Five things to know about Olufunke Oshonaike, Africa's women's table tennis pioneer

The first woman to qualify for seven Olympic Games in table tennis, Nigeria's Oshonaike has overcome huge setbacks to achieve everything she has. Here are five things about the African iconic paddler.

By ZK Goh
Picture by 2017 Getty Images

Olufunke "Funke" Oshonaike is Africa's table tennis queen.

The Nigerian is a 25-time national champion, 11-time African Games medallist, and three-time continental champion who will incredibly be making her seventh Olympic Games appearance later this year at Tokyo 2020 in 2021.

Over more than three decades, the Lagos paddler has been at the top of her game. But here are some things about the table tennis legend you might not have known.

Warning, this article contains details that may be distressing.

1. Leading the way for women

Only one woman has qualified to compete at seven Olympic Games in table tennis: Funke Oshonaike.

When she takes to the table tennis hall in Tokyo, Oshonaike will become only the fifth table tennis player ever to have competed in seven Games, after fellow Nigerian Segun Toriola, Jean-Michael Saive of Belgium, Zoran Primorac of Croatia, and Jörgen Persson of Sweden.

Oshonaike will be the first woman to join the prestigious club.

Speaking to Olympics.com's Evelyn Watta in March 2020, she said: "The 'Seven Club' has only men who have been to seven Olympics in table tennis. Only men. I will be the only woman from Africa, the whole world, that has been my dream."

2. She was nearly stabbed for winning a match as a child

When Oshonaike was just 13, she won a key match against a rival of hers, Biola Odumosu.

"There was even a time the crowd [almost] stabbed me in Lagos because I defeated my arch-rival then at Rowe Park," she recalled in the interview with Olympics.com.

"I was always booed every time I played at a competition back in Nigeria because I was very shy. I asked why. I was told that I was proud, arrogant and I don't mix with people. I cried a lot."

In a separate interview with Punch Nigeria, she added: "I felt people hated me. I always played against my opponent and crowd during competitions back then. Thank God my dad stood by me through it all; he supported me 101 per cent.

"The stabbing situation affected me a lot – I had nightmares because of it for a long time."

3. Represented country while pregnant twice

Believe it or not, Olufunke has won major titles while pregnant – not once, but twice.

At the 2002 African Championships, Oshonaike won gold in both women's singles and mixed doubles (alongside Toriola) while she was pregnant.

"I trained and played professionally until I was seven months because my bump was not showing in the first six months. I played at the African Championships and won," she told Olympics.com.

"After I gave birth I started playing immediately. I still won medals for my country. At the 2003 All African Games in Abuja, my first boy was just six, seven months and I won four gold medals. That was my best Games, I can never forget that."

She repeated the feat four years later, playing at the 2006 World Team Table Tennis Championships while pregnant with her second son.

Yet the second pregnancy didn't stop her from continuing to win.

"The second boy was born also in January. I went to Algiers [2007 All African Games] when he was like six months old and again I won medals."

4. Tough upbringing and abuse

Olufunke first cracked the Nigerian team in 1991, debuting at the All African Games in Cairo, Egypt, when she was still only 16.

She was the youngest member of that team.

However, when she made her Olympic Games bow five years later at Atlanta 1996, she was already being abused by an older man who she had previously considered a friend.

"I was physically, sexually, emotionally and mentally abused," she said last year in the revealing Olympics.com interview.

"This man beat me for more than three years and I remember always going to UNILAG (University of Lagos) with a battered face but I still never gave up on [table tennis], men or life."

However, Oshonaike survived and overcame the abuse, going on to a glittering career that saw her carry the Nigerian flag at the Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony.

"I hope more women will be bold enough to come out and speak up," she told the BBC last year.

“I am a survivor."

Olufunke Oshoinake was Nigeria's flag bearer at the Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony
Picture by 2016 Getty Images

5. Rebuilt life in Germany

Oshonaike now lives in Germany, where she plays club table tennis. She has been based in Hamburg since 1998.

It was there she rebuilt her life after surviving the abuse.

She fell in love, but suffered another personal setback.

"Three months to our wedding, he went to Nigeria on holiday and he was shot by armed robbers," Oshonaike remembered. "I went through hell without him.

"I mourned him for two years. I stopped going to Nigeria."

Throughout all the setbacks, however, one thing kept her going and will see her finally join the "Seven Club" in Tokyo.

"[I] never gave up on [table tennis]," Oshonaike said. "That was my decision."

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