Blessing Oborududu, captain of the Nigeria wrestling team, is one of the seven wrestlers to represent the country at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The 27-year-old told Idris Adesina of punchng.com about her Olympic experience and career in this interview.
How are the preparations for the Olympics going?
Preparations started since last month when we began training and we are still in camp training really hard every day.
Your first Olympics outing since you joined the national team was at London 2012, where the country did not win any medal. Do you think you can do better than you did then?
How would you describe your experience at the 2012 Olympics?
The experience was once in a lifetime. It is a great feeling to be at the biggest stage in sports. I felt very happy and excited. When I qualified for this year’s Olympics, I was happy that I would have the rare honour of being at two Olympics. It is really a worthwhile experience I had in 2012. But as much as I would have loved to win a medal then, I was beaten at the quarterfinal stage.
You are the most experienced wrestler in Nigeria. How do you motivate the rest of the team in spite of the challenges you face?
Being the team captain has not been easy. It is very tough when you have to listen to the complaints from the coaches about the team and the team about the challenges but it has been God all the way. I tell them to see the challenges as something that is temporary and will pass. I also tell them that the goal they have is greater than the challenges they may face in the course to achieving those goals.
What are the lessons you have learnt between 2012 and now that you think could help you win medals in Rio?
I have learnt a lot of lessons in those four years. I have learnt that naivety can cost one a lot in wrestling. I was not exposed enough then so I made some mistakes which I wouldn’t make now. Also I have learnt to always cherish the good moments of the sport. I have also learnt not to be afraid of any opponent.
The wrestling team qualified seven wrestlers for the 2016 Olympics – the highest since Nigeria started appearing at the Games. With Nigeria yet to win any medal in wrestling at the Olympics, what do you think can help the team achieve the aim of winning medals apart from the training you are having now?
I think we need to attend a few competitions before the Olympics begin. These tournaments will help us put to use the skills we have been taught here in the training camp. It is not the same thing when you fight at tournaments and when you fight the same person in training. With the preparations we have now, we can do well at the Olympics but we will do much better if we can attend some competitions before the Olympics. It will help us to be familiar with the styles used by some of the countries that have also qualified for the Olympics like us.
You have competed at major tournaments on the continent including the recent African Senior Championships and the Olympic qualifiers in Algeria. How will you rate the growth of wrestling in Nigeria and Africa?
In Nigeria, wrestling is really growing and I can say that in the last few years, the sport has become increasingly popular that Nigerians now count on us to win medals when we go for competitions. When we went for the All Africa Games in 2007, we didn’t win many medals but last year in Congo, Nigeria topped the wrestling medal charts. If the trend keeps going, the sport will soon become more popular than it is now. On the African continent, wrestling is popular among the North Africans than the other parts. This is because they spend more money on sports in those parts than we have in West Africa but gradually Africans will do well in global events in the nearest future.
How can the sport grow more in Nigeria?
Wrestling needs sponsorship to help it become as popular as football. Sponsorship will allow the administrators to organise more competitions and also get the sport to the grassroots. The country has talent but there are several notions that should be corrected with the availability of more sponsorship for the sport. Also, with sponsorship, the country can have a wrestling league, the like of what was done in India last year. Such an idea will empower a lot of people because sports is really profitable and is a viable way to engage young minds. People will earn a living and the national team will have ready materials, who will bring more glory to the country.
How did you come into wrestling?
I began wrestling – sports generally – since my secondary school days. I attended St. Jude’s Secondary School, Amaranta, Bayelsa State. I was initially playing football but I later moved to swimming. At a point I did field events too – I threw javelin and discus. I was a point of quarrel between some of the house masters then because everyone wanted me in their team but I eventually settled for wrestling. By then I was almost out of secondary school. I was the school wrestling champion. I later joined the Bayelsa State Sports Council after school and since then I have never looked back. I competed for Bayelsa State at the National Sports Festival and in 2007 but I didn’t win anything. But in later editions, I won medals for the state.
Have you gone further in your education since you left secondary school?
Yes. Initially, it was wrestling all the way but I later knew I had to go back to school so I am currently studying Business Administration at the Niger Delta University on part time.
What was your parents’ reaction to your doing sports?
When I started wrestling, I wasn’t living with my parents. I was staying with my elder brother then and he totally frowned at my doing sports. He did everything he could to dissuade me from going for trainings but I didn’t stop. But the intervention of current Nigeria Wrestling Federation president, Daniel Igali, who was then a coach with Bayelsa State, made him leave me alone. Till today, I don’t know how my brother met Igali. He only called me and started encouraging me not to miss training and so on.
When did you win your first wrestling medal?
I got my first medal in 2007. It was in Ebonyi State. I can’t recollect the competition clearly now but I won bronze for Bayelsa State. It wasn’t a big one but I cherish it. My first international competition was in 2009 – the African Championships. After I won a gold medal at the 2009 National Sports Festival, I won a bronze medal at the African Championships. It was my first medal in an international competition.
You have been in wrestling for over 10 years. What has been your toughest fight?
I can’t point at one fight and say this is the toughest. All fights have their challenges but each match is memorable to me in its own way – be it a win or a loss.
Ahead of the Olympics, are you afraid of any of the other qualified wrestlers from countries ranked higher than Nigeria?
I am ready to face any opponent in Brazil because the game is about the passion to win. I am not afraid of anybody because the rankings don’t matter in all situations. They may be ranked higher than we are but won’t be as determined as we are. Immediately we get on the mat, the game is about winning or losing, so there is no need to be afraid of anyone.
How would you rate Nigerian wrestling coaches?
Our coaches are some of the best in the world. It is not easy to coach under the conditions in Nigeria – the facilities and the challenges they face – and still come up with world-class wrestlers as they have turned out. I believe that they will do well anywhere in the world. They are very good. They only need more improved conditions to become the best in the world.
What is your advice to up-and-coming wrestlers?
They should be focused and not get discouraged by the challenges they would meet in the sport. They should take their time and everything will fall into place for them. They should also not joke with their education.