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How We Won Nigeria’s Last Gold Medal At The African Games – Mbanu

Onyeka Mbanu became a household name in Nigeria after pairing Clifford Enosoregbe to win Men’s Doubles gold medal for Team Nigeria at the 2011 African Games in Mozambique.

13 years after their victory against the Nigerian pair of Shehu Lawal and Candy Idoko in Maputo, no Nigerian tennis player has been able to repeat the feat.

The closest Nigeria came to the top podium finish was at the last Games in Morocco in 2019, where the Women’s team won bronze in the team event, all thanks to the quartet of Anu Ayegbusi, Blessing Samuel, Adesuwa Osabuohien and Oyinlomo Quadre.

About 10 days to the start of the tennis event at the African Games, Nigeria Tennis Live reached out to Mbanu for a quick interview, to bring back some old memories from that triumphant win by the Nigerian team.

READ ALSO: Ekpenyong: Nigeria’s No. 1 Player Ruled Out Of African Games

He made some startling revelations about how he made the cut to travel to Maputo, how he was taunted by other athletes because he was very young and how much the gold medal means to him even till date.

“Having had to go through the players that we had to beat, it was a surreal experience. It was a gratifying accomplishment to win the gold medal at the end.

“I’m extremely grateful for that opportunity and it’s one I’ll probably never forget in this lifetime because it was generally a very difficult tournament to play,” the former national player began during a chat with our correspondent.

Onyeka Mbanu

On how the Nigerian side managed to defeat all the tough players in the team event and reaching the final, he noted that: “It was definitely as a result of hard work, it was not easy, I believe one of the key elements we had over other guys was the fun element we brought to our matches.

“We knew that there was a fine line between us and our opponents, they’re just as good as us. So, what else could we bring other than mental toughness and hard work to the game,

“We just enjoyed it, but we also knew that was an opportunity for us to showcase how good we were and our talents. So, we just had to bring our A-game as much as we had to.

“We knew there were a lot of expectations as well, it was huge. I’m going to say something, maybe not part of what you asked me, but I’ll say it regardless”.

Onyeka Mbanu

He went ahead to speak about how he made the team that went to Maputo despite not being in the training camp that led to the final squad that made it out of the country: “I was not among the first people they chose. I think Clifford, My Doubles partner, was among the guys they chose and actually was in camp, because I wasn’t in the country when they were in camp for the All African Games.

READ ALSO: Nigeria’s Bulus Hits Highest ATP Ranking Ahead Of African Games

“But I guess something happened and the other person didn’t come, and I was called. I was actually in the Netherlands at that time, and when they called me and asked if I wanted to represent Nigeria at the All African Games, I said yeah, got on the flight and went to Nigeria.

“There were a lot of mixed feelings about it because a lot of people were wondering why I was chosen. I wasn’t one of the ones chosen to play, to be in camp because I wasn’t living in Nigeria, playing the national tournaments and they felt I wasn’t a home-based player, so, I was not qualified to play at the Games.

“There were a lot of doubts as well, even when we got to Mozambique, all through the tournament, we could hear people talk here and there and nobody ever imagined that we’d come home with the gold medal.

“That was a moment for me, that I’ll never forget, because there were a lot of expectations and those expectations were met”.

Onyeka Mbanu

And just as the ministry of sports does for players who represent the country at various tournaments, especially at the African Games, promises were made to the players before they went to Maputo.

Mbanu explained how that went in their case: “Before we arrived at Mozambique, it was stated that we would get some amount of cash, we didn’t know exactly the amount. But after we won, me and my partner, Clifford Enosoregbe, when we won gold, we were given four thousand US dollars for winning gold.

“But there were rumours about other rewards that we would have gotten, but that never surfaced. It’s a shame, I wouldn’t mention what we were actually supposed to get, but it was quite huge.

“I think there was rumors about a flat in Abuja, a plot of land in Abuja, or something of that nature. We know how things are in Nigeria, we know how the system is corrupt.

“I’m not ashamed to say it and I’m not afraid to say it, because it was probably after two years that we got to know that we were supposed to be given and somehow, that never happened because someone took the reward for themselves.

Onyeka Mbanu

“Regardless, though, I don’t regret winning gold for Nigeria because it stays with me forever”.

READ ALSO: African Games Records: When Was The Last Time Nigeria Won Gold?

The career-high 1395 ranked player on the ATP was a teenager as at the time he won the gold medal alongside Enosoregbe, and was barely spoken about after the African Games, a development which he found rather disappointing.

According to him: “I was barely 17years old when I won gold medal for Nigeria, and I feel like that’s not spoken about enough.

“We don’t beat the drums about that enough, I felt like that was a huge moment in my life, because I was so young and could have chosen to play the ITF or whatever, but I said, you know what, let me take this chance to represent my country.

“Even though I was so young, people doubted me, they questioned why I was chosen to represent Nigeria at that age given my experience in general in tennis, but I came back with a gold medal at barely 17. I feel like people should talk about that a bit more because that’s huge, for me, especially, that’s huge.

READ ALSO: Oyinlomo Quadre: What Playing At The 2024 Olympics Will Mean To Me

“I remember on the flight on our way to Mozambique, other Nigerian athletes on the same flight were poking at me, and it was almost kind of condescending, like what are you doing here, you’re so young, what do you know?

“It was almost like they expected less from me because I was so young, and they were wondering why the other guys who were in camp, who seemed more professional, and more experienced because they were older than me, were not in the team.

“But it turns out that, yeah, I was actually deserving of the reward at the end of the day”.


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