UPDATE : LONDON 2012 OLYMPICS
MARY Onyali-Omagbemi and Bose Kaffo have featured in five Olympic Games, but Segun Toriola will this month in London inscribe his name in history as the first Nigerian and African to make a sixth appearance at the world’s biggest sporting event.
Toriola’s record in Africa is unequalled. He has a quite stunning 20 medals of which 14 are gold and he has won the Men’s Singles title on four occasions. At the 1995 All Africa Games in Harare, Zimbabwe, he won and four years later, he retained the title in Johannesburg; in 2003, he succeeded in Abuja and in 2007, in Algeria. At Maputo 2011, he relinquished the title to Egypt’s Omar Assar.
Also, Toriola has a most distinguished record in the African Championships and African Cup, while he became the first ever Men’s Singles winner when table tennis made its debut at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester 2002.
Since making his debut at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in Spain, Toriola has been present in Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing.
At the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in China, his performance was one of the highs of the games when he also became the first Blackman and African to play in the last 32 of the Olympics.
Toriola, who plies his trade in France, told The Guardian yesterday from Germany that he never expected that he would be playing in his sixth Olympics having started as a teenager in 1992.
“When I took part in my first Olympics, I thought that would be my last because any athlete taking part in the Olympics knows that that is the biggest platform to showcase one’s talents. I did my best but today, I am going to be playing in my sixth Olympics, I see it as a honour which I will forever cherish because few had the opportunity I am having now,” he said.
As Toriola and Brazil’s Hugo Hoyama, who will be making their sixth appearance in the table tennis event of the London Olympic Games, the quartet of Belgium’s Saive Jean-Michel, Sweden’s Jorgen Persson and Croatia’s Zoran Primorac will however, be making their seventh appearance in London.
According to Wikipedia, a small fraction of the world’s population ever competes at the Olympic Games; an even smaller fraction ever competes in multiple Games. 488 athletes (119 women, 369 men) have participated in at least five editions of the Olympic Games from Athens 1896 to Vancouver 2010, but excluding the 1906 Intercalated Games. Just over a hundred of these have gone on to make at least a sixth Olympic appearance.
Several athletes would have made more appearances at the Olympics but for reasons out of their control, such as World Wars (no Olympics were held in 1916, 1940 or 1944), politically motivated boycotts, financial difficulties, or ill-timed injuries.
Two athletes have participated nine times: Austrian sailor Hubert Raudaschl and Canadian equestrian Ian Millar. The latter is still active and could yet add to his tally.
Well over half of six-time Olympians belong to the shooting, equestrian, sailing and fencing disciplines, which are known for allowing athletes more longevity at the elite level. Athletics and cross-country skiing also provide a large number of athletes who have competed at five Olympics.
Approximately, a quarter of long-competing athletes are female. As of 2010, the closest a female athlete has come to competing at eight Olympics is 0.028 seconds, which is the time by which Jamaican-Slovenian sprinter Merlene Ottey failed to meet the qualification time required for her to make a remarkable eighth appearance at the 2008 Summer Olympics at age 48. Having changed nationality to Slovenia, Ottey, now 52, might be making her ninth appearance in London.