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Taekwondo team will do its best in London, says Chukwumerije

Published by Guardian on Wed, 18 Jul 2012

THERE is no doubt that many Nigerians have hinged the hope for medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games on the teakwondo team following its build-up and the support it has received from all and sundry in recent times. But a member of the two-man team and Beijing 2008 bronze medallist, Chika Chukwumerije, says the team has to be in its best to conquer in London. In this interview, the Abia State-born athlete told OLALEKAN OKUSAN that the fighters would give their best in London.How easy was your qualification for London Olympics'The whole journey was intense and nail biting, the wait was endless. I waited three long years for the event and as the time came, I used to feel a wide range of often contrasting emotions ' sometimes feeling confident, at other times uncertain; sometimes courageous, at other times afraid; sometimes feeling dogged and determined, at other times frustrated.The easiest part of the qualification was when the day itself came. The hardest part was training for the three years preceding the qualification, and having to mentally strengthen myself against all the challenges I faced along the way.You copped an injury in the semi-final tie against an Ivoirien during the qualifiers in Egypt. What was going on in your mind during the fight'I had put in too much and for too long not to qualify. I just had to qualify, even if he blinded both (of) my eyes and fractured every bone in my face. Luckily, I had a very good team behind me. Dayo (the physiotherapist) was excellent. Without him I would not have been able to continue. Master Keum calmed me down and gave specific instructions, which I followed. My team-mates shouted out words of encouragement from the side, and hearing their voices gave me strength. It was a mental and physical battle, both for the team and I. In the end, our collective efforts dug in and won the day.Can you compare your qualification for London 2012 with Beijing 2008'In my opinion, it was harder for me to qualify for the London Olympics than Beijing 2008 Olympics. Before the Beijing 2008 qualifiers, I was not injured and had consistently been in training. I was the African champion, and had the defeat of Athens 2004 to spur me on. So mentally, I was in a strong position.For the London 2012 qualification, I was recovering from an injury, I was unfit (by my standards), and had lost my African crown barely three months before the event. Having won an Olympic bronze already, there was the danger of contentment even if I lost out. In addition, there were opponents as hungry as I was to clinch the Olympic ticket, thus mentally I was in a very precarious position. I had to fight my inner fears every single day and block out every distraction.Now that you have qualified with your team-mate in Beijing, what will be different in the build-up to London 2012'Getting the best out of one's self is not rocket science and does not change with time. It is simple ' hard work and a good plan. Isah and I know the only way forward is to work hard, work hard and keep working hard. There is no magic about that. We will work closely with the technical team on all our weaknesses, focus on the intended goal and keep going at it every single day until the Olympic Games arrives.Being your third Olympics appearance, what will be your priority in London'It has never been 'good, better, best' for me. It has always been and always will be 'best, best and best'. I gave my best in Athens 2004, I gave my best in Beijing 2008 and I will give my best in London 2012.How easy will it be for the team in London, considering the closeness to the Olympics'We are a quiet bunch that never complains; when things are going well, we smile, and when things are not going so well, we still smile. Things have not been very easy or smooth, and we are well aware that time is not on our side.We are coming up against accomplished, battle-hardened and motivated opponents. Naturally, it is going to be a difficult affair. It cannot be any other way. This is the Olympics, and it's the biggest and oldest sporting event in the world, thus every athlete that comes here is well prepared and ready. It can never be easy for any team that makes it here.What is your personal ambition in London'I think I will keep that to myself. That's why it is called 'personal' (laughs).How far do you think the team can go at the event'The team will do its best to get as far as possible. We are working hard to get it right. We are working hard to be in the best shape possible to increase our chances of getting the best possible result.Has the new Korean coach made any impact since joining the team'The team likes him, and more importantly, we respect him. Most importantly, he knows his job thoroughly and is quite passionate and very professional with the way he goes about it. Things have not been very ideal for him coaching us, but he has never uttered a single word of complaint. He finds solutions when problems arise and listens carefully to what goes on around him. I find his perceptive nature spot on, and he has done very well to bond with the Nigeria Taekwondo Olympic team.Why are our female athletes still struggling to make it to the Olympics since Princess Dudu made it to Athens 2004'I do not think they are struggling, but this is only my opinion. Africa is a difficult continent to conquer when it comes to the Olympic qualifiers. The females have always struggled with North African countries in each of the qualifiers. It was always the North Africans that have knocked our females out, unlike the males, where we knock the North Africans out. It just highlights how strong the Nigerian male team has been over the years.I guess, a bit more work needs to be done with the future female teams before future Olympic qualification tournaments to get them a bit more prepared. At both qualifying tournaments (Beijing 2008 and London 2012), the female representatives gave very good accounts of themselves and only just lost out. I am proud of them and all the hard work they put in, they worked as hard as the guys and deserved to qualify as well. Thus I feel sorry that they have not qualified for the past two Olympics.It would have been nice to have a complete team of four persons, but every country/athlete wants to be at the Olympics, so it is a difficult objective. We must bend our heads and work towards the next Olympics in Brazil (2016) after London 2012 is out of the way. I am sure with a lot of hard work driven by a tunnel vision and solid preparations, we can qualify a full team for the next Olympics.
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