Outside the mat, female wrestlers are sexy — C’wealth double gold medallist Adeniyi
African and Commonwealth champion Aminat Adeniyi shares her gold medal-winning exploits at Gold Coast 2018 and more in this interview with ’TANA AIYEJINA
How do you feel winning a gold medal in your second Commonwealth Games having also achieved same feat at Glasgow 2014?
It’s awesome. I feel so happy to have won gold medals back-to-back in a big championship like the Commonwealth Games. Personally, it’s a big achievement and I hope to improve on it by working harder.
Before the Games, did you think you were going to win in the women’s freestyle 62kg event?
Actually, before the Games, it was dicey. As a sportswoman, winning comes through your hard work and through every effort you put in; you always need to have that positive attitude that definitely, ‘I am going to win this event’. That was my position before the Commonwealth Games and I worked very hard to win gold again.
What were the preparations like for you and the other Nigerian wrestlers ahead of the trip to the Gold Coast?
Concerning wrestling, we actually started preparations for the Games earlier than expected. We were in camp for about two months and our coach had the opportunity to train us for a long time and they scouted the opponents we were likely going to meet at the Games. So, we had a very good training at home before going for the Games proper.
How was the Bayelsa camp like in terms of facilities, environment and athletes’ welfare?
Kudos to our (Nigeria Wrestling Federation) president, Daniel Igali. He did a great job in ensuring that everything was in place for the wrestlers and the officials. The environment, the training facilities in Bayelsa were awesome; so, we were able to train with the latest mats. We had partners to train with and our coaches had enough time to train us and talk to us after training, which is a major aspect of our preparations because after training, we needed to talk and they told us our mistakes, and what we needed to work on. So, the Bayelsa camp afforded us the opportunity to train very well and keep fit physically and mentally before we travelled to Australia.
What was going through your mind during the final match against your Canadian opponent Michelle Fazzari?
I was telling myself that I was in the final already and I wasn’t going to lose out. So, I gave 100 per cent to make sure I won the gold. The fight ended 4-0 when she got injured and had to pull out.
So, you never at any point felt you were going to lose the fight?
Actually, I must be sincere I felt that (way) because she (Fazzari) is a world championships bronze medallist. She won the bronze at the world championships in France last year. And I knew she also has a lot of experience as well. In fact, everybody in my category was highly experienced; we know one another. So, nobody was a new wrestler there and we were prepared for ourselves. I had the thought in me that it was not going to be an easy match; that’s why I had to put in every effort to make sure that I won.
After two gold medals from two Commonwealth Games, what is your next ambition as a wrestler?
To God be the glory for helping me achieve this feat. My ambition is to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games. That is my target.
At a point, while the wrestlers were preparing, there were reports that they threatened to boycott the Commonwealth Games due to unpaid allowances. What really happened?
That was a technical issue between the wrestling coaches and the technical crew. I can’t really say much about that. I actually don’t really know what happened.
What was going on in the Nigerian camp when some African athletes, including Nigerians, defected during the Games?
Actually, I can’t give accurate answers to that but I overheard it here and there but I don’t really know how factual it was. However, when the (sports) minister spoke to us, he encouraged us to continue the good work for the country; that we shouldn’t relent and that we should represent our country very well to the best of our abilities. That was just what he told us.
Igali has revolutionised Nigerian wrestling. What sort of person is he and how has he helped in turning Nigerian wrestling around to become one of the best in the world?
Our president is a very wonderful man, a father. I call him father because he is always there for us. He always trains with us; he is just too close to us. So, he knows everything that we need in order to become champions. He is always around us. He has seen it all and knows what it takes to groom champions. That has really boosted the morale of wrestlers.
For a woman, why did you choose wrestling and not basketball, football or other sports?
I can’t really say but I just love tough sports. Right from the beginning, I love anything that is tough, so I think it is one of the things that pushed me to start wrestling. When I started, I got a lot of encouragement from my coach, Purity Akuh, in 2004.
What was the first experience you had as a wrestler?
It was when I went to the National Sports Festival in Abuja in 2004. I was just wondering, ‘is this how it is done’? I lost out though, but it’s one of the experiences I gathered together to become a champion today.
Did your parents support your involvement in wrestling?
(Laughs) My father supported me but my mother was afraid of the injuries I could sustain; so, she did not fully support me. But a man will always be a man; my dad told her to leave me alone, that I could do it.
Some people believe that female wrestlers are not sexy because of their tough sport. Do you agree?
I wouldn’t agree with such persons because outside the mat, we have a very wonderful social life as well. So, anybody who is saying that should come and see us after fighting on the mat.
What do you think the authorities should do to make wrestling a bigger sport that would win more medals at international competitions?
The basic thing is exposure. They need to expose us to big international competitions; meet with champions and train with them as well; and go to training camps outside the country. These are the things that help international wrestlers from other countries improve. We need those as well.
What is your advice to the up-and-coming wrestlers who want to be like Aminat Adeniyi?
I will like to tell them that it is always good for a woman to stand on her own, not to be dependent; that is the great thing a woman can do for herself. It gives you a very bold life, a good life whereby people will respect you a lot. They will love you for whom you are. That is very important. I would like to advise the younger ones that they should be focused, determined and disciplined. I imbibed all these to get to where I am today. They should choose good careers that they would enjoy for the rest of their lives.
What are your best and worst moments as a wrestler?
My best time where I was so much emotional and really needed to win gold, where I put all my effort and mind was during the 2015 All African Games. It was very wonderful because I was able to win gold afterwards. The worst time ever is whenever I lose. I don’t want to lose; it’s always a bad experience for me whenever I’m defeated. For me, there are no big or small competitions.
Who among your opponents gave you the toughest time?
The one I will say gave me a tough time, who beat me at a time and the next competition I beat her, is the lady from Tunisia, Lilia Mejri. We fight in the same category and we do meet regularly at international competitions.
Why were you desperate to win gold at the 2015 All African Games?
The reason is that I had been three times champion at the African championships but not at the All African Games. I think that was the yardstick to win. The Tunisian lady I talked about was the one that won the last African championships we went to and we were going to meet again at the All African Games. She understands me and all eyes were on me that the Tunisian, after winning the African championships, would definitely win the All African Games. I just thank God that I was able to win the gold. That was one of the competitions that I have really staked my life and to God be the glory I won.
Have you ever had any moment you felt like quitting wrestling?
Yes, that’s whenever I lose. I feel discouraged, I feel everything I have put into this game, I couldn’t achieve it, and I lost out. It’s always a very painful feeling.
If Aminat Adeniyi has N100m today, what would you do for Nigerian wrestling?
I will use it to bring up the younger ones and encourage them to do more.
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