Nigerian table tennis legend Segun Toriola has revealed that he will retire from the national team after the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The 44-year is bidding to become the only African to make eight appearances at the Olympics should Nigeria qualify for the team event by winning gold at the 2019 African Games in Morocco.
Speaking after finishing runner-up to to Belgium’s Cedric Nuytinck and France’s Quentin Robinot to win silver alongside partner Olajide Omotayo in the men’s doubles event at the 2019 Nigeria Open on Sunday, the former top ranked African male table tennis player said while he might still compete at future Nigeria Opens for “fun” he would definitely call it quits with the national team after next year’s Olympics – should Nigeria make it.
“It might or might not be my last [Nigeria Open]. Right now I want to qualify for the Olympics for the eighth time and after the Olympics, I’m done with the national team but that doesn’t mean that when I’m in Nigeria for the Nigeria Open, I can’t play for fun,” the four-time All Africa Games singles gold medalist who made his Olympics debut at the 1992 Games in Barcelona told busybuddiesng.com.
Whilst revealing that the 2019 Africa Cup was definitely his last outing in that particular tournament, Toriola who was ranked number one in Africa for ten consecutive years between 1998 and 2008 said notwithstanding his planned retirement, he still plans on being around the team in order to mentor and pass his wealth of experience to young and emerging players.
The player who is based in France noted that a culture where retired former professionals do not help in nurturing younger players such as was done for him in his formative years is responsible for the dearth of genuine potential world beaters who can measure up to the feats he and the likes of Funke Oshonaike were able to achieve in their younger days. It is a mistake he says he would like to rectify.
“Sure, it’s going to be my last African Cup, I really hope I can qualify for the next Olympics and when I qualify for the Olympics, I’m done with the national team, I’m not playing for the national team again but I’m going to be around, coaching, supporting the young ones, support the national team.
“I cannot go away because that’s the problem that we have, that’s why table tennis cannot improve in Nigeria because our ex-champions are not here in the hall. None of them is here every year and I don’t blame them. It’s because the Federation doesn’t invite them and that’s why the young ones aren’t improving.
“During my time when I young we had a lot of junior players improving but right now we have very few simply because the old ones are not around who are supposed to help and coach them. Me, I’m not going to that.”
Toriola revealed that he ought to have called it quits with the national team afer the 2016 Rio Olympics but he acceded to the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation’s (NTTF) request to carry on for another four years because the NTTF didn’t feel they had the talent to ensure qualification for the Tokyo games.
“Normally I was supposed to quit after the last Olympics, I even quit after the last Olympics but the Federation said ‘please don’t quit, still wait for four more years for the next Olympics’ and I listened to my Federation” he said.
“They have a reason why they wanted me to stay because they know the young ones are not improving so they want me to still be around them before I quit but I told them if I stayed and we qualified for the Olympics, it was going to be the last after that no more.”
The 2002 Commonwealth singles gold medalist also indicated a willingness to become a full time coach for the national team after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics saying he had refused offers to coach in other countries in the past because he couldn’t bear the thought of coaching against Nigeria.
“Actually, after the Olympics, I don’t know yet [my next course of action]. Normally, if I find an offer somewhere else for me, I don’t want or like to coach against Nigeria because I need to give something back. I prefer to be coaching in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world. At the last Olympics I had offers [to coach] but I rejected it because for me the most important is Nigerian table tennis first, that is very important for me,” he said.
With such a garlanded career which has seen him win so very many laurels, Toriola says it would be difficult to pick one stand out moment in a career that has spanned over two decades. One thing he however concedes he would miss when he eventually retires, is his teammates and the camaraderie that comes with being around the team.
Dread for that feeling of emptiness when he eventually drops his bat is what Toriola says has kept him going at his age and he says he might actually “fall sick” from a lack tennis action in retirement.
“I have a lot of great moments in my career because I won a lot of things in my career. For me, for now I don’t think I’ll miss anything because I’m going to be around the team. Maybe when I’m not around the team it’s going to be a problem for me because I’m going to miss all my teammates and even the Federation,” the four-time African table tennis singles champion told busybuddiesng.com.
“But I’m not planning to miss something when I retire because if I don’t want to get closer, I think I might get sick because the love I have for the game really it’s big and that’s why I’ve kept on playing up till now.”