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By Arinze Ude.
  With the world watching, British-born Nigerian, Johny Akinyemi will make history as the first canoeist to represent the West African nation at The Olympics. Johny Akinyemi, a 23 year old, was born and raised in Cheshire, the town of Warrington, England but is in tune with his roots. “My dad’s side of the family is Nigerian – my grand dad came from Lagos and when you grow up as a mixed race guy in the UK, you go through a time when you almost discover yourself and your roots.” He fought off challange from Bronze medallist from the Beijing Games 2008, Benjamin Boukpeti of Togo to qualify for the Games. Boukpeti, a similar case to Akinyemi, is a French born who represented Togo at the 2008 Olympic Games. According to BBC, Akinyemi grew up as part of the British Slalom squad’s junior programme, but switched to Nigeria in 2008. He will be racing against some names he will recognize as part of his former squad from the Junior Programme. The competition for places in the British Slalom team was fierce so he had a re-think and pledged his allegiance to his country of origin. “I knew the British guys really well; the British Canoe is very competitive at the moment with a good spread of talent, ranging from some fast U23s and juniors to Athens silver medallist Campbell Walsh. The selection in April is so tight; so I’m glad I’ve got my place already. With only one paddler going to the games in each category for Britain, it will be difficult to make the team.” Akinyemi Stated. Akinyemi explained that he travelled back to Nigeria in 2008 for the first time and rued the corrupt state of the nation. He described himself as a religious man, a devout Christian and believes prayers of people in Nigeria and Warrington helped him fend off the competition from Benjamin Boukpeti in South Africa qualifiers back in 2011. “I beat Boukpeti and I think God was with me on that run. I think of it as a modern day miracle, because he’s a really good paddler. When you see his muscles, you will understand.” Akinyemi said, turning a serious moment into a little laugh. He also rued and acknowledged that the sport (slalom canoeing) is of little or no importance back in Nigeria and has pledged to develop the sport after the Games. Akinyemi explained his full interest in growing the sport by saying: “After the Olympics, I’ll go to Calabar and see if we can find any white water to set up a club there. If we can just get the kids growing up around the canoes into a competitive environment, and into the right kind of boat, then the future is pretty bright.” We cannot wait to see what this Olympian has for the Team Nigeria’s goal to getting Gold.

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This article was first published on 27th July 2012 and updated on July 31st, 2012 at 7:44 am

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