The Nigerian team produced their best performance in Commonwealth Games history in Birmingham.
The incredible feats at the Birmingham Games have lifted the spirits of most Nigerians and continue to draw various accolades from stakeholders within and outside the sports industry.
However, the feats inspired by sports and youth development minister Sunday Dare did not come as a surprise to close observers of Nigerian sports, but were diligently and meticulously planned.
A recipient of the ‘Voice of America Meritorious Honor Award’ in recognition of his outstanding leadership and professional contributions in Africa and the diaspora, Dare had a clear agenda when he resumed office three years ago as Minister of Youth Development and Nigerian Sport and Team Nigeria’s performances in Birmingham brought this to fruition.
The Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, under the direction and supervision of Dare, has instituted programs aimed at prioritizing the training and well-being of athletes, most notably the innovative ‘adopt an athlete’ initiative which secured private funding for specific athletes.
More than 38 athletes have benefited from the initiative, as corporate organizations and even state governments have taken over the funding of the training and preparation of these athletes for major championships, resulting in the successes recorded in the Birmingham 2022 Games.
The remarkable feats of the Nigerian team in Birmingham on so many levels were no fluke; they were achieved by following a clear path to the top laid out by the Ministry of Sports led by Sunday Dare.
Most of the athletes in Birmingham who set Commonwealth Games records and made history benefited from the ‘adoption’ scheme, including world champion Tobi Amusan, serial world medalist Ese Brume and wrestling greats Odunayo. Adekuoroye and Blessing Oborududu.
Dare was in no doubt from the start that the ‘adopt an athlete’ scheme would pay off, and he was proven right in Birmingham.
The Nigerian team garnered medals in various sports, breaking world records in weightlifting, as well as African and Commonwealth Games records in athletics.
By the end of the country’s final events in Birmingham, the Nigerian team had amassed 12 gold, nine silver and 14 bronze medals, making the recently concluded Commonwealth Games the most productive in the country’s history.
The most gold Nigeria had previously won in individual editions of the Commonwealth Games were 11 that the country achieved in 1994 in Victoria, Canada; 2010 in Delhi, India; and 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
The goal was to beat this tally, and Dare’s planning and the talent and dedication of the athletes made it possible.
There were plenty of firsts for the Nigerian team in Birmingham as the country’s national anthem played repeatedly, with the green, white and green swinging proudly over other flags.
Chiemere Nwachukwu and Folashade Oluwafemiayo set new world records in para-athletics and weightlifting on the same day, within 30 minutes of each other.
Nwachukwu broke the world record twice in the para-athletics women’s F42-44 discus event, first with a throw of 34.84m, then with 36.56m to win gold.
Oluwafemiayo then lifted a world record of 155 kg in powerlifting.
Team Nigeria also won the country’s first gold medal in the women’s 4×100 relay as Amusan, Favor Ofili, Grace Nwokocha and Rosemary Chukwuma stormed ahead of a strong field at Alexander Stadium.
This was moments after the Nigerian men’s foursome took bronze to win the country’s first 4x100m medal in 40 years.
Furthermore, with his gold in Birmingham, Tobi Amusan became the only Nigerian athlete in history to complete a grand slam of titles at continental, Commonwealth and world level after winning gold at the African Athletics Championships in Mauritius in June and the World Track and Field Championships in Oregon, USA, last month.
Amusan also set a new Commonwealth Games record in the 100m hurdles with her finish of 12.30 seconds in the final on Sunday night, slashing the old record of 12.65 seconds by almost half a second.
Capping off a glorious final night of athletics for Team Nigeria at Alexander Stadium, Brume broke the Games record in the women’s long jump, becoming the first athlete in the event to reach the 7.00m mark.
Brume also became the first athlete to successfully defend the women’s long jump title since the 1960s.
Odunayo Adekuoroye and Blessing Oborududu were also in imperious form in Birmingham.
While Adekuoroye made history by winning a third straight gold medal in the women’s wrestling 57kg category (she also won gold in 2014 and 2018), Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Oborududu won her second. consecutive gold and his fourth medal overall in four editions of the Commonwealth Games.
In para-athletics, Eucharia Iyiazi not only won gold in the women’s shot put F55-57, but also set a new Commonwealth Games record of 10.03m.
Overall, it was the culmination of years of dedicated strategy, and Dare didn’t get all the credit, lavishing praise on the athletes for sticking to the program that brought unprecedented success.
“This is a performance like no other,” said the sports minister.
“Many new records were set, old records were broken, old curses of not getting on the podium in some sports were destroyed.
“This signals a brighter and better future for sporting development in Nigeria.
“I congratulate all of our athletes and athletes, not only those who won medals but all who competed. I appreciate your sacrifice, commitment, trust and patriotism.
“I am proud of them, Nigeria is proud of them.”
Indeed, Nigerians are the proud makers of Commonwealth Games history as the country emerged as the highest ranked African team in the medal table, beating South Africa, Kenya and Uganda to finish seventh overall.