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In the absence of any of the Nigerian football teams at the Olympics, Goal.com presents to our readers the major individuals that will fly the country’s flag this summer

SPECIAL
By Lolade Adewuyi | Chief Editor

When Nigeria’s male and female football teams both failed to qualify for the London 2012 games that officially kick off on Friday July 27, little did one know that it was a blessing in disguise. It is the first time in a long while that Nigerian football will be missing at the Olympics.

However, that seeming failure has become a harbinger of good for other sports and athletes that would be participating in the games. It has ensured a shift in focus to other disciplines that were usually overlooked and underfunded in the past.

Perhaps the biggest of them is the success of the country’s male basketball team, D’Tigers in securing a first-ever Olympic place. Basketball will be the only team event that Nigeria will take part in during the Games of the XXX Olympiad.

In this article, Goal.com gives a profile of five of the main Nigerian challengers for Olympic medals this summer.

JONATHAN AKINYEMI (CANOEING)

Yes, I know many people said – canoe-what? If you didn’t know, now you do. Nigeria will present her first-ever athlete for the K1 men’s slalom during this summer’s games so don’t you go changing the channel when the event comes up. You just might miss Jonathan Akinyemi, the non-Ijaw man who has mastered the temperament of white waters.

Akinyemi won Africa’s sole slalom ticket in South Africa in February by defeating Togolese Benjamin Boukpeti, who won a bronze medal in the Beijing 2008 games. So now you know that Akinyemi is the stuff of legends. The 23 year-old, who was born in the United Kingdom, funded his way through most of qualifying but is now a proud member of Team Nigeria and a veritable medal hopeful. He has said that he sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night only to realise that he has qualified to participate in the Olympics and he laughs out loud.


CHIKA CHUKWUMERIJE (MEN'S TAEKWONDO)

Be-spectacled Chika Chukwumerije will go into his third Olympic tournament with the sole aim of claiming a gold medal in the men’s +80kg Taekwondo event. Having won bronze at Beijing 2008, Chukwumerije will surely be expecting to achieve a higher feat with his remarkable ability to compete on the biggest stage.

The 28 year-old has been consistently inching his way up the martial arts ladder and will be a veritable medal hope for Team Nigeria as the games start. Chukwumerije has a Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering. His father is a senator in the National Assembly.


D'TIGERS (MEN'S BASKETBALL)

When the basketball team of Nigeria qualified for the London 2012 games seemingly out of the blues, it was an acknowledgement that the game was finally getting its due. No one at home gave them a chance but the team proved that it was worth its Olympic ticket by defeating world top 5 countries Greece and Lithuania in the qualifying tournament in Venezuela.

At last, Nigeria’s big men will have the opportunity of strutting their stuff on the biggest stage of all. Do not be surprised if they come out with a medal against all odds, these guys have bonded together and they know what it means to win now. Just like the frenzy was on Twitter when they picked the ticket against the Dominican Republic a few weeks ago, names like Tony Skinn, the Al-Farouk brothers – Alade and Aminu, Derrick Obasohan, Ade Dagunduro, Ike Diogu and Olumide Oyedeji would become the new Nigerian youth role models.

It is a jolly good time it is to be a basketball fan. Expect big games against America's NBA stars, Argentina, Tunisia, France and Lithuania.


BLESSING OKAGBARE (WOMEN'S 100M, LONG JUMP, 4X100M RELAY)

Nigeria’s golden girl, Blessing Okagbare is hitting peak form at the right moment. Okagbare is Team Nigeria flag bearer for the opening ceremony and the only track athlete to have won an individual medal from the Beijing 2008 games where she jumped to a bronze medal.

Okagbare has come a long way since her Beijing performance as she has taken her game to a whole new level becoming an important role model to female athletes just like Mary Onyali was in her prime. This season, Okagbare has won back to back Diamond League meetings where she defeated Olympic and World champions Shelley Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica and America’s Carmelita Jeter with her best of 11.01s. If she keeps up this form, the darling of the corporate world would definitely make a podium finish in the 100m. She will also hope to improve on her long jump where she has gotten a 6.96m lift this season, better than her bronze-winning 6.91m effort.

Okagbare will also be part of the women’s 4X100m relay alongside Damola Osayomi, Gloria Asumnu, Lawreta Ozoh and Christy Udoh.


TOSIN OKE (MEN'S TRIPLE JUMP)

At first Tosin Oke competed for Great Britain where he was born 31 years ago. However, in 2008 he switched back allegiance to Nigeria after he was dropped from the British team that participated at the World Championships in Osaka in 2007. Oke has since gone on to establish himself as a world class athlete by dominating the African space.

In 2010, Oke won gold medals at the African Championships in Kenya and the Commonwealth Games in India. Last year he won gold at the All Africa Games in Mozambique and just a few weeks ago he retained his African Championship title in Porto Novo with a jump of 16.98m. he will be up against Christian Taylor of the United States who has the world leading jump of 17.63m and homeboy Phillips Idowu.

Tosin Oke is an Arsenal FC fan.

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