“when you’re sleeping, I’m working, I’m toiling through the night. It’s what great men do.”
You have probably heard that Nigeria didn’t win any medals at the Olympic games. Since then, we have gone through all the stages of grief starting at disbelief and settling finally into finger pointing.
I don’t understand why there would be any surprise at our performance. The modern Olympics are no longer some mystery ceremony where you travel to a distant land on horseback clutching your parchment invitation without an inkling of how the other kingdoms are preparing until you get there.
The events that Nigeria participated in have international committees and rankings. Anyone with an internet connection can find out who is ranked 55th in women’s table tennis in the world. Or check how many kilogrammes the Russian with calves like tubers of yams lifted on his off day. Or see how fast Yohan Blake has run every month for the last two years. These are not secrets.
By the time an athlete gets to the games, yes they intend to try their best, but they already have an idea of how they measure up to other competitors.
The head of the Olympics committee telling 150 million people that he is definitely going to bring a medal back home says more about his lack of internet experience than it does about the flaws in his plan of pushing forward unprepared athletes to pray their way onto the medal table.
The government deserves a lot of the blame it is getting, but there is only so much you can blame them for. Even if they provided services and facilities, are they also expected to birth the people that will use them?
Usain Bolt was eliminated in the first round of the 2004 Olympics at the age of 17.
Missy Franklin (swimming, 4 gold, 1 bronze) is 17 and had tried to qualify for her first Olympics at 13.
Ye Shiwen (swimming, 2 gold) and Gabby Douglas (gymnastics, 2 gold) are both 16.
These are not adults struggling against government inadequacies, they were children whose parents saw a gift and nurtured it.
Say you discovered a Nigerian child with raw talent, would he be interested in the amount of daily work it would take to be great? And more importantly, would his parents allow him to waste his time chasing his dreams?
Would a Nigerian parent decide, my child will go to this secondary school instead of that other one because it will give her more time to train in the mornings and after classes?
This isn’t a major sacrifice like selling your property so your child can afford training, or moving the entire family so they are closer to training facilities.
This is just taking into consideration the child’s strengths (especially the non-academic ones) when making decisions for them.
These are the choices that champions have made so why would we expect to make it that far without similar effort.
I was at a party last week, and the celebrant cut me a slice of her fluffy four layered birthday cake. As I dug into it, she told me the cake was made by her 12 year old cousin. I thought that was rare, to find parents who allowed their children take chances in things they were interested in. Usually we push them blindly through school, then after they have earned their university degrees, they can go back and learn to make cake if they have the time.
This doesn’t work for sports.
The Nigerian athlete, by nature, is a late bloomer. He only settles into his passion after the more common avenues for success have failed. He has squandered his formative years chasing other goals, and has finally decided to seek fame through sports, faking his age and hoping for a lucky break.
We celebrate when our teams win junior football tournaments nudging ourselves and winking because we know our 16 year old players are not really 16. Results are all that matter.
But winning an Under 17 competition with 23 year old players isn’t a victory. It is the most obvious sign of defeat to say, “Bear with us, we need six extra years to compete at the same level as you.”
It is like sending bankers to compete in secondary school mathematics competition. It is saying, “I don’t care about building for future success, I just want to win now.”
It is sad that we didn’t win any medals, and we won’t for a while, until we embrace the youth oriented mindset that is required to breed people to win medals. And that is as much a job for the government as it is for the educators and the parents.