by Olalekan Okusan, ITTF-Africa Press Officer
In 1992 when Segun Toriola made his debut at the Olympic Games in Barcelona, he just wanted to be part of the party as a teenager. In the next six editions, Toriola was present, the highlight being in 2008 in Beijing where he stunned former world number one, Jean-Michel Saive of Belgium to work his way into the round of 32; thus being the first African to reach the last 32 in men’s singles at the Olympic Games.
It was David Zhuang of the United States that first fell to Toriola in a close encounter with the Nigerian advancing (8-11, 11-8, 2-11, 11-6, 9-11, 11-7, 11-8).
Toriola’s fairy-tale in Beijing continued when he defeated Portugal’s João Monteiro by a similar margin (5-11, 11-7, 11-7, 5-11, 11-9, 9-11, 11-7).
Despite his difficult backhand returns and flips, Toriola delighted the crowd in the Peking University Gymnasium, with his performance against Belgium’s Jean-Michel Saive. The Nigerian recorded an unexpected win over the former world number one.
Toriola had struggled to beat the American and the Portuguese but against the Belgian he had edge. The Chinese fans were treated to an exciting match with applause accompanying every point won by both players. The entertaining encounter was regarded as one of the main highlights of the Games; it endeared him to the Chinese fans ( 11-8, 11-7, 8-11, 9-11, 11-3, 12-10).
In the last 32 tie against Korea Republic’s Oh Sangeun, Toriola against dazzled but the Korean managed a close win of 4-3 (12-14, 15-13, 11-6, 11-5, 9-11, 9-11, 11-7) to end the Nigeria’s run in Beijing.
“I can never forget Beijing 2008 Olympic Games because my performance in China was so special. I surprised everybody and the performance helped the rest of the players in Africa to believe that they can play very well in Olympic Games. I think, it was my performance at Beijing that opened doors for African players. The memory of Beijing will forever remain with me especially the match against Jean-Michel Saive, who was a former world number one.
The Chinese really appreciated my effort and I could still recollect that every point was well fought for by both of us. The support from the fans really inspired me and the memory will not leave in a long time to come.
“All my matches at the Olympic Games were special but nothing can be compared with Beijing 2008. Every match was difficult for me from the beginning that I won my matches in a close result. But the match against Jean-Michel Saive was special to me because everybody at the venue focused on the math because of its quality. It was an interesting match because we both entertained the crowd and they were so happy with the quality of play. That is the match I cannot forget as it was still playing in my head up till date.” Segun Toriola.