Nigeria’s top ranked badminton player, Anuoluwapo Opeyori, in this interview with JOHNNY EDWARD, talks about his rise to stardom and ambition of becoming the first Nigerian badminton player to feature in two Olympics
How disappointed are you not to have qualified for the semi-finals of The Lagos Badminton Classics?
It was sad to lose in two sets (24-22, 21-13) to UAE’s Somi Romdhani in front of my home fans. He was lucky I must say, but I’m really excited that I took part in the championship. My aim was to win it, but overall it was a good outing for me because my cumulative points increased as I recorded about 2,200 points at this event. My quarter-final feat has also boosted my chances of qualifying for the Olympics as well. So, I’m really happy that this is happening, regardless of the defeat. It’s a starting point for me achieving my dream of performing well at the Olympics because I’m preparing well and I hope that I surpass my debut outing at the Paris 2024 Olympics.
You made your debut at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games but could not get past the first round. Were you disappointed?
It was a tough debut for me sincerely because there were so many strong competitors with lots of experiences in my group but lessons were learnt and I’m better for it now. Actually, I qualified for the doubles event and it was a good experience. We played against the top three countries in the world – Japan, Russia and Denmark. So, it was very tough advancing from that group of death. But my performance at the Lagos International Badminton Classics shows that my hard work didn’t go in vain getting to the last eight of the tournament.
How well would you say you’ve improved this year retaining your number one status in Africa?
I would say that the experience gained during my training tour of Denmark has helped me a lot. I had two weeks training in an academy owned by a former badminton world champion, Peter Gate. He was the Danish national champion for 10 years and is retired now
He taught me a lot during my stay in Copenhagen. So, this experience has really helped me to step up my game. Gate told me I have talent and potential. He also said that I’m an explosive player that he liked.
He told me that the only thing I needed was to be in an environment that would make me improve on my talent.
The Paris 2024 is just 12 months away, how confident are you of surpassing your feat in Tokyo, if you qualify?
I’m chasing history and hopefully, I will achieve that dream. It would mean a lot to me because that will be my second appearance at the biggest sporting event. I will also maybe become the first Nigerian badminton player to represent the country at two Olympic events.
How did your career in badminton start off?
I started playing badminton like every normal kid. But before then, I used to play football in Rowe Park, Yaba, Lagos.
So, why did you dump football for badminton?
I was just having fun playing football. I wasn’t really into football like that. I was just playing football for the fun of it at Rowe Park. It was during one of my games that a badminton coach saw me and said I would be better off as a badminton player because of my flexibility. That made my brother and friend convince me to take up badminton. The coach then told me to just try it out and out of my curiousness, I loved my first day playing badminton and I didn’t stop from there.
With the amount of money footballers earn now, don’t you regret dumping football for badminton?
- Opeyori advances to Lagos Badminton quarter finals
- Team Nigeria win 13 medals at African badminton tourney
- BFN takes badminton to grassroots
I wasn’t really pursuing a career in football because I was a talented athlete growing up. I did a bit of gymnastics but badminton gave me a sense of purpose in life. I’m actually happy that I’m playing badminton because at the end of the day, I revel in the kind of records I have set and have broken as well. I told myself that God has a purpose for me to be in this particular sport. Maybe if I was into football, I may not be this renowned or winning individual laurels.
Can you tell us about some of these awards?
Well, I’m currently the African badminton champion. I’ve held that spot for three years consecutively now and despite the odds against me, I was able to break through winning the African championship three times in a row. Also, I’m the reigning African Games champion. I achieved these records two years after I joined the national team. I won gold for my state in four consecutive National Sports Festivals.
Did your parents support you going into sports?
I think from my perspective, my parents were open-minded. At some point, my mother was very worried about my livelihood because it was really tough growing up. She wanted me to work in a Local Government Area, so she linked me up with a friend who helped in getting an appointment. But I declined because I was convinced about my badminton dream. She was not happy with it but she decided to support me and interestingly, I have not been home since I started playing badminton. That is just the irony of my career.
So, for how long have you been away from home?
I started playing in 2005 and my first tournament was in Kogi State, but I finally left home six years ago in 2011, when I decided to pursue the career full time.
What is your best moment as a badminton player?
I’ll say first winning two gold medals at my first African Games appearance in Morocco in 2019 as well as playing at the Olympics in Tokyo. I still capture those Tokyo 2020 moments. Despite the spike of COVID-19 back then, it was an amazing feeling playing at the OIympics.
At that point, were you not scared that you could contract COVID-19?
Well, as a Nigerian, I never really believed that I would contract COVID-19. I was only concerned about my performance and that was what I was focused on.
What is your worst moment in the game?
When I’m told that there are no funds to embark on trips for international events, I feel very sad. Those moments discourage me.
Most times when we eventually travel there are no allowances, but I just go on and take part to prove a point because my passion for badminton drives me.
How do you manage your female fans?
I have gotten used to them and I don’t get involved except when I want to exchange pleasantries. I know what I want from life and I want to go far in my career. I know that if I get involved with my female fans, then I want trouble and I won’t go far in my career. ,
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