Saturday, August 13, 2016 8:51 am
After being officially inducted into the 7’ Club at the Olympic Games, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) has described Nigeria’s Segun Toriola as a global brand that deserved honour by the world table tennis ruling body.
Speaking at the celebration organised to honour the most decorated table tennis player in Africa, ITTF President, Thomas Wiekert believes the feat achieved by the Nigerian should be an inspiration to athletes across the world particularly in Africa.
At the colourful presentation held at the Riocentro Pavilion 3 in Rio, Toriola was joined by three other table tennis stars that have competed in seven Olympic Games; Zoran Primorac (Croatia), Jörgen Persson (Sweden) and Jean-Michel Saive (Belgium) as well as ITTF helmsman.
The presentation was made before the first round match in the men’s team event between Nigeria and China and the ITTF President said: “On behalf of the ITTF I would like to congratulate Segun Toriola on his 7th Olympic appearance. This is a fantastic achievement and one that needs to be celebrated. We have enjoyed watching you play and we look forward to watching your more.”
Belgium’s Jean-Michel Saive lauded Toriola for his exploits by saying, ““We have played many times and had many experiences together. Welcome to the ‘7 Club’ and we are honoured to share this record with you, as you are a fantastic ambassador for the sport and a great guy.”
For Croatia’s Zoran Primorac, Toriola should hold his head high for the rare feat in Africa. “Congratulations on your 7th Olympic Games. This is no easy feat, and you should be very proud of your achievement. Welcome to the club!” Primorac said.
Toriola hopes that the award can inspire more athletes to aim for the best in their career. “It is a privilege to be next to you both and receive such recognition. I am proud to be in the 7 club with such champions and I hope I can inspire more kids to start playing table tennis around the world. Thank you ITTF for this trophy and everyone for your kind words,” an elated Toriola said after the award.”
Barcelona 1992 was where Toriola made his Olympic debut, as he partnered with the late Yomi Bankole in the Men’s Doubles competition. The duo exited at the group stages, but managed to register a win against Ruben Arado and Santiago Roque of Cuba.
Toriola’s first singles experience at an Olympic Games came four years later at Atlanta 1996, where he beat Chetan Baboor (India). It was another opening round elimination for Toriola in both the singles and doubles categories followed in Sidney (2000), but at the 2004 Games in Athens he overcame Argentina’s Pablo Tabachnik to reach round two of the Men’s Singles competition.
Beijing 2008 saw Toriola achieve his personal best finish at an Olympic Games, progressing through to the third round of the singles and beating Joao Monteiro (Portugal) and Jean-Michel Saive in the process. 2008 was also the first Olympic Games to introduce the Team Event but while Toriola’s Nigeria won 3-2 against Russia and a swift exit followed.
After winning his preliminary round match against Canada’s Andre Ho, Toriola was drawn to play Sweden’s Jörgen Persson in round one of London 2012 but, unfortunately for the Nigerian player, that was as far as he would go as Persson won in five ends.
At Rio 2016, where he competed in his seventh Games, Segun Toriola knew that he carried some media interest heading into the Men’s Singles tournament and he caused a round one upset by defeating Dimitrij Prokopcov (Czech Republic) 4-2, a player placed 41 spots higher on the ITTF world rankings list (79th). Toriola then gave Japan’s Koki Niwa an exit scare in round two, but it wasn’t to be for Toriola as the Japanese contestant won in six games.
Toriola’s 41 shot rally against Singapore’s Gao Ning became the major highlight at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland.