Over the course of last season, we ran a series of features in the Official Matchday Programme with some Arsenal-supporting London 2012 Olympic hopefuls. We continue with Nigerian triple jumper Tosin Oke...
Tosin is a world-class triple jumper who secured his place at the Olympics early, where he will be representing Nigeria.
Born and bred in north London with Nigerian parents, the 31 year-old jumped for Great Britain in his early career, winning the European Junior Championships in 1999. Representing Nigeria he has had great success, including gold in the African Championships in 2010 and at the Commonwealth Games the same year.
Last year he claimed gold in the All-Africa Games and, if he jumps his best, he is considered a serious contender for medals this summer.
An Arsenal fan all his life, Tosin gets to the Emirates on his regular visits back to London but also hopes to see Arsène Wenger’s men grace Nigeria one day, a true hotbed of Gunners support.
Tell us about your Arsenal support Tosin?
It started as a kid because I grew up in Hackney and Islington. When you grew up around there it was either Tottenham or Arsenal at school and I was always Arsenal. I’m into the beautiful game - I’m a very technical sort of person, I have a degree in chemistry - and I think that meant Arsenal were always the team for me.
Who were your Arsenal heroes growing up?
Dennis Bergkamp was really special to me as a kid and like everyone I loved Thierry, but I really liked Marc Overmars. I think it was because of his speed, which obviously appealed to me as an athlete.
So you’re a London lad, how did you come to represent Nigeria?
I started my career with GB, and represented them until 2007 - I won the European Junior Championships as far back as 1999! I was born a dual national as my parents are Nigerian, and to that effect I always wanted to represent both countries. In 2008, the circumstances came together at the right time to create the switch in representation, purely for country and sport, not for any financial motivation.
Tell us about winning Commonwealth Games gold in 2010 - it certainly vindicated your decision to represent Nigeria…
I never doubt my judgment; I will go through many checklists, and when I make a decision, I always see it through unless new information comes to light. Winning the Commonwealth Games was merely an indication of my hard work paying partial fruition! New Delhi was certainly an experience for all of the athletes involved, and of course I have especially positive memories.
How was your achievement received in Nigeria?
Amazingly, I was called, ‘Goldenboy’, not to be confused with a certain, ‘Goldenballs’! Nigerians are very embracing as a nation, especially when it comes to sport, and all of the medalists had a reception with the President - a very special event.
And Nigerians certainly seem to have embraced Arsenal…
In the developing world there is always a mixture of Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea fans and I would say in Nigeria it’s Arsenal and Chelsea. When I go back there everyone always talks about Arsenal and I think they are probably the No 1 in Nigeria.
You can’t under-estimate Kanu’s influence. He was a great player and he’s been an amazing ambassador for Nigeria and football there and I think he was the one that started the whole love affair between Nigeria and Arsenal. He was amazing for Arsenal, as he has been for years for Nigeria. If Arsenal were ever to go out there I think they would get an amazing reception, Nigerians are absolutely football crazy and there would be guaranteed sell-out crowds wherever they played.
It sounds like the team should go out there!
Football is the world sport, the thing that brings everyone together. Things aren’t great in Nigeria at the moment but people will come together if there’s a good reason and nothing brings people together like football. If Arsenal were to go over there, and if Kanu was involved, I think it would just make everyone so happy. It would be amazing for the country.
So many athletes appear to be Arsenal fans - including Nathan Douglas who may well be competing against you in the triple jump this summer…
Very true, most athletes from London are either Arsenal or Spurs fans! We are always arguing about football at training, as Spurs fans always shout more earlier on in the season. But as we all know, they don’t have the endurance, mentality and experience to EVER finish above us - haha!
How are you jumping currently? What distance do you think it will take to reach the triple jump final and what distance for the medals?
I am happy with where I am; there is always scope for improvement, and I have identified the areas, now I will be working diligently on them to achieve my potential at London 2012.
It will take 17.20m to make the final - the length of four Formula 1 cars lined up lengthways apparently, and 17.80m to definitely win a medal, Olympic years are always difficult. I’m a local boy - even though I compete for Nigeria I’ve always lived in London - and I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to get to the final and make my parents and myself proud. Definitely make the final and see what happens from there.
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