Olympics edition

“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.

12 thoughts on “Olympics edition

  1. Well said bro.and that is indeed an interesting and valid angle…and to think we have such raw talents, just let your mind wonder for a moment if we trained talents e.g the Fulani child can be trained to be a world class archer cos fulanis are good with arrows.., or the riverine child into a world class swimmer or a child from a boat rowing tribe transformed into an olympic genius..the list goes on , the talents are all around us and we are many like China and Usa, we have the human resources plenty..but are Nigerians able to see past survival mode? and even if the parents were willing how would the child get pass corrupt sports ministry to reach Olympics if he is a child of a nobody…i see that the Nigerian parents have issues BUT if the government creates opportunity parents will comply , afterall no one discourages their child from playing football anymore like before, the reasons for this are obvious. ..i still fault that we do not have a thinking govt..scratch that we do not have a govt..sorry for such a long comment.

    • Thanks for the long comment, it kickstarted another point I was thinking about.
      In my school, people who played football had football cleats while those than ran almost always ran barefoot. Football has a level of importance to us that other sports don’t have to warrant a personal investment in equipment.
      You could say it is because we have seen people have success in football and are now hopeful about it, but I don’t think the third string goalkeeper in my school or the average 20-something year old who plays once a month with his friends is still thinking he will blossom into the next Amokachi.

  2. This was very well written. You layered your arguments like that cake and it went down very nicely. I hmm-ed and nodded thoughtfully throughout, and even started thinking about solutions to the problem. Dammit, I got invested.

    But it wasn’t a story! *wails*

  3. Nice read and definitely very much on point!

    Just yesterday (I think) Bellanaija raised a very similar topic, due to the academia-related suicides that have been happening in Nigeria.
    We place a lot of value on formal education, while ignoring other strengths (ie. sports and the arts) that could well bring a lot of recognition and prestige- if one cares for these- too. This hodls especially true for parents!
    While I (personally) value (formal) education, school and most related things, I understand this has to do more with my persona(lity) than anything else. People, skills, talents, and strengths vary.. all being of equal importance; we have just failed to recognize and accept that.

    Long way to go..

    • Some people will spend two hours studying and end up with a C, but if they spent four hours studying they would get an A. Others would have a B with two hours of study, or four, or eight.
      The only person that can know that the child isn’t gaining by spending more time is the parent. And at the point, the parent should figure out what interests my child, what can I do with this extra time besides harping on the same issue.
      I knew someone who was taking three different lessons for the same subject. He would start his sentences with, “My other lesson teacher said…. ” I know this might be necessary sometimes to pass just one class but at some point the law of diminishing returns has to apply.

  4. Very well said. Very on point.

    However, I lay the blame squarely at the feet of our very ‘un-visionary’ leadership. I’m a trained artist. Against many odds, I studied fine art up to tertiary level. Yet, I presently work in a corporate organisation (still practising my craft though) because I realise that there are little or no opportunities in the field of art in which I would love to practise. Also, when I compare the artistry in this part of the world to that in other parts, I just shake my head because it becomes obvious that we have a long, long way to go. And this is because we have the talent and the drive, but we just do not have the facilities to nurture those and so it is pointless to expect more someone who can’t afford to go abroad to study.

    Same with sport. A close friend of mine and her siblings are on full tennis scholarships studying in the states. They are from a ‘tennis family’. Yet they have never represented the country in any competition or tournament. Why? Very simple, the corrupt state of the government. The parents have been wise enough to use their skills for the security and advancement of their children’s future and education respectively (not to mention feed the family) but leaning on or towards the government for any direction just appears to be a total and pointless waste of time that no one is willing to indulge in.

    If you even look at a lot of the sportsmen who represented Nigeria at the Olympics, you realise that only patriotism allowed them put themselves in such a ‘foolish’ position. They were mostly foreign or personally trained students/sportsmen (like my friends I referred to earlier) who made the patriotic decision to represent us. Others, out of frustration, simply accepted citizenships from other countries that were prepared to properly invest in their training and development. Win-win situation, innit? Who actually wants to be a loser? I don’t, do you?

    • I am glad things worked out for the tennis family. The country has lost out by not tapping their talents, and like you said, that blame is on the government.
      There are two parts to this, the first is finding the children who enjoy something and have the potential to be good at it. The second is after finding and grooming them, even if they leave to play internationally (in the NBA, for example) getting them to still represent us at the Olympics. We are failing in both of these, but we can’t have the second without the first.

      Some sports have large purses like tennis, golf. Before and during the Olympics, there were news articles about how there isn’t always a correlation between performance and pay. An attractive or more marketable athlete will get endorsements even if they don’t win. If you’re a champion weightlifter, you’ll probably get a small stipend from the government and have to work one or two part-time jobs.
      For these people, and really for any of us, finding something they enjoy and are good at, is its own reward. It is a bonus if you find fame and wealth doing it, but you’re not doing what you love only because of that tiny chance you’ll be famous.
      The real losers are those who never find their passion.

  5. about going to learn stuff after university (if you have time), I count myself lucky. Ever since I was in primary school, I have gone for summer school only 3 times. the other summers were spent learning stuff. I cab sew basic dresses, skirts and shirts with a sewing machine, I can bake cake, chin chin and things like that and I can do hair and I do make-up and photography. Later on this year, I’m going to learn nails. My mum doesn’t think I should spend all my life reading and in school. Life isn’t all about that. Learn some life skills. Even if you do it for yourself and friends.

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