It was an unexpected outcome in Rabat, Morocco on Thursday, August 29, as a new face emerged champion of Africa in the men’s singles event at the 2019 African Games.
Unfancied Nigerian Olajide Omotayo conquered three of the best players in Africa to be crowned champion.
Omotayo worked his way to the final by beating two former champions – Egypt’s Ahmed Saleh and Nigeria’s Segun Toriola in the quarterfinal and semifinal respectively.
The final – an all Nigerian affair, produced the best of table tennis with Africa’s top-ranked player Aruna Quadri who defeated long-time rival Omar Assar in the semifinal going up against Omotayo.
Omotayo started the better of both players and raced to a 3-0 (13-11, 11-9, 16-14) lead but Quadri, clearly unfazed, relied on his experience to cut the lead to 3-2 with 8-11, 13-15 wins in the fourth and fifth games.
With all to play for in the sixth game, fans were treated to a display of energy and sublime skill and it was the younger Omotayo who prevailed in the end, taking the game 12-10 to claim the gold medal in his African Games debut and Nigeria’s second gold medal in the Table Tennis event.
An elated Omotayo said: “I am very happy winning the African Games. I am so proud of myself because this is a big one for my career and it was a good journey for me from the start of this competition having won against some of the best players in the continent.”
In the women’s singles, Egypt’s Dina Meshref retained her title to become the first female Egyptian to win back-to-back titles.
To beat Cameroun’s Sarah Hanffou, who had earlier edged out Nigeria’s Edem Offiong in semifinal, Meshref took charge from the start and controlled the match to end at 11-7, 11-4, 11-2, 11-7 to the admiration of the Egyptian fans.
A satisfied Meshref said she was happy becoming the first female Egyptian to set a new feat in table tennis.
“I am so happy becoming the first female Egyptian to win the women singles title back-to-back for the first time. But I must admit that it was not easy at all because the four years difference between the two titles was very long for me to be able to keep up with my performance. I am so excited that I was able to retain the title again,” Meshref said.
She added: “It was a bit easy for me winning the title this year because in 2015, I had to play against some Chinese players from Congo Brazzaville and I also confronted Edem Offiong of Nigeria in the quarterfinal stage. There was also a lot of pressure on me then because it was then the qualification for the Olympic Games. So this year, I played with less pressure and I had a good draw to the final.”