by Olalekan Okusan, ITTF-Africa Press Officer
Prior to the 2019 Africa Para Championships, staged just over a year ago in late June and early July, in Alexandria, Isau Ogunkunle had idolised Mohamed Sameh Eid of Egypt; when they met in the group stage of men’s singles class 4, Ogunkunle prevailed.
Alas when it mattered most, when the met in the final, Ogunkunle’s inexperience cost him the continental slot. Narrowly he lost to his idol who picked his fifth ticket to the Paralympic Games.
In Nigeria, Ogunkunle has been ruling class 4; for more than eight years he has been undefeated.
“I was 16 when I fell sick and this sickness caused my limbs to be lifeless and this was what made me start using a wheelchair. For four years after this sickness I was indoors thinking my life has been ruined by the injury. But in order to be relevant in life, I decided to become a shoe cobbler which I was doing until 2010 when I was introduced to table tennis. One year after starting the game, I became Nigeria national champion in class 4.” Isau Ogunkunle
He made his first international appearance at the 2011 African Championship in Ismail, Egypt where he settled for bronze.
“In 2011 when I first played against Mohamed Sameh Eid, he defeated me 3-0 but after the match he came to me to comfort and encouraged me not to give up. Since then we have been friends and we communicate with each other regularly. He became my idol in the game.” Isau Ogunkunle
Motivated, Isau Ogunkunle is most determined.
“I have been dreaming of competing at the Paralympic Games for a very long time because I know if I am given the chance I will do well for Nigeria but there was no opportunity; when the chance came in 2019, I trained well and I was determined to qualify from Egypt, unfortunately I lost to Mohamed Sameh Eid who has been my idol in the sport. It was a very painful lost after beating him in the group stage.” Isau Ogunkunle
Even Mohamed Sameh Eid admitted after the match.
“I am so excited that I will be going to my fifth Paralympic Games in Tokyo but I must admit that it was a difficult route for me this year. My opponent (Ogunkunle) is a good player and I think he is still young and can still make it to the Paralympic Games. Generally, this has been the toughest qualification for me and I am so happy that I will become the first African para table tennis player to compete in five Paralympic Games.”
The performance of Ogunkunle in Egypt promoted his world ranking, so when the final list for participants was released, Ogunkunle’s name made the cut.
“I am so happy that I will be making my debut at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo; this is a big progress for me in life because since I started table tennis in 2010, I have been looking forward to this chance. Now that I will be part of the contingent to Japan, I cannot wait to show my quality against the rest of the world.” Isau Ogunkunle
Apart from the satisfaction that Ogunkunle has derived from table tennis, his physical ability has been enhanced.
“I must say that playing table tennis has helped my physical ability because before I started table tennis, I was already bending but with table tennis my health has improved drastically.”
However, Ogunkunle would not want to return from Tokyo empty-handed.
“I am sure that I will return with medal from Tokyo but I am not sure of the colour of the medal but I would not return to Nigeria empty-handed.” Isau Ogunkunle.