She had the weight of the nation on her broad shoulders. But you would not have known this by looking at Edith Ogoke moments before her quarterfinals boxing match with Russia’s Nadezda Torlopova. She was focused, confident and appeared to be red-smoking hot. And as she climbed into the ring, bouncing and weaving, the hope of all Nigerians climbed in with her. There was reason to have faith in Edith. She had decisively beaten her Azerbaijan foe a day before and was just a bout away from being assured of a medal. But even more, Edith had vowed to avenge the earlier defeats suffered by our male boxers who crashed out in the first rounds.
But at the end of the four-round bout, the referee raised the hand of the Russian, not our own Edith. That alone however did not tell whole story about the fight and the effort 21-year old Edith invested in it.
The first round was rated a draw at 2/2 to both boxers. It appeared they were both sizing each other up, cautious, and mindful not to be knocked down by a sucker punch. Nadezda, the Russian at 5.9ft is taller than the 5.5ft Nigerian, and so had easier reach with her punches. Edith however fought back, throwing a punch for everyone she received. No wonder then that it was a great surprise when the second round was scored7-1 in favour of the Russian. This surprised not only the Nigerian supporters at the arena but even the nationals of other countries who were amazed by how that decision was reached.
The third round was more even, according to the judges, although the Russian took it by 4-2. But the greatest surprise of the evening was the final round. By that round, the Russian was leading by a seemingly insurmountable nine points. So when Edith entered the ring, she seemed as if she was willing to kill to make up for the deficiencies of the previous rounds. She threw more punches, hit harder, combining one hook after the other. But again, amazingly, the judges gave the fight to the Russian at 4-2! The final score was 18-8 for Nadezda.
This was too much for the Nigerians at the arena, who could not understand how the judges arrived at that decision. Especially the last round, it appeared Edith was clearly the superior boxer as she almost floored Nadezda. Yet the judges appeared to have seen a different fight and gave it to the Russian.
Edith was devastated. She sobbed in her dressing room and it took more than fifteen minutes for her technical team to prepare her to see the Nigerian officials who had come to cheer her. When she eventually made it out, she was distraught, crying on the shoulders of the Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, the Minister of Sprts. The unspoken word was that she had let the nation down. But nobody felt that way, it was a common belief that she gave a good account of herself and did not let us down. A fighter, she demonstrated the Nigerian spirit of never giving up.
Certainly, there are some take-aways from that match. Nigeria needs to understand and participate actively in the politics of the combat sports. We need to get more of our officials as judges and technical hands in these games. Our voice must be heard and our impact visible in sports administration across the international sports arena. Then our coaches need to master the scoring system. It appeared Edith threw more punches in that fight, but did not get as many points as the Russian. The lesson here is that technique may be more important than sheer strength.
Although she did not win any medal, our own Edith deserves a pat in the back. She is the first Nigerian female boxer to participate in the Olympics and of course the first to reach the quarterfinals. That in itself, is historic. And soon, very soon, the world will hear clearly from her.