At once impressionable and impressive, vibrant and agile youngsters fascinated the Vice President yesterday with scintillating gymnastics and acrobatic displays alongside stories of their experiences in national and international tournaments winning laurels for Nigeria, yet unsung.
They are the world-class gymnasts from TIG International Gymnastics Club, Abuja, a private sporting club whose members, on Monday, visited Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, decked in sporting outfits, accompanied by their coaches, parents and handlers, altogether a group of about 40.
The gymnastics club tutored by Coach Anthony Asuquo is blazing the trail, nurturing young talents and featuring them in several competitions already.
After the introduction of the delegation and brief remarks by their leader, selected members of the club took turns to speak about their experiences so far in the sport.
Multiple gold medal-winning athletes – Stephanie Onusiriuka and Tomisin Babatunde, and spokesperson of the club, also a youngster Dolapo Adedeji, spoke particularly about their experiences as international athletes, winning laurels for Nigeria, even as upcoming gymnasts.
8-year-old Dolapo Adedeji who spoke on behalf of the young gymnasts was full of praises for the Vice President especially for finding time to meet the team and “for all the good things you are doing for our country to make it a better place.”
She spoke about gymnastics training at the club and some of the challenges faced by athletes and officials, especially in the area of facilities, seeking the support of the government and well-meaning Nigerians.
Dolapo assured the Vice President that athletes at the club will continue to work harder to make their parents, the club and the country proud at both national and international competitions.
On his part, Tomisin Babatunde who has bagged gold and 6 bronze medals to his credit so far, thanked the founder of the club and sponsors for the support given to him especially in actualizing his dream of becoming a professional gymnast.
He thanked the Vice President for finding time out of his busy schedule to meet members of the club, noting that the gesture will spur them to soar higher.
On her part, teenage sensation, Stephanie Onusiriuka, who started professional gymnastics in October 2018 and won a gold medal at the recently held Africa Gymnastics Championships in Pretoria, South Africa, thanked the Vice President for the visit to the Presidential Villa.
At the 2019 National Youth Games in Ilorin, Stephanie won several silver and bronze medals to become Nigeria’s youngest medalist in gymnastics.
Speaking after the remarks by the athletes and a video presentation of their participation in the recent championship in South Africa, Prof. Osinbajo expressed delight at the conduct of the gymnasts, their coaches and parents, especially as he was only becoming aware of the abundance of talents in the sport in Nigeria.
According to him, “this for me is very heartwarming, intriguing and exciting because there is really great hope for gymnastics in Nigeria, especially people who are starting so very young.
“I want to commend TIG Gymnastics International, and of course, Coach Anthony Asuquo and other coaches and even the parents. I think you are pioneers of some sort in encouraging your children to be gymnasts.”
Continuing, the VP said, “I am greatly encouraged by what we are seeing, especially that so many of the kids are winning medals and doing well in gymnastics.
“I see a lot of the athletics categories and how well people are doing, but I think that we really have some great potential, and just seeing the video, it is evident that there is a lot of promise and talent that is available here in Nigeria.”
Prof. Osinbajo then thanked the two gymnasts, Dolapo and Tomisin, “for the very kind words, it is very nice to say that we have done very well.”
Acknowledging the abundance of talents in the country, the Vice President noted that “what we are seeing here is what Nigeria truly is. Nigeria is a country filled with incredible talents and there are also incredible opportunities.”
Urging the coaches, athletes and their parents to be good ambassadors of Nigeria, the VP said “when you listen to people talk about their countries, many countries are not anywhere near as good or as promising as Nigeria, but people always speak well of their countries, especially outside the country.
“I want to encourage you to always think of your country in a positive light and to speak well of your country because nobody will speak well of your country better than you will.
“There are many countries that are not in any way near Nigeria, but their citizens speak well of their country. So, it is very important, first of all, that you speak well of your country and that you represent your country well.
“Anywhere you have been, the fact that you are so good and you have performed so well and won medals, is evident that you are patriotic and you are truly Nigerian and you love your country and you want your country to do well,” the VP added.
He then commended the founder of the club for his efforts over the years, noting that areas of possible support from the government would be explored especially in ensuring that more talents are nurtured to national and international prominence.
Earlier in his remarks, the founder of TIG International Gymnastics Club, Mr Asuquo, said the club founded 11 years ago, has trained 3,000 athletes, nurtured several gymnastics coaches and represented the country at international competitions.
He solicited support, especially in the provision of training facilities, and sponsorship of athletes and officials to national and international gymnastics competitions.
The youngsters came to the Presidential Villa with robust sporting acumen, shown partly in some sporting performances they put up after hearing from the VP and judging from what they said afterwards, both the youngsters and their handlers left with even more inspiration.