Rio 2016: “I was afraid of making it to sixth Olympic Games”, says Oshonaike
On records Olufunke Oshonaike is the most successful female table tennis player at the African Games having won more medals than any other player in the continent. Back-to-back she has won the singles title and for four consecutive editions of the Africa’s Olympics, Oshonaike has claimed the doubles title.
The 40-year-old mother of two is yet to come to terms that she will taking part in her sixth Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil having debuted at the biggest sporting gathering at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics in United States. Despite her inability to win medals at the Olympic Games, Oshonaike says that any athlete that makes it to the Olympics should be appreciated as it remains the biggest stage for the best of the best in the world.
Oshonaike is edging toward history in Africa as the first female table tennis player to be competing at her sixth Olympic Games and it is a journey the former African champion says she never envisaged when she made her Olympics debut in 1996.
“When I attended my first Olympic Games in 1996, I never thought I will be able to make it six appearances because then I just wanted to take part in three Olympics. But here I am today looking forward to my sixth Olympics. For me, this is an awesome experience I would cherish in my life. The Olympic Games is a special event and not many people make it there and for me to be going there for the sixth consecutive times is a feat I never dreamed of but by God’s grace I am here today looking forward to another outing at the biggest sporting stage,” she said.
“My first appearance at the Olympic Games was an experience I would admire forever because I met the best in the world and I rubbed shoulders with them and this for me is an experience every athlete would desire. It is only the best that attends Olympic Games and every athlete that competes at the Olympic Games qualified based on their performance. Most of the participants were not given easy tickets to be at the games.”
Despite her participation in several international tournaments across the globe, Oshonaike still believes that the Olympic Games remains the ‘icing on the cake’ for athletes.
“It is the dream of every athlete to make it to the Olympics because it is the best among the best that attend Olympic Games and I have been privilege to be among these best. This for me is a feat I will cherish more than any medals I might have won at the African Games or championships.
“You cannot compare the experience with any other events because you meet with other top athletes across the globe while the atmosphere is most times unique and this is what endeared the heart of many globally. Olympic is not all about medal even some athletes who must have won medals in several international competitions do not make it to the Olympics as only few make it there,” the athlete said.
With few weeks to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Oshonaike admits that with the new format, the dominance of China may be halted in Brazil. “For us representing our country very well in Rio is our priority and we must strive to be good ambassadors in terms of our conduct on and off the arena. We want to go to Rio and exhibit the virtues synonymous with Nigeria. We are not going to be promising any medal but anything can happen but we will surely give our best. For me, this might be my last Olympic Games and I want to cherish every moment I am going to spend in Brazil and I hope I can achieve something.”
On the dearth of quality female players, Oshonaike is pained by this development but blamed it on indiscipline and interest on the part of the athletes. “When we started playing, discipline was made very important and we were also passionate about the sport. Money was not our priority as we also have training schedule that we follow.
“But unfortunately, things are quite different these days as athletes are not as disciplined, and the passion for the sport has not been there. I am so sad that our players are not showing enough interest in the sport but I hope and believe with the efforts being made by the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF), we can have more players coming through.”