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Odegbami: My Olympic Story – The Conclusion. Why It Had To Happen

Odegbami: My Olympic Story – The Conclusion. Why It Had To Happen

My climb to the rooftop of Mount Olympus in Greece in 1976 was a divinely scripted and unforgettable experience.

45 years after, it’s significance is now becoming manifest. In my limited (unsubstantiable) understanding the Universe should know the end of an event or act even before it starts, confirming the revelation in the book written by Jewish prophet, Jeremiah: “I knew you even before you were born”.

I now realise that my visit to Mount Olympus in 1976 is related to the events of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which are now related to the event in Abuja, last week.

Throughout my early years as a teenager the thought of the possibility of becoming an Olympian did not exist. Now, I believe that the Universe knew even before I was born.

So, everything around me had to be a part of the grand arrangement to make sure things fall into place like a jigsaw puzzle, and I join the exclusive club of Olympians. The original 12 lived on Mount Olympus!!

This is how the plan was hatched:
After the Olympic boycott of 1976 (from last week’s article), my dream of a second chance at participating at any future games evaporated completely.

Then came a most inexplicable journey to North Africa that needed for us to head for Europe to connect a flight back to Africa. That was the korma on ‘those days’.

Why connect through Greece, of all places in Europe? Why visit Mount Olympus during a 2-days transit visit and be reminded about the connection between the Olympics and the gods on Mt. Olympus?

I can never know, of course, but I am free to believe that it was a ‘conspiracy’ of all the elements in the Universe, after all, I have always silently believed in my heart that every individual act in the universe creates a ripple-like effect that affects every other being in different ways according to their nature and distance.

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It has to be so if everything is connected to one another, and that we are indeed ONE with the Universe, an established order of things put in place by the Ultimate Creator at the dawn of time.

Thats the only way, I can understand the connection between the most recent event in Abuja and 45 years after the unrelated events of 1976 that I wrote about last week. I can see clearly now their connectivity and how life has played out.

I grew up in Jos, the city that produced several super star players in my youth that were very famous in the country including student footballers that went on to represent the country.

I wanted to be like Samuel Garba, the most popular of them who I knew personally in our neighbourhood. The others, also from Jos and known to me personally, were Peter Ànieke, Tony Igwe, and Ismaila Mabo. They were all part of the Green Eagles that qualified for the 1968 Olympics. That feat shattered the myth for me that only gods went to the Olympics.

In 1976, from the blues, an opportunity came my way and with a little bit of hard work and dedication I found myself, heading for the Olympic games. It was like a dream I would soon wake up from but did not.

Then, like a holt of lightning, 6 hours to the manifestation of the dream, everything was shattered by political decisions that I had nothing to do about.
In my disappointment of that lost opportunity, from the blues again, I found myself in Greece, on Mount Olympus, home of the Greek gods. On this mountain was a temple built for them.

Tourists went the temple to see their magnificence and beauty. For me and my colleagues in the Shooting Stars FC, it was time to pray to our God for support and divine favour in our crucial 1st leg match against Zamalek FC of Egypt in Cairo.

So, I went into the temple, and found a priest with his crucible of burning incense bellowing smoke and chanting in inaudible mutters.
A lit candle in my hand.

I moved to a corner in the church to say my own prayers – to find favour in Egypt and to become an Olympian.

By the time we left the mountain and Greece and landed in Egypt for our match against Zamalek. We lost the match in Cairo, but recovered magically during the second leg in Ibadan and won in a famous encounter that reverberated across the country at the time. I had completely forgotten about Mount Olympus and my second prayer.

That year and for the next 5 years, my life took on a new turn, all shaped by footbàll: We won the African Cup winners Cup that year; I played a very major part in that historic success; with Late Moses Otolorin, I ended up as joint top scorer for our club as we matched on to win and become the first Nigerian club to win a continental Club football trophy in Africa.

In 1976 I returned fully to the national team and became its highest goalscorer for a stretch that lasted 5 years. In that period, three times I was a nominee for Africa’s Best Player award. I came very close to winning it twice, in third and second positions. I became a famous player all over the African continent, attending the AFCON twice in 1978 and 1980.

In 1980, we achieved our greatest success. I was a major actor in winning the AFCON that year and Nigeria ended the decade as champions of Africa.

For 4 years, everything had worked beautifully for me. It was in the midst of the Nations Cup celebrations that we were summoned back to the national team. There was an invitation by the government of the USSR for additional sports teams to attend the Olympic Games even without playing any preliminary matches and qualifying on performance. It was the first time in our history that such a thing would take place – a free ticket to the Olympics. .

We were unprepared for these Olympics. This was happening unsolicited and unearned at the last minutes of the start of the 1980 Olympics. Here we were, sacked without notice in 1976 with our dreams in tatters, followed by a new opportunity restored in 1980, also at the last minute, totally unearned, and unexpected.

The national team was hurriedly recalled from our holidays, put in the same aircraft that took us out of Montreal in 1976, a brand new national carrier, a DC 10 plane, and flown for little preparation in Europe enroute Moscow for the Olympic Games.

It was a restoration of significant spiritual dimension for those that could discern at the time.
I did not have the time to appreciate what had happened. I was celebrating my new found fame and fortune through football, too much than to discern its significance.

In addition, I was made captain of the national football team as well as overall joint team captain of the Nigerian contingent to the Olympics – double honours.

I played my first and only match at the St. Petersburg stadium, and registered my place as an Olympian. It was a fulfilment of my humble request and prayer in 1976!

I never connected the dots of the unrelated activities of 1976 and 1980 until last week in Abuja, when I joined the assembly of all Nigerian Olympians in history in a celebration of ourselves (since no-one would celebrate us). It all came together when I started to write my diary about how I became an Olympian.

The setting is too much to be considered as coincidences. Fate and faith are inextricably linked in a dance within the complex web of how dreams become reality in the Universe.

By the way, the World Olympians Association reminded me again last week that there is another icing on the cake of unlimited fortunes in my Olympics story.

I guided and supported 2 ‘condemned’ and ‘abandoned’ Nigerian girls to the 1996 Olympics. They came back from Atlanta with Nigeria’s first Gold medal in history, as well as a totally unexpected silver medal.

Their story is a testimony that the Universe always has Jokers in its deck of cards, and plays them as it deems fit for it’s own pleasure, as the gods did according to Legend.

From last week, everywhere you see my name written with the words OLY scripted after it, know what it means – a universal elevation, a registration of a place amongst Olympians, from the time the Olympics started in the city of Olympia, till now.

I believe my business with the Olympics is not over yet. I don’t know what it is, but I relate it all to my prayers said in a temple decades ago on Mount Olympus. I thank the Creator of the Universe for answering my prayers.

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