For  23-year-old Adijat Olarinoye, winning the gold medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games did not come as a surprise after a dint of hard work to make it to the podium . OLALEKAN OKUSAN reports from Birmingham.

Adijat Olarinoye became the first athlete to put Nigeria on the medal ‘s table at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham after she claimed the gold medal in the women’s 55kg.

Apart from winning the gold medal, she set a new Commonwealth Games record of 92kg in snatch and 203 kg overall.

The 23-year-old who is the captain of the weightlifting team to Birmingham is not a green-horn having won gold medal at the 2019 Africa Games in Rabat as well as silver medal at the 2021 World Championship held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Yet the Lagos State-nurtured athlete believed  she still has a lot to offer with her eyes set on Olympic Games medal at Paris 2024.

“I have been training and preparing for real and before my competition day, I just knew that I was going to win the gold,” Olarinoye told NationSport hours after her feat  in Birmingham.“ I didn’t  know how it was going to happen but I had an intuition that I would win.

“I sincerely prayed for the gold medal because when two of my teammates could not make it to the podium, I felt bad.

“As the captain of the team, I want everybody to be happy and win, so I was like ‘NO’; two lifters have competed and got nothing and I have to be the first Nigerian gold medalist.

“I was not the first Nigerian medalist, but I was aiming for a gold medal, and it happened.”

Olarinoye said she had every reasons to be happy,  adding her TOJ (tears of joy) during the medal presentation at  The NEC Arena was borne out  of the  unsavoury moments she had to battle  before reaching the podium.

“I was crying while the national anthem was being rendered during medal presentation because the jury was not too friendly with me in my clean and jerk which was so obvious to everybody watching the game ,” She offered. “Secondly, I remembered 2019 my first All -African Games where I won gold.

“That was my first international competition and I’m currently the Commonwealth Games record holder and also a Commonwealth Games gold medalist and I was thinking about my mom, where she would be and the tears rolled down,” she added.

Olarinoye’s romance with the  sports started at Rowe Park Sports Complex in Yaba where her exposure to sports shops ignited her interest.

She continued: “I fell in love with sports because my mother’s shop is located within  the Rowe Park Sports  complex in Yaba, so my passion for sports started there.

“I have  previously romanced  judo, wrestling and gymnastics before settling for weightlifting. I don’t see weightlifting as a difficult sport because it is just like every other sport.”

The International Relations undergraduate of the Nigeria Open University (NOUN) said she decided to fully embrace weightlifting in 2012 and her journey to the top of the sport began despite her father’s strong opposition.

“My father was against my choice of sport because he felt weightlifting was not good for girls with the belief that it might affect their life,” she said with emotion-laden voice.

“But my mother gave me strong support and I must thank her for what she has done and is still doing because she remains my great supporter.

Despite  the risk associated with weightlifting, Olarinoye  she is not discouraged: “Every athlete thinks about injuries, that is why we focus more on the technical aspect, and you must always consult your physiotherapist not self-treatment because you can’t do anything as you are not a physiotherapist. “When you feel pain somewhere in your body, you have to see a physiotherapist. When you notice pain, you don’t go for paracetamol but instead see your physiotherapist.”

She further reckoned that winning medals in major competitions such as the Commonwealth Games would further boost her confidence heading into future contests.

She volunteered: “I started sports at a very young age and for me the more competitions I attend, the more confident I become and the more experience I gain.

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“I was at the last World Championship where I won a silver and the same set of athletes I met there were also in Birmingham. I knew most of my competitors, so I was really prepared for them. But this time around, there is nothing like a silver or bronze medal but the best medal which is gold.

“I must give it my all because when they gave my first red flag, I was like nobody could bully me out of the gold medal spot as I was determined to go for the best.

“I cared less about what they were doing as I was focused on my goal which was to win the gold medal. I did not allow what was going on to affect my performance and that was why I showed my pain after I lifted my final weight.

“I just let out the pain for them to see it.”

Olarinoye further   admitted that her slim physique is never a burden to her: “When I tell people I’m a lifter, they doubt me because I look skinny.

“Sometimes, I feel bad telling them that I’m a champion but now I don’t feel that again. I don’t look like a lifter but I’m a champion. So, I don’t find it difficult among men or my colleagues and I have a boyfriend as well who appreciates me for who I am.”

After her conquest at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Olarinoye has yet set her eyes on bigger things, adding she wants to be the first Nigerian lifter to win gold at the Olympic Games. “Sincerely, when I was at the World Championship last December, I heard that no Nigerian has won an Olympics gold medal; I was like ‘I want to be the first person to do something the federation has not done before at the World Championship which came to pass,” she said with lively smiles.  “I don’t know how but it was God; my dedication and work ethics made it possible.

“My next goal is to win an Olympics gold medal alongside IWF World Championship gold medal,” she noted.

The 2019 African Games gold medalist however, appealed to the government to give attention to athletes’ welfare especially after major competitions.

“We are lucky to have a passionate President in the Nigeria Weightlifting Federation who ensured we attend major competitions like the World Championships where most of us qualified for the Commonwealth Games,” she said. “We are also grateful to the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development for the support to weightlifting.

“But they need to do more to give Nigerian athletes the opportunity to go for more competitions in order to get more experience that will boost their confidence going into any competitions.

“We must also thank the Sports Minister Sunday Dare for the opportunity given to us to be part of the Commonwealth Games because they can decide not to consider weightlifting for the games.

“Kudos to our minister and the President of Nigeria.”

Yet it was there for all to see that the person that the person that occupied  Olarinoye’s  mind after her  triumphant in Birmingham was no other person than her supportive mum.

She could not but cherish her mother for the support she got from her through her blossoming career. “The only person I looked up to was my mom,” she chuckled.“ I want to do things that will make her happy.

“Looking at my family, she is always ready to encourage me; I don’t want to make her feel like I’m not a good girl.

“ I want to do things that will make her happy. Something keeps pushing like ‘you have to win’ and  I worked hard to  just do it,” she  said with an air of a champions.