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Olympics

‘Prince of Monaco’, Ikpeba reflects on Nigeria’s most memorable moment at the Olympics

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The Confederation of African Football (CAF) website has celebrated Nigeria’s Victor Ikpeba who along team mates was crowned Olympic champion in 1996. 

It was 28-years ago that the Super Eagles of Nigeria claimed gold at the 1996 Olympics with Victor Ikpeba forming a part of the star-studded Nigerian squad that had the likes of  Jay-Jay Okocha, Daniel Amokachi and Nwankwo Kanu.

The gold medal came two years after the Super Eagles were crowned African champions in 1994, where Ikpeba was also part of the golden generation of Super Eagles. 

The former Super Eagles striker who is affectionately called ‘Prince of Monaco’ in Nigeria sat down with CAFOnline to share his memories of the Olympics as the global showpiece edges closer over the next few months. 


Cafonline.com What memories do you have of your participation in the Olympic Games in 1996?

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Victor Ikpeba: Joy, I was so happy to participate. Pride too when I remember the teams that we beat, Mexico in the quarter-final, Brazil in the semi-final, then Argentina in the final. We Africans have shown that this is possible. It’s a tournament that I will never be able to forget.

Nigeria arrived in the United States with an incredible team. You were there with Jay Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu and Daniel Amokachi. When you get together, do you talk about the good old days?

Yes! We just become kids again. A few months ago, we were invited to Cameroon by the a gala match against the 2000 generation of the Indomitable Lions, for a remake of our African Cup of Nations final. I can tell you that it was as if we had never left each other. There is a lot of respect between us, we support each other from our different backgrounds, that gold medal has undoubtedly bonded us. I think it would be good to set up a WhatsApp group, just to check in on each other more often.

How have these Olympic Games been a plus for you?

In my career, there was a before and after Atlanta 1996. At that time I played for AS Monaco in France. The year before our victory at the Olympics, my statistics were not so great. I played 23 matches and scored 6 goals. When I returned from Atlanta, I played 44 matches and scored 22 goals. I gained confidence and more professionalism. For me, there was a before and after the Olympics.

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What do the Olympic Games represent to you?

For all athletes it is an accomplishment. It is the most followed event on the planet. This makes us even more patriotic because we want to place our country on the Olympic map.

Imagine winning them like we did in 1996, it’s even more special. People look at you differently because you are an Olympic champion

Where is your gold medal now?

I carefully hid it at home (laughs).

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When did you tell yourself that you were going to be crowned Olympic champion?

During our semi-final against Brazil. It may seem like it does not make sense  because on paper, we were not the favorites. It was that golden generation with the likes of  Bebeto, Roberto Carlos and Rivaldo. In addition, we had lost against them a few days earlier in a group match. But, God was Nigerian that day (laughs). We trailed 3-1 then equalized 3-3 to win in 4-3 in extra-time.

We are qualified for the final stage. And as they say, a final is not played, it is won.

In your opinion, what are the key requirements to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games?

You have to work constantly and have faith in your talent. For those who play in a team sport, such as football, have confidence in your teammates. It is important to be one when participating in this type of tournament.

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How was the return to Nigeria?

I didn’t have the chance to experience that. With Wilson Oruma we had to quickly join our respective clubs. So we took the same flight as the French Olympic team. I think the French had a lot of medals. We didn’t sleep on the plane because the party was so good. (laughs). 

During the tournament we had news from the country. After our victory against Brazil, Nigeria was abuzz. The country did not sleep, everyone was outside. Young people, old people, men, women, all religions –  everyone was happy. 

It was so beautiful. Here I am talking to you about what was happening in Nigeria, but I cannot forget the support from the continent. We received messages from our brothers from Ghana, Cameroon, Benin, Egypt, all the African people were behind us and also the African diaspora present in the United States who massively supported us.

The three teams qualified for Paris 2024 are Morocco, Egypt and Mali. Guinea might be able to qualify via the play-off. In your opinion, what do you make of Africa’s chances?

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Yes, yes and yes ! We no longer have any complexes. But, the boys must believe strongly in it and never give up. It is Cameroon and us, it is time to have a third nation. One thing is certain: they will be supported. 

There are many Moroccans and Malians in France, it is an asset that they can use. I am sad about only one thing: the absence of Nigeria.

My daughter lives in Lyon. Now that I’m a grandfather, I want to watch some matches with my grandchildren. This competition in France will be fantastic, I am firmly convinced of it.

Any advice for the African countries involved in this tournament?

Play together ! The quality is there and above all, have fun!

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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.

Olympics

Nigeria picks another Paris 2024 slot in table tennis

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The number of Nigerian table tennis players heading to Paris 2024 Olympic Games increased to three after Fatimo Bello defeated Algeria’s Lynda Loghraibi 4-2 in the final of the second stage of the African Olympic Qualification Tournament at bK Arena in Kigali, Rwanda.

Bello failed to qualify through the first stage of qualifiers after losing 4-1 to Cameroon’s Sarah Hanffou but she returned stronger to win the sole slot in the second stage of qualifiers of the women’s singles.

Bello will join her compatriots – Olajide Omotayo and Offiong Edem to compete in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Also, Algeria’s Mehdi Bouloussa who missed out from the first stage of the qualifiers atone for his defeat to pick the last slot in the men’s singles of the qualification tournament.

The qualified players from Kigali qualifiers include Nigeria’s trio of Bello, Omotayo and Edem while Cameroon’s Sarah Haffou picked her tickets to third Olympics appearance while Fabio Rakotoarimanana became the first Madagascan table tennis player to qualify for the Olympic Games after picking the second slot in the first stage of the qualifiers. Mehdi Bouloussa of Algeria secured the final slot in the men’s singles.

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Bouloussa, who narrowly lost 3-4 to Wassim Essid of Tunisia in the quarterfinal round of the first stage, returned to winning ways to pick the final ticket in the men’s singles of the qualification tournament.

To win the second stage of the qualifiers, Bouloussa defeated Saheed Idowu of Congo Brazzaville. (16-14, 11-4, 11-8, 11-4) to pick his maiden ticket to the Olympic Games.

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Olympics

Nigeria all set for Olympic Day celebrations

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"Engaging in exercises promotes health fitness" Popoola highlights. Pictured is Nigeria's Tobi Amusan in the women's hurdles in Tokyo. GETTY IMAGES

Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) Secretary General Babatunde Popoola says the committee, in collaboration with the Nigeria Sport For All Commission, is set for the country’s 2024 edition of Olympic Day celebration on 29 June.

Olympic Day is an annual international event that takes place in the month of June that is aimed at people of all ages and abilities to experience the magic of the Olympic Games in their own communities. Popoola says the event highlights the benefits of physical activity and for people to learn about Olympic values and practise them in their everyday life.

“Engaging in exercises promotes health fitness for individuals; jogging and walking burns calories, tones muscles, shapes your body and helps de-stress the mind.” NOC’s Secretary General stated. 

“Olympic Day has always been celebrated by NOC with fanfare nationwide and this year’s programme will not be an exception as many states are already preparing to organise the programme. 

“The states that have so far registered to participate are Anambra, Gombe, Taraba, Bayelsa, Imo, and Ondo, while others are still being expected to indicate their interest in the programme,” he continued.

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Opeyori becomes Nigeria’s first back-to-back qualifier as Badminton Olympic qualifiers are finalised

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Anuoluwapo Opeyori is one of the 173 badminton players who have qualified for a spot at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. His qualification means that he is the first Nigerian player to qualify for two Olympic Games. He featured at the delayed Tokyo 2020 and will thus made a back-to-back appearance.

The list of qualifiers has been released by the Badminton World Federation (BWF). This includes 166 regular quota places (83 men and 83 women), three universality places from the IOC Tripartite Commission (two men and one woman), plus an additional place for IOC Refugee Olympic Team athlete Dorsa Yavarivata,  whose participation was confirmed earlier this month in a special announcement by the IOC

Opeyori dominated Africa in the men’s singles from 2019 till date winning four African Championship titles and two African Games titles.

An elated Francis Orbih, President of Badminton Federation of Nigeria (BFN)  remarked on Saturday that Anuoluwapo Opeyori has broken the jinx in Nigeria badminton by making it to the Olympic Games in Paris.

Orbih said Opeyori’s qualification shows that the current leadership of BFN’s target of producing world class players is beginning to manifest.

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He revealed that BFN will leave no stone unturned in supporting the dreams and aspirations of the young players in making podium finishes.

Orbih said, “History has been made in badminton as Anuoluwapo Opeyori has secured a spot at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games with the release made by the Badminton World Federation (BWF).

“I am excited and full of joy because Anuoluwapo Opeyori is the first Nigerian badminton player to feature in the men’s singles at the Olympic Games and also the first Nigerian to attend two Olympics and back to back.

“Three years ago, it was Dorcas Adesokan in the women’s singles and Opeyori with his partner Godwin Olofua in the men’s doubles that made it to the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Today, Anuoluwapo Opeyori will represent Nigeria in the men’s singles; the leadership of BFN and Nigeria are proud of him”.

Orbih charged Anuoluwapo Opeyori not to relent but continue to train and attain top form ahead of the Olympic Games.

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He said, “I want to urge Anuoluwapo Opeyori to continue training hard for the Games; we are going to ensure he attends training tours before the Olympic Games”

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