One of the fondest memories one would have for a long to come of this year game was certainly the splendid spectacle of the gifted delectable Nigerian lady, Blessing Okagbare, doing the lap of honour with the Nigerian flag flailing behind her after she picked the gold ahead of all competitors in both 100 and 200m races.
If you juxtapose that with the fact that one of the team members, Aruna Quadri, single handedly won gold in the same competition 12 years ago at the Manchester 2002 commonwealth games, you would be left to ponder which direction Nigeria is moving.
It will be recalled that at the last Olympic, Nigeria, despite boasting of some of the most experienced players in the game, had all her representatives booted out within 24 hours of the commencement of the table tennis event!
But the bad performance at the Olympics which now continued at the Commonwealth games is only a tip of the icebergs of woes that had befallen Nigerian fortune in table tennis. Nigeria used to be the most powerful and indomitable force in that game on the African continent and we were even among the greatest forces in the Commonwealth.
At present no Nigerian is rated among the top 100 players in the world! This is a country that had produced the legends like Atanda Musa, Olawunmi Majekodunmi. Waheed Ekun, Yomi Bankole, Lasisi Kasali, Bose Kafo, et al, all of whom had been African champions at different times, having been brought to limelight through Asoju Oba Cup.
Times were when Nigerian men and women would win all available gold medals as well as all the available silver medals and condemned other countries to be fighting for bronze medals at continental championships. Then the challenge began slowly, when the crafty Egyptians began the plot to crush what they reckoned as unacceptable total domination by the Nigerians. They commissioned a project focusing on developing youth table tennis and gradually became a formidable force.
Such was the extent of their development that in the last All Africa Games, Egypt eventually overthrew Nigeria as the best table tennis nation in Africa winning four gold, two silver and four bronzes compared to Nigeria’s three gold, five silver one bronze.
In men’s singles for instance which used to be our birthright in that competition, Egypt claimed all the available gold, silver and bronze medals!
This is not the first time Nigeria would squander good fortune in sporting excellence. Remember the Tessema Cup for the U-20 footballers of those days.
Apart from the Egyptians, the Congolese conceived the idea of sneaking into the powerhouse of African ping pong and began a programme channeled into gradual nurturing of Congolese talents via acquired expertise of imported professionals. Soon, Congo, too, had started winning medals.
What makes our dwindling fortune in table tennis painful is that while Nigeria was dominating the game Egypt was dominating event like swimming, amassing incredible numbers of gold. Alas, while Egyptians have found answers to our table tennis domination, we still look with awe whenever the Egyptian “water mermaids” leap into water, we have never put in place strategic plan to challenge their domination and it continues triumphantly till today.
When we were growing up, you could see table tennis standards or the more ubiquitous improvised boards in almost every compound. As a matter of fact every compound had local champion and neighborhood competitions were intense. But this is not so any longer, today in a whole city; the number of table tennis boards you would see is so scanty that you would wonder if the game is not sinking into oblivion in Nigeria.
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