by Olalekan Okusan
It was when seven years old that Tajudeen Agunbiade suffered from polio in his left leg; this prevented him from joining his mates to play football.
However, watching the likes of Atanda Musa becoming popular in Nigeria playing table tennis, Agunbiade developed interest in the sport.
“My mother told me that I was not born with polio but that I got polio at seven; this really affected my movement that I could not play football with my mates because of my left leg. I used to hear about Atanda Musa in Lagos and I knew he was very popular across Nigeria just by playing table tennis and this was when my interest in the sport started. I started learning by just playing on our dining table with some of my friends and this took me to my neighbourhood where I continued playing with my friends. I started competing for Nigeria in 1999 when I represented the country in an African Championship and since then, table tennis has been my life and everything.” Tajudeen Agunbiade
From 1999, Agunbiade dominated his class in Africa and was able to qualify for the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games as a debutant.
Undaunted by his novice tag, Agunbiade entered the fray. He was drawn in Group B in men’s class 9 alongside Austria’s Stanislaw Fraczyk and Czech Republic’s Miroslav Cinibulk.
A debutant, he progressed out of the group despite losing 1-2 to the Austrian and defeating the Czech 2-0. In the main draw he faced Frenchman Francois Serignat, he won 2-0 to qualify to the quarter-final. In the quarter-final, he was pitched against another Frenchman; Olivier Chateigner, he inflicted the same 2-0 win over his opponent to set up a Nigerian affair in the semi-final. He was to face his teammate and compatriot – Olufemi Alabi. Being a familiar foe, Agunbiade struggled to beat Alabi 2-1 reach the final where another familiar face awaited, Stanislaw Fraczyk.
Not ready to play second fiddle to the European again, Agunbiade turned the tide to win his first gold medal in the men’s singles class 9. He beat Stanislaw Fraczyk 2-1 to stand on the highest podium in Sydney.
“At Sydney I did not expect that I could win a medal not to even talk of claiming the highest medal which was gold. When we started I just wanted to represent my country very well but when I lost the first match against the Austrian I was a bit disappointed but in the second group match I won convincingly and it was this that motivated me in all my matches till I won the gold. It was a sweet experience for me and I am hoping that I can repeat such a feat again in Tokyo.” Tajudeen Agunbiade
To add to his medal in Sydney, Agunbiade teamed up with Alabi and Tunde Adisa to conquer Slovak’s duo of Ladislav Gaspar and Richard Csejtey 3-2 to win the gold medal in men’s team
At Beijing 2008, Agunbiade was unlucky as he ended his stay in China at the quarter-final stage.
Again, Agunbiade will be returning to the Paralympic Games in Tokyo after emerging champion at the African Championship held in Alexandria, Egypt; the Nigerian believes he still has something to offer.
“I hardly train with my colleagues but train with able athletes because I want to raise my standard and to have a strong mentality. This has really helped me to improve my game and I hope this will be helpful for me again in Tokyo.” Tajudeen Agunbiade
However, he admitted that through the sport a lot of opportunities have come his way in life.
“I can categorically say that table tennis has opened a lot of opportunities for me in life. It has exposed me to the world and people don’t look down on me again but they now see me as a champion and someone who is relevant. Generally, sport has changed my status in life and I now see that I have opportunities like every other person in life. My orientation has also been changed and it has helped me in life.” Tajudeen Agunbiade