Jonathan Akinyemi became Nigeria’s first Olympic slalom canoe competitor on Sunday, although his involvement in the London Games lasted a mere 190 seconds.
That was how long it took the English-born 23-year-old to complete two runs down the churning white water of Lee Valley in the qualifying round for the men’s kayak K1 event.
It was not good enough to earn the top 15 spot that would have qualified him for today’s semi-finals, leaving the accounting student cursing a few careless moments.
“It sounds crazy, but I was really pleased with the way I paddled today. But the time penalties make it look awful on paper,” Akinyemi, who amassed 60 seconds of penalties, told reporters. “It’s one of those things, isn’t it.”
Akinyemi grew up in Warrington in the northwest of England and was initially set on becoming a motorbike racer.
Instead of a bike, his mother Heather bought him a canoe and he has been paddling ever since.
Born to an Nigerian father and an English mother he went through the junior canoeing ranks in Britain, before deciding to move to experience life in Lagos as a 17-year-old.
“I wanted to get back to my roots. Growing up in Warrington is not that easy as mixed-race kid. Nigeria really supported me and I narrowly missed the 2008 Olympics,” he said.
Akinyemi’s Olympic dream became a reality earlier this year when he clinched his spot in a race-off against his hero, Togo’s Benjamin Boukpeti, a surprise bronze medalist in Beijing.
“I’m disappointed to go out, but very proud to have represented Nigeria and been part of the opening ceremony, and I hope that there will be more Nigerians to follow me,” he said.
Boukpeti, who carried Togo’s flag at the opening ceremony, was still granted a place in London and squeezed into the semi-finals of the K1 on Sunday, finishing 14th.
While he was raised in France and has rarely visited the country of his father, Boukpeti said it had been an honor.
“It was a great honor to carry the flag. I want to show that a small country can participate in world events and to help children in Togo believe they can take part, and to promote sport for everyone,” he said.