by Olalekan Okusan, ITTF-Africa Press Officer
However, when Olufunke Oshonaike completed her schedule at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, she was not sure if she could make it to Tokyo 2020; soon after she had to undergo surgery.
A challenge but the mother of two never gave up on her dream; determination prevailed. Now the 44 year old want to inspire others.
Delight after Tunis success
She explained her feelings immediately following her success in Tunis.
“I’m the happiest woman in the world today, I still can’t believe it, it feels as if I’m still dreaming, for the past three weeks I have not been able to sleep, I started training in January because of my health, I trained very hard.
We are all nervous here, so to qualify, honestly I am just the happiest woman, I can now tell everyone not to give up, no matter the situation, follow your dream put God first in everything and you will surely make it.” Olufunke Oshonaike
Concern for young players
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will be her swansong.
“I want to do more for young players, now I have the Funke Oshonaike Foundation where I give kits to children. The kids doing sports in Nigeria are from low backgrounds not from rich families. To get equipment is very hard; when you talk about talent, we have so much in Nigeria, so much.” Olufunke Oshonaike
Enthusiastic but despite her exploits, Oshonaike is concerned that Nigeria is not producing more female players.
“In Nigeria, I remember growing up we had good coaches; unfortunately we don’t have enough good coaches now. You know we have a lot of distractions because of the social media thing, so the female players need someone like a father that is going to be a good trainer, coach, psychologist. We don’t have in Nigeria.
Coaches might get angry with me for this but I’m so sorry I have to say we don’t have anyone in Nigeria like that, everybody keeps saying our females are not improving but then they forgot one thing the support a father will give to a child. It is lacking because they do things on their own and apart from that they are all giving up. We have lots of talented girls in Nigeria but the problem is training and lots of them are giving up.” Olufunke Oshonaike
Carefully guided, Olufunke Oshonaike remembers clearly her first Olympic Games experience in Atlanta.
“I was actually supposed to go for Barcelona 1992 in Spain but my coach told me I was young so I should allow the older ones to go. I still had enough chances and look at me now, playing the seventh one, I never dreamt of it, it’s just God in my life.
I still love what I’m doing. Every time I thought of stopping, I would be like, oh, I’m going to miss a lot of people. I am going to miss the team, the Olympics, the Olympic village. It’s another world.
Though a lot of people are asking me: when are you giving up? Don’t you know you are an old woman? I keep telling them that if I don’t tell you my age, would you still tell me that? My body tells me that I can still play very well. Why shouldn’t I continue?” Olufunke Oshonaike
Desire strong as ever
Competing in the Olympic Games remains as strong today for Olufunke Oshonaike as it did approaching a quarter of a century ago.
“Olympics is the best, every athletes wants to go for the Olympics but like I said before it is not everyone that can go to the Olympics. Unfortunately I have not been able to win a medal because as you all know the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans are our problem. I’m going to put in my best because it is the last for me.” Olufunke Oshonaike
Simply competing in the Olympic Games is for Olufunke Oshonaike, 11 times African Games medallist, an achievement in itself.
“I keep telling people that I have gone through a lot in my life. People just see me and I’m always smiling but I go through a lot of pain. I cry and cry. You have it good, have it bad when you fall, dust everything out and keep on moving. Don’t give up on your dream. I know what I want and I’m going for it. In Nigeria a lot of people were telling me, Funke you are 45, why are you not giving other people chances? I tell them, ‘I’m not holding anyone down.” Olufunke Oshonaike
Now Oshonaike has joined the “seven club”; she lines up alongside compatriot Segun Toriola, Belgium’s Jean-Michel Saive, Croatia’s Zoran Primorac and Sweden’s Jörgen Persson.
“The seven club has only men who have been to seven Olympics in table tennis. Only men. I will be the only woman from Africa, the whole world, that has been my dream.” Olufunke Oshonaike
Planning retirement from the sport but of course that has now been put on hold for the lady who will be 45 years old when she competes in the Japanese capital city.
“I am not surprised that the Games have been postponed because I was actually expecting it; what I did not like initially was when people were pressurising the International Olympic Committee to make the decision earlier. I think the fact that the Games has now been postponed is a good development for athletes and officials. However, for me it is a setback to my retirement because I was planning to quit this year after the Tokyo Olympic Games and now I my retirement has now been postponed till 2021.
The postponement will surely give athletes the chance to prepare well for the Games and it will also help me as well. I am indeed looking forward to my last Olympic Games having started in Atlanta 1996 in United States.” Olufunke Oshonaike
A long trip; first to Atlanta, then onward to Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro. Tokyo is journey’s end.