The Spirit of Atlanta ’96 – How Sport And Olympic Values Can Promote Individual and National Development.

The prestigious Olympics rank as the most popular multi-sport event in the world. Every four years, pure talents lock horns from about 200 nations during the summer Olympic Games. The superior sport nations gaze at the highly coveted gold medals, while the scrawny sport nations also anticipate staking their claims for medals and hope to announce their names at the world’s biggest stage.

Moreover, the multi-sport event is built on three core principles of Olympic values, which are; Respect, Excellence and Friendship.

Respect, as an Olympic value is aimed at giving regards to fair play, understanding competition as a tool for togetherness. Furthermore, excellence, as a value is geared towards building up confidence; having a positive competitive spirit in all endeavors and finally, Friendship as an Olympic value is intended towards promoting tolerance and understanding irrespective of existing differences. The game of Sport has been the indispensable tool for inculcating the Olympic values into people of diverse race and believes.

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When Mohammed Ali bore the Olympic touch in the City of Atlanta in 1996, little did the world know that the most populous black nation in Africa would become the name on the lips of millions of sport audience all over the world.

Despite failing to win gold medal in the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona – with just a silver medal, a single bronze; and In the midst of continuous political unrest, unstable economy, and loss of confidence in the government, Nigeria’s athletes were inexorably poise to upstage a ‘bolt from the blue’ in Atlanta Georgia; with sheer dedication, utter hard work, and great believe.

Impressively in Atlanta, Nigeria athletes racked up two gold medals, a silver medal and three bronze medals. Most notable is the triumph of Nigeria U-23 team in the male football tournament.

The victory of the U-23 team has gone down as one of the biggest surprise in the history of world football. Having pitched tent in an intricate group which consists of Brazil, Hungary and Japan, the chances of Nigeria qualifying from the group stage remained dwindling. But the team – with the likes of Nwankwo Kanu, Jay Jay Okocha, Taribo West, began to inscribe their names and that of Nigeria in the history books by defeating Hungary and Japan in the group stage. They went on to trash Mexico 2-0 in the quarterfinals – signaling Nigeria’s readiness to soar high in the spirit of Atlanta ’96 towards claiming a prestigious Gold medal. 

In the build up to the semi final clash against Brazil, the Brazilian captain had claimed not to recognize his opposition. Nigeria scored two late goals, and the game ended in a mouthwatering 4-3 victory – leaving the star studded Brazilian team perturbed, as well as their captain.
Nigeria faced a spirited Argentine team in the final, but Emmanuel Amunike’s late goal compounded misery on the Argentines also, as Nigeria won 3-2. Celebrations erupted from all corners of the nation, and the rest of the world joined in celebrating an extraordinary feat. It’s was the first time an African nation would claim Gold medal in an Olympic male’s football event.

It was also moments of glory for Nigeria as Chioma Ajunwa won Gold in the women’s long jump category.

Back home, the impact of the victories were perceptible as parents with wards having sport potentials began to have positive perspectives towards sport by giving their wards the privilege to develop their skills; hoping that they would also become heroes for the nation and bring friendliness amidst people, as highlighted by the Olympic values.

Nigeria’s fairytale at Atlanta ’96 renaissance the ‘nothing is impossible’ belief in the mind of Nigeria citizens and Africa as a whole. The victory which was celebrated by all and sundry also created atmospheres for  friendship, peaceful coexistence, amidst diverse people.

The astonishing triumph would serve as a template for players such as, Kanu, Daniel Omokachi, to write their names in the nation’s Hall of Fame. Several of the players have continued to promote the nation’s image through sport, and have become heroes every kid dream to imitate.

Although it’s been 20 years, the spirit of Atlanta ’96 victory continues to live in the mind of Nigerians as fresh as old wines. And gives hope for a better African domination on the world biggest stages.

Olumurewa Dunmade

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