The only female Taekwondo Nigerian athlete, Elizabeth Anyanacho, at the just concluded 2020 Olympic Games has revealed her experience with an assurance of better times ahead of 2024 Games scheduled for Paris.
She spoke to select Journalists in Abuja shortly after returning from Tokyo, Japan.
My Taekwondo journey
I never knew what Taekwondo was but I usually watch all these action movie and see people fighting and kicking. I didn’t know what that was, I didn’t know there was a sport that can teach this marshall act and all that. So when I first heard of Taekwondo and I got to know what it was, I was like wow, I can try this and I just found the passion for it, I mean I just found the love for it.
And when I started training in 2014, the first day of my training wasn’t so hectic and my Coach made it interesting for me to always want to come back so even when I was going deep in the sport and going through the hard training, because of the passion I had for it, I just kept going I couldn’t stop.
My family perception about Taekwondo
I’m from Imo state and I have three siblings. I’m the last child of Mr & Mrs Anyanacho. My Dad is a Clergyman and my Mom a Housewife. We are not so rich but we are okay and we are honest. There was no resistance from my family against my venturing into Taekwondo but my Dad had to ask me severely if I want to do Taekwondo. He is a kind of person that respects people’s decision, so after getting my response several times, he allowed me to continue in the sport. My parents are people that love education and sports. My Dad was once a Boxer so he understands that kind of situation and he allowed me do both of them.
Combining education and sports backed by CCSF
Basically, it’s about time management. I had to ask for advice from my mentor and other lecturers in school. Also, sometimes I ask for guidance because I can’t do it on my own. But I learn how to manage between studies and trainings and I learn it’s a lot of discipline. I had to deprive myself because I can’t just go out to play around. I know when to study, train and when to relax. It’s a good thing to be educated, to have knowledge and know things around you. Knowledge not only about football but about life. When I got admission into the university, honestly. we had no money even to pay for acceptance fee and that’s where Chika Chukwumerije Sports Foundation (CCSF) helped me to actually pay for my acceptance fee and also pay for my school fee, and that is how I was able to start my year one and the sport also has helped me. At the all African game when I won the bronze medal, I also got some money to secure my education. I saved money for my school fees and for my year two down to my year five. I just saved it to cover the whole year I’m going to stay in school and that’s how I have been able to manage both. So sports and my education and the foundation have really impacted my life and I’m really grateful.
I have never had any major injury, that had taken me out for a month, but for minor ones, our coach, Engr. Chika Chukwumerije, also try to organise medical session which teaches us how to manage injury. He made us take courses on first aid, all my teammates took the course, we know how to manage little injuries, when our legs are swollen, we know the first thing to do is to ice and elevate the leg before applying any heat. We have had some educational teaching on injury management which had helped me to manage any injury I have during competition.
There were so many emotions, there was so many mixed feelings, that sometimes I wonder if I could do it but I had so many encouragement. My coach, Engr. Chika Chukwumerije encouraged me, my family, my team mates also. So everybody was just telling me you can do this and I picked those words and just decided to neglect the bad thoughts and just keep training.
Initially, the plan was for me to work towards qualifying for Paris Olympics 2024, but since I got the slot for Tokyo 2020, I decided to go all the way, since I’m already here, I can’t go back, I just have to fight my way.
Tokyo Olympics experience
I felt very good going to the Olympics and I felt very great representing Nigeria at the Tokyo 2020 Olumpics. It was a great honour to fly the flag and it made me really very happy. While in Tokyo, I saw a lot of athletes, I saw a lot of countries and people. I saw athletes like me and top athletes doing your own kind of sports and the inspiration for me is that you just kind of know you are not the only one training very hard. So it was really a great experience for me being at Tokyo Olympics.
Fight slip and Olympics memories
After the match, I felt quite disappointed actually. I was basically in tears for almost six hours. I just kept playing the match in my head over and over again but thankfully my technical crew was there, even the Minister of Youth and Sports development Mr Sunday Dare was there, he came and also consoled me, even the President Mrs Margaret Binga also came there, they encouraged me and told me it’s not the end, it’s just a new beginning, giving me words of encouragement.
Before then, I knew I wanted to spring a surprise at Tokyo Olympics. I knew I was young and all that but I wanted to spring a surprise so loosing at a first round was very disappointing for me. But I also decided to see the brighter side, my opponent was also a very good fighter, she’s experienced, it was not her first Olympics. She’s ranked no 4 in the world and this not the first time she’s been at the Olympics and I got to realise also that the skills are not only what you need to be at the Olympics platform, you have to also manage the emotions that come with it, the anxiety, the nervousness. You learn how to manage it, being in that scenario I understood all the trainings I’ve been getting from my coach even before I left. How to be mentally ready, how to be able to handle pressure of that kind. So it was disappointing for me but I also came out very quickly.
Beyond Tokyo 2020, ahead of Paris 2024
After taking part at the 2020 Olympics, I now understand so many things – the emotions that go into going on the platform, competing on the high stage, the techniques and how to apply it. Now I understand its not only skills, you have to read your opponent. Putting all my experiences together, I have a good feeling that I’m going to get a very positive result in Paris because so much experience has gone into the programme, even though I was four years earlier, the initial plan was to train for Paris 2024, so going to Tokyo has given me a kind of confidence to go for Paris 2024 because now I have felt the kind of tension at that stage, have felt the kind of nervousness, have seen the level of athletes that are there.
Girls involvement in sports, my visit to orphanage home
It’s a matter of the heart. I will advice any young girl that wants to do it that it’s a matter of choice anyone has to make. I think girls should go ahead and take part in sports as long as they are diciplined and obedient. As for the orphanage, I basically went there to visit. Not that I went to talk about Taekwondo. I love being around children.