Habu Gumel: ‘Nigeria at Winter Olympics is a continuous exercise’

PYEONGCHANG, February 17, 2018 – Habu Gumel is resolute: Nigeria’s winter sports journey has only begun. The President of the Nigerian Olympic Committee has assured the NOC’s continuity after PyeongChang 2018.

It is the first time in the country’s history that its flag is being hoisted at a Winter Olympics – 84 years after the first ever Winter Olympics were held – making it one of only fifteen African countries to participate in the competition of snow and ice. Nigeria will compete in two sports at the Games and Simidele Adeagbo has already kicked-off proceedings in skeleton. The Women Official Training Heat for bobsled begins on Saturday.

Nigeria’s Minister for Sports Barrister Solomon Dalung is expected in South Korea on Monday. “It means great. It means history and it’s very important to the country that during my own time Nigeria is participating in the Winter Olympics for the first time,” Gumel, who has been an IOC member since 2009, told AIPS at the IOC hotel in PyeongChang.

“I believe every Nigerian is proud of this and that is the reason why when the young girls were in Nigeria they were received by many people, many delegations. The government is happy, the NOC is happy, everybody is happy and that’s why we are here to give them all the necessary support to make sure that they participate well.”

With only four months of experience, Adeagbo could only manage bottom place during the Women Official Training Heats 1-6 for skeleton. The main race starts on Friday and Adeagbo hopes to post her best time yet in all four Heats to see where it takes her.

However, Gumel made it clear in his interview with AIPS that a medal is not priority for Team Nigeria in PyeongChang as “participation is key”. “If there is a medal it will be good for us but even if there is no medal, participation is key. It is very important because you have to qualify before you can participate.

“If the medal comes we will be happy and we will go home and jubilate even if there is no medal we will still go home and jubilate,” Gumel added.

That notwithstanding, Gumel charged the team to go for gold when he paid them a visit at the PyeongChang Olympic Village. “I addressed them to give them all the encouragement, to congratulate them for coming back home to participate for their country. I told them to go for gold and they still believe in their minds that they are going for gold.”

Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga are Nigeria’s famous bobsled trio and they will be in action from Saturday to Wednesday. Just as it is in skeleton, they will feature in the Women Official Training Heat 1-6 before the main race of four heats.

“Everybody is talking about Nigeria,” Gumel rightly observed. “Nigeria that has no snow, we don’t have winter, yet our athletes are participating here in the Winter Olympic Games. It is very important.

“Now the girls have a very high morale. They are very much interested they are so happy and ready to participate they are aiming high. They want to get a medal.”

Medal or not, it is the hope of Nigeria’s trailblazing winter olympics contingent that what they have started does not come to an abrupt end after PyeongChang 2018 and Gumel has assured it will not.

“We have just started for the first time and I believe this will not be the end of it,” he said. “It is not a hit and run affair. We are in for it and we will continue to be because these are not the only girls that will be participating every now and then, more and more are going to join.

“We are going to encourage many of our nationals even those at home – they can go outside and train. Now we have only four, next time it will be more.”

Gumel is hoping that the NOC will get the support of the country in their bid to accommodate winter sports when this frenzy of making their debut at the Winter Olympics eventually dies down. It is common knowledge that football gets almost all the attention in Nigeria.

“As of now we are trying to properly establish the national federation of Bobsled and Skeleton. After we do that, we, as the NOC, will give the national federation all the support we can in its developmental programmes.

“By the time we return some of them might be interested in establishing another federation and then from there we may have two or three or four federations for the Winter Olympic Games and that is why I said it is a continuous exercise,” explained Gumel.

The Bobsled and Skeleton Federation of Nigeria is already calling for prospective athletes to submit their application via its official website (www.bsfnigeria.com).

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