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GLAMOUR, SPLENDOUR IN THE AIR AS ASOJU OBA CUP MARKS GOLDEN JUBILEE EDITION

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

 

There is probably no Nigerian table tennis prodigy who did not first grace the Asoju Oba Molade Okoya-Thomas Table Tennis Competition.

 

It has been the biggest producer of table tennis stars in Nigeria. Little wonder, the bar is being raised as what is easily Africa’s longest running table tennis competition hits a milestone of 50.

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The initiator, Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas, passed on three years ago, but his children have proven to be worthy successors as they continue to sustain their fathers’ vision.

 

The plans for the golden jubilee edition was in Tuesday unfolded by Ayodeji Okoya-Thomas who announced that this year’s competition will serve off on Monday and run through to Friday November 30 at the Molade Okoya-Thomas Hall of Teslim Balogun Stadium.

 

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The venue is named as a memorial to the initiator of the longest solely sponsored sports competition in the continent.

 

Ayodeji Okoya-Thomas said: “For the tournament which will start next week, two new giant trophies have been unveiled for both the male and female categories. The trophy for the ladies has been renamed, Lady Olivet’s Trophy.

The array of trophies to be won at the 50th Asoju Oba Molade Okoya-Thomas Table Tennis Competition.

There are also two miniature trophies which will be kept by the champions in both the female and male singles category.”

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The grand prize for the winner was not announced as it was meant to be pleasant surprise to the winner.

 

But the family of the late sports philanthropist insists it would be worth the occasion. There had been such surprises at milestone editions of 10-year intervals.

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One of the major winners in the past, Atanda Musa reportedly once spoke of the pleasant December surprise he got in the 1980s when he got a car as the grand prize.

 

“As the tournament usually takes place in December, it afforded us the opportunity to win several gift items while my first car in life was through the tournament which I won after defeating Yomi Bankole in one of the finals,” Atanda Musa said.

 

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There are strong indications that it may be so again this year as players across Lagos jostle for 24 titles at stake.

 

As in the past, giant and glittering trophies were unveiled at the press conference, which significantly had in attendance, the legendry Babatunde Obisanya, the first winner 50 years ago when the competition served off in 1968. He still looked trim and fit.

 

The 24 titles that will be at stake will be in three categories of cadet, intermediate and senior.

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The senior category will feature women and men’s singles, doubles and mixed doubles.

 

Ayodeji Okoya-Thomas added that for the first time, all winners would have medals.

 

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The para-table tennis will also be featuring for the fifth time this year. So also there will be the categories for sports administrators who will compete in singles event.

 

Other categories will be for coaches, the media and so on.

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Aruna and Egypt’s Meshref reclaim ITTF Africa Cup title

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Quadri Aruna and Dina Meshref reclaimed the ITTF Africa Cup title after winning the 2024 edition at BK Arena in Kigali, Rwanda.

Aruna, the top seed still fresh from his exploits at the WTT Saudi Smash, was again unstoppable with a commanding win in the final against Egypt’s Mohamed El-Beiali.

The one-sided final saw Aruna effortlessly take down the Egyptian with a 4-0 (11-5, 11-6, 12-10, 11-3) win to emerge as the new Africa Cup champion after losing the title to Egypt’s Omar Assar in 2018.

“There was never an easy win in any competition, and I am happy that I gave my best and my best resulted in the victory.

“It has always been in me not to give up, even when I am down, and I am happy that all my hardwork paid off with the victory.

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“I must commend Rwanda for providing good facilities and their hospitality for us, the players, and I look forward to returning again to this beautiful country,” World No. 19 said.

Like Aruna, Meshref was at her best after coming back from 2-0 down to defeat her compatriot, Mariam Alhodaby, 4-3 to become the new Africa Cup champion after losing the last two editions in the final.

A relieved Meshref described the victory as crucial, particularly coming back from injury.

“I am happy that I was able to come back, especially coming back from an injury I sustained before the tournament.

“I must thank my family and my mother, who sacrificed to be with me in Rwanda. It was a tough win for me here in this beautiful country of Rwanda, and I will cherish this moment for a very long time to come,” she said.

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The tournament has over 50 players from 14 countries taking part as players brace up for the African Olympic Qualification Tournament, which begins on May 16 and ends on May 18.

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Rwanda raises bar in table tennis as Africa plays in Kigali

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As the 2024 ITTF Africa Cup and Africa Olympic Qualification Tournament get under way in Kigali, Rwanda, with an international press conference on Saturday, May 11, the host country has surpassed expectations, especially in terms of the world-class facilities the government and people of Rwanda have put in place at the 10,000-capacity BK Arena for both events. 

 Consequently, it was the elated President of the Rwanda Table Tennis Federation (RTTF), John Birungi, who spoke at the press conference, pitching Rwanda’s readiness to host bigger sporting events like the world championships to emulate Egypt and South Africa.

Birungi, who brimmed with great enthusiasm, said, “I am so happy that it has become a reality that we are hosting two major competitions on the continental calendar. This is the first time we are hosting major African championships in the year of the Olympic Games. We are very ambitious and capable of hosting WTT events to toe the line of Egypt and South Africa, the only two African nations to have hosted the world championships. 

“We are very grateful to the  ITTF and the ATTF for considering us and their firm belief in us that we can stage a major competition of this status. This would not have been possible without the huge support of the Government of Rwanda and other supporters, and we are not taking this for granted. We are confident that we can do bigger events in the near future.”

Thrilled by the state-of-the-art venue, the BK Arena, President of the African Table Tennis Federation (ATTF), Khaled El-Salhy, lauded the Birungi-led board of the RTTF for matching their words with action with the quality of the venue and other facilities in place for the tournament.

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 “I am so excited that this is a reality based on the promise made when the hosting rights were awarded to Rwanda in Tunis last year. From the look of things, it is clear that Rwanda is capable. They have shown great ambition with what they have put in place. We are very excited that they are hosting a tournament of this magnitude for the first time. They have put everything in place to ensure a hitch-free event,” El-Salhy said.

The 2024 ITTF Africa Cup and Africa Olympic Qualification Tournament will be held from May 12 to 18. 17 countries will compete in the three-day tournament.

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Aruna marches on at Saudi Smash

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Nigeria’s Aruna Loses Gold Medal Contest To Main Rival, Assar Of Egypt -

Just like he did in the first round, Quadri Aruna continued his superb display after taking down Lee Sang Su of South Korea 3-2 in the second round of the men’s singles at the WTT Saudi Smash taking place at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah.

The Nigerian, who is ranked 19th in the world, was at his best from the start of the encounter, dominating the first two games to win 11-9, 11-9. But the Korean fought back in the third and fourth games to level up at 9-11, 7-11.

In the deciding encounter, Aruna raced to the lead with a 4-1 win, but the Korean thwarted his lead to 4-4 with both players playing with a lot of caution.

Even when Aruna was hitting the ball hard for the Korean, it was as if his shots were not too much for his opponent, who took the lead and was on the verge of victory at 10-8.

A backhand topspin from Aruna became the undoing of the Korean, who lost two points to allow the Nigerian to level up at 10-10.

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A missed shot from Aruna again handed the Korean 11-10 lead, as only a point was all the Asian star needed to avenge his last meeting loss against Aruna.

Just like he did in the first round against Indian legend Sharath Achanta, Aruna stood his ground and fought like a true champion to match the Korean shot-for-shot, which eventually went his way for the tie to go 10-10.

Two missed shots were what Aruna needed to silence the supporting Asians at the venue of the match, as the Nigerian laughed last with a 13-11 win to become the second player to reach the second round after Iran’s Noshad Alamiyan took down world number five Jingkun Liang 3-2 to cause the first upset of Day 3 of the $2 million prize money tournament.

For the third-round tie (round of 16), Aruna will face another Korean in Daeseong Cho on Wednesday, May 8.

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