Team Nigeria pulled off the country’s greatest ever outing in Commonwealth Games history in Birmingham, inspired by Sunday Dare’s diligence and meticulous planning.
The Minister of Youth and Sports Development had a clear agenda when he resumed office and the performances in Birmingham brought this to fruition.
The ministry, under Dare’s guidance and supervision, has instituted programmes aimed at prioritising training and athletes’ welfare, especially the innovative ‘adopt-an-athlete’ initiative that secured private funding for specific athletes.
Over 38 athletes have benefitted from the initiative as corporate organisations and even state governments took over the funding of these athletes’ training and preparations for major championships.
Therefore the feats achieved in Birmingham were no fluke; they were achieved by following a clear path to the top drawn by the sports ministry.
The majority of the athletes in Birmingham that set Commonwealth Games records and made history benefitted from the ‘adopt’ scheme, including world champion Tobi Amusan, serial global medallist Ese Brume and wrestling greats Odunayo Adekuoroye and Blessing Oborududu.
Dare had no doubts from the beginning that the ‘adopt-an-athlete’ scheme would bear fruit, and he was proved right in Birmingham.
Team Nigeria harvested medals across various sports, breaking world records in powerlifting, as well as African and Commonwealth Games records in track and field.
At the end of the country’s final events in Birmingham, Team Nigeria had amassed 12 gold, nine silver and 14 bronze medals, making the just concluded Commonwealth Games the most productive in the country’s history.
The most gold Nigeria had won previously at single Commonwealth Games editions was 11 that the country achieved in 1994 in Victoria, Canada; 2010 in Delhi, India; and 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
The aim was to surpass this tally, and Dare’s planning and the athletes’ talent and dedication made it possible.
There was a slew of firsts from Team Nigeria in Birmingham as the country’s national anthem repeatedly rang out, with the green-white-green swaying with pride above other flags.
Chiemere Nwachukwu and Folashade Oluwafemiayo both set new world records in para-athletics and powerlifting on the same day, within 30 minutes of each other.
Nwachukwu broke the world record twice in the women’s F42-44 discus throw event of para-athletics, first with a throw of 34.84m, then with 36.56m to win the gold.
Oluwafemiayo then lifted a 155kg world record in powerlifting.
Team Nigeria also won the country’s first-ever gold medal in women’s 4×100 relay as Amusan, Favour Ofili, Grace Nwokocha and Rosemary Chukwuma powered home ahead of a strong field at the Alexander Stadium.
This was moments after the Nigerian men’s quartet claimed bronze to win the country’s first 4x100m medal in 40 years.
Also, with her gold in Birmingham, Tobi Amusan became the only Nigerian athlete in history to complete a grand slam of titles at the continental, Commonwealth and world levels after winning gold at the African Athletics Championships in Mauritius in June and the World Athletics Championships in Oregon, USA, last month.
Amusan also set a new Commonwealth Games record in the 100m hurdles with her 12.30 second finish in Sunday night’s final, slashing the old record of 12.65s by almost half a second.
To cap a glorious final athletics night for Team Nigeria at the 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 class (she also won gold in 2014 and 2018), Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Oborududu won her second consecutive gold and her fourth medal overall in four Commonwealth Games editions.
In para-athletics, Eucharia Iyiazi not only won the women’s F55-57 shot put gold, she produced a new Commonwealth Games record of 10.03m.
Overall, it was a culmination of years of dedicated strategy, and Dare did not take all the credit, as he lavished praise on the athletes for sticking to the programme that brought unprecedented success.
“This is a performance like no other,” the sports minister said.
“Many new records were set, old records broken, long standing jinxes of not getting on the podium in some sports were destroyed.
“This signposts a brighter and better future for Nigerian sports development
“I congratulate all our sports men and women, not just those that won medals but all those who competed. I appreciate their sacrifice, commitment, confidence and patriotism.
“I am proud of them, Nigeria is proud of them.”
Nigerians are indeed proud of the Commonwealth Games history makers as the country emerged as the highest ranked African team in the medal table, beating the likes of South Africa, Kenya and Ghana.
The pride can be felt on the streets and on social media, these athletes and their supervisors have given Nigerians something to ‘Buga’ about.