Uche Eke competes at an NCAA event for the University of Michigan. He will be representing Nigeria at the Tokyo Olympics. Photo: U

Making his debut at the Olympic Games, Uche Eke, the first athlete from Nigeria to compete in the gymnastic events of the Games, has set his sights on winning a medal in the colors of Team Nigeria at Tokyo 2020.

After a gold-winning debut at the African Games in Morocco in 2019, the 23-year-old will be going all out to show the world the result of 20 years of training; preparations that started when a then three-year-old Eke began doing backflips in his parents’ sitting room.

Born in the United States to a Nigerian father and an American mother, the oft-told story of Eke’s origin in gymnastics entails a friend daring him to attempt a backflip off a couch, with Eke landing on his head not once, but twice. His mother, Tara, quickly signed up her youngest son for gymnastics class.

Since then, Eke has expanded his adventuresome ways to include dirt biking, skateboarding, snowboarding, wakeboarding, and hill-bombing, which involves racing a scooter or bike down a slope as fast as possible. And skydiving is on his bucket list.

It is this absence of fear that could just see Eke upset the applecart in Tokyo and, with some good fortune, win a medal.

“I am not under any pressure, I just want to go out there and do my stuff,” he said. “I want to win a medal for Nigeria, but first I will need to get to the final, the first step to winning medal.

“I will be competing in six events and if I make the finals, anything can happen. I want to go out there and put all the hard work of 20 years, when I first started gymnastics, to the test.

“I am not going to be concentrating on any other person; I will focus on myself and do what I have to do out there.”

After successfully applying for dual citizenship and graduating from the University of Michigan in May 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science engineering, Eke competed for Nigeria at the 2019 African Games in August in Rabat, Morocco, where he won a gold medal on the pommel horse and a bronze in the parallel bars.

In May 2021, he qualified for the Olympics after capturing the bronze medal in the all-around competition at the African Gymnastics Championships in Cairo. The top two finishers from different countries earned berths in the Olympics, and because Egypt won gold and silver, only one of the automatic qualifiers went to the North African nation, and Eke secured the other.

On his feelings after qualifying for the Olympics, Eke, whose father, Daniel, hails from Anambra State, said it was a dream come true.

“I pinched myself and had to ask myself if I was dreaming, for I really did it,” he recalled with excitement. “Then I quickly re-watched the video that I made while in the bathroom, saying this is the day to see if I’m an Olympian or not.

“I always do these quick video snippets of me facing the mirror in the bathroom; videos that I would watch at the end of the events to see if I would be happy or sad. But on that day, I was so happy. I was just super excited.”

Eke is scheduled to compete at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, in Tokyo, the venue of the Olympic Games gymnastics events from Saturday, July 24.

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