Nigeria makes debut in Olympic canoeing… but Akinyemi’s impact was short-lived

Jonathan Akinyemi

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.

The overseas-based athlete, who was the event’s lowest-ranked entrant at 130 placed 20th in a field of 22 competitors after the first two runs to drop out of the chase for medals.

Akinyemi took part in the men’s kayak single (K1) competition of the canoe slalom event holding at the Lee Valley White Water Centre.

His placing in the heats meant he was not part of the top 15 who qualified for the semi-finals of Aug. 1.

Akinyemi, who has a British mother, took to the water first during the first run and clocked 104.70 seconds to finish 20th, and then 146.95 seconds in the second run to finish 21st.

This, however, still earned him the 20th place finish after the second run, with the 104.70 seconds as his final time, thus finishing 21.21 seconds behind, more than 12 seconds slower than the last qualifier at 15th in the heat.

The heat was won by Germany’s Hannes Aigner who clocked a time of 83.49 seconds in the second run to dislodge Samuel Hernanz of Spain who led from the first run with his first time of 87.07.

“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.

Jonathan “Johny” Akinyemi was  voted the February 2012 ICF Athlete of the Month.

A gold medallist at the 2012 African Canoe Slalom Championships in South Africa, Akinyemi went head to head with Beijing bronze medallist Benjamin Boukpeti (TOG) and retained his K1 title which  secured for him Africa’s sole K1 spot at the London 2012 Olympic Games.