Yagazie Chukwumerije shed blood, sweat, and tears to win a bronze medal for Nigeria in the plus-80 kilogrammes men’s taekwondo event at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. At the London 2012 Olympic Games, he hopes to finally achieve his dream of becoming an Olympic champion.
In Beijing, not many gave the then 24-year-old Chukwumerije any chance of winning a medal, not even after he had emerged as Africa’s champion at the 2007 All Africa Games (AAG) in Algiers.
Chukwumerije lost narrowly to Alexandros Nikolaidis of Greece in the semi-finals in Beijing, before regaining his comportment and doing just enough to defeat Akmal Irgashev of Uzbekistan in the bronze medal match.
His next shot is, therefore, an Olympics gold medal in London.
“The All Africa Games is a special competition to me, perhaps not as much as the Olympics, for obvious reasons. It’s nice to have athletes from across Africa gathered in one place,” Chukwumerije said.
“The Olympics is a dream for me, and I toss in my bed at night just thinking about it, and considering I just completed my Masters degree programme in the UK, participating in the London Olympics will hold a special significance for me. I recognise this, and that is why I train so hard so I can earn the qualifying tickets yet again.”
The national camp
He isn’t looking forward to the intrigues and drama that usually precede the country’s preparations for major championships, but he looks forward to flying the green and white of Nigeria as high as he can.
“The lows for me are the training camps,” he disclosed. “There’s always constant bickering and politicking that can make one lose focus. Thus, I prepare more mentally for the national camps than I do for tournaments… this drains me,” he stressed, before adding: “Representing Nigeria will always be a high for me, and winning a medal makes it even more memorable, especially when you work so hard for it.”
Despite his family’s background – his father, Uche Chukwumerije, is currently a serving senator in the National Assembly – Chukwumerije has never undermined the importance of hard work and its relationship to success at all levels of life.
It was for this singular reason that in the months leading up to the Beijing 2008 Olympics, and with a ‘little’ help from his father who, like him and his siblings, holds a black belt in taekwondo, travelled overseas to prepare for the Games. This training tour took him to the United States of America, where he spent more than a month, and later on to England, Germany, and Taiwan.
But so much has changed in taekwondo in the few years that have passed since he won a medal on that fateful Saturday, August 23, in 2008. And Chukwumerije knows he has to practically repeat this process all over again if he is to excel in the sport he loves so much.
So what does he plan on doing?
“By starting from scratch all over again,” he says.
“The past is the past, and I have seriously forgotten about any achievements that have occurred. Things are changing… things have changed… and I must adapt to these changes. There are new rules in taekwondo, new competition equipment, different fighters currently in the circuit, etc. All these affect how I am training in South Korea.
His training programme is being funded by the Nigeria Olympic Committee, though he believes that the build-up could have been better with the help of corporate Nigeria.
“For the preparatory competitions I want to go for, I intend to reach out to the private enterprise. I need finance – simple. I have a track record that says, ‘I know what I am doing and I know what it takes to be successful’, and I hope that private enterprises will be willing to share this journey with me,” he said.
If he gets the much needed support from the private sector and goes ahead to make it to the Olympics, what attitude will he be taking to the event?
“Giving my best is more important, and it starts in the training phase. I try to give 100 percent at training sessions and get in the best possible shape,” he explained.
“Thus, I generally expect to do well when I go for tournaments. However, I do not go to tournaments over-confident I will win – that will be disrespecting my opponents. I go to tournaments
knowing I have the same chance of winning as any other athlete, and I do not shy away from taking the chance.”
The year was 2004, and the event took place in his current location – Germany.
“I got a kick to the mouth in the first 10 seconds of the fight, and the opponent was a red belt,” he recalled.
“My front three teeth wobbled, and I lost some blood. I continued the fight in fury and rage, but the national coach (Osita Egwim) threw in the towel because my rage only made me unfocused. I was so embarrassed, and to make matters worse, I wore braces for two weeks,” he exclaimed, before adding: “How can I ever forget that? But it humbled me. I had underestimated the opponent, and let my guard down. That was the very last time I ever underestimated anyone.”
Asked who his greatest adversary has been, the 28-year-old retorted: ”I really don’t see anyone as a great adversary. Every opponent is the same to me – they want to kick my ass, and I want to kick theirs. For me, it is as simple as that. Two people go into the ring, only one comes out victorious,” he said.
Hopefully, the one that will keep emerging victorious even right up to the final bout of the men’s plus-80 kg event of the London 2012 Olympics will be the dynamic Nigerian who began practising taekwondo at the age of four.
Source: Spy Ghana