Two years after becoming the first African to reach the quarterfinal round of the table tennis event at the Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has tagged Aruna Quadri as Africa’s most successful Olympic table tennis player of all time.
IOC published an interview with the Nigerian on its official website recently and they lauded the Oyo State-born athlete for etching his name in the annals of world table tennis history in Brazil.
IOC wrote, “Two decades after he took up table tennis on the streets of Oyo, in south-western Nigeria, Quadri Aruna became the first African to reach an Olympic quarterfinal.”
Quadri reveals in the interview how he beat players “far better” than him at Rio 2016, while recalling his early battles to succeed against all odds and stresses the significant debt he owes his talented wife.
“I actually had no confidence against Chuang Chih-Yuan [Chinese Taipei’s four-time world tour champion, whom Aruna faced in the third round] because earlier in January that year I lost in Germany in the first round 4-0 to him. So in Rio, I was like, ‘I have lost before, now I have nothing left to lose, he is a much better player than me.’ So, I said to myself, ‘Just give your best, play and enjoy.’ Then I was able to win the first two sets and the match was a different spirit entirely.
“Against Timo Boll [Germany’s three-time Olympic medal winner, whom Aruna played in the fourth round] I was feeling the same way. I was aware the whole world was watching. But before Timo was able to understand my game; I was already 3-0 and it was really too late for him to come back. I stepped up my game and played without pressure because I knew all the players in the Olympic Games are very, very good.
“My performance in Rio really made table tennis much more popular in Nigeria. Whenever I am in the airport now so many officials recognise me now and on the streets, not just where I came from, so many people wave.”
The African Champion also sought the support of the sport in from governments saying, “More priority needs to be given to table tennis. Governments need to put people who want to work in sport in the right positions. I am supporting so many players, about six juniors. When I was young no one was able to support me, even with equipment, but these days I am able to help them, to give them equipment and let them play for free.
Quadri explains that his wife is his motivation and sometimes a better player than he is, “My wife was a very good player. Now she doesn’t play professionally. She plays for pleasure, but she is a very good training partner and sometimes she beats me. I am very thankful to her, she is always looking after the kids when I am not at home, which is one of the reasons she is not playing professionally anymore,” Quadri said.
For Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan, Quadri said: “Like every athlete, I want to do better than I have done before. I want better results in Tokyo. I am always thinking about it. That’s why I am playing in more and more tournaments: it’s preparation for difficult matches in Tokyo.”