals at either the Olympics or Paralympics than Powerlifting (52) has accounted for. It has been the country’s strengths and it doesn’t look like they are relinquishing that very soon.