Nigeria’s Bolawa Akingbemisilu made his presence felt in his maiden international outing after upstaging some of the top players to settle for silver medal in class five division at the ITTF Lignano Masters Para Open 2023 concluded at the weekend in Italy.
Akingbemisilu who was part of the 16-man team sponsored by the Delta State government to the first hurdle to Paris 2024 Paralympic Games in France, settled for two silver and two bronze medals at the four-day F-20 ranking point championships.
Grouped alongside top rated players, he worked his way into the knockout stage where he caused one of the upsets after beating Commonwealth Games Jack Hunter 3-2 in the semi-final round.
Despite going down early in the game, the Nigerian fought back to beat the world number five and booked his place in the final against Serbia’s Mitar Palikuca.
Like he did in the semi-final, Akingbemisilu did not start well against the world number six but he rallied back and his efforts could not help him from losing the gold medal to the Serbian at 3-1.
The performance of Akingbemisilu was lauded by ITTF who tipped the Nigerian for the African title in near future.
Also, Commonwealth silver medallist Isau Ogunkunle earned the second silver in men’s class four after losing 3-2 in the final to Japan’s Kazuki Shichino.
Ifechukwude Ikpeoyi settled for bronze in the women’s class five while Kehinde Lawal also claimed bronze in the women’s class nine.
According to the team manager, Sunday Odebode, the players gave a good account of themselves among some of the top players in the world as some of them were making their maiden international outing.
Specifically, Odebode thanked the Delta State government for its immense support and ensuring that the team took part in the tournament which served as a pathway to the Paralympic Games.
“We hope that we can have another opportunity to compete in another tournament like this before the African Paralympic qualifying tournament in Egypt comes September. With their participation here, they have gained valuable points that will aid their eventual qualification to Paris. We thank Governor Okowa and Delta State Sports Commission for their huge backing to be part of this trip and we hope to win more laurels in major competitions like this,” he added.
Nigeria is the only African team that competed alongside 33 other countries with over 300 athletes competing in 39 events made up of singles and doubles divisions.