From practicing wrestling against her parents wishes, to her viral celebration at 2018 Commonwealth Games, here’s everything you should know about the African wrestling star and Tokyo finallist.
Blessing Oborududu began practicing wrestling as a young girl and got immersed in the sport.
But no one around her thought she was a wrestler. She ‘did not look like a wrestler’.
On Monday (2nd August), she cemented her name in Nigeria and African wrestling, as her country’s first-ever medallist in the Olympics.
Oborududu sailed into the final of the women’s 68kg freestyle wrestling after a dominant win over Mongolia’s Battsetseg Soronzonbold to gain revenge after losing to the same opponent in Rio, and is now set to clinch either gold or silver.
It has been a long journey to glory for the Nigerian wrestler, who planned to retire after Tokyo 2020.
She faces Tamyra Mensah-Stock of the USA in the final.
1 - Oborududu is a10-time African champion
Oborududu announced herself to the wrestling world in 2007 when she was invited to join Nigeria’s team for the African Games. She was unrivalled in secondary school, where she started wrestling, and quickly caught the attention of the Bayelsa government, a Southern state in Nigeria, that invited her for the prestigious National Sports Festival.
Two years later, she cemented her position in the National Wrestling team and has maintained the spot, being a regular in continental tournaments.
“My first medal was a bronze in 2009,” she told Olympic Channel while competing at the 2019 African Games in Rabat.
“And then 2010, I started winning, then every other African championship I win gold, gold, gold…All African Games gold, gold, gold…”
She dominated 59kg, was unrivalled in the 63kg, before stepping up to her current 68kg, winning a record 10 African titles across the weights.
Oborududu has won all African titles apart from 2012 when she skipped the continental event for London 2012, the first of her three Olympic appearances.
After Commonwealth gold and 10 African titles, the 30-year-old wants to leave a mark at Tokyo 2020.
2 - Fighting against the odds
As Oborududu made great strides in her career she met some opposition at home, while some people around her doubted her potential.
Her parents were against their daughter practicing the combat sport, regardless of Nigeria’s rich tradition of wrestling.
“When I was growing, my parents used to tell me wrestling is for boys and not for girls,” she recalled in an interview with Olympic Channel.
“But when I saw female wrestlers shining in the sport and traveling outside the country, I said I want to be traveling like them, I want to do this thing [wrestling].”
Even as she became a household name in Nigerian wrestling, it took some convincing to show her potential.
“A lot of people would see me and tell [me], 'you are not a wrestler; you don’t look like one.'”
But her coaches encouraged her, and she also believed in her ability.
“I kept doing it for me and my coaches. They believed. Whenever I went to the Worlds, Olympics they always encouraged me that, ‘Blessing the best is yet to come. You just need to focus, because you are strong, you are young, you can make it’. This is what has kept me going for the past 10-12 years.”
3 - Her gold medal celebration went viral
At the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the 34-year-old finally won the gold that had eluded her in two previous attempts.
Oborududu held on for a slim 4-3 victory over her Canadian opponent Danielle Lappage.
She strode around the mat in a delirium of joy, rolling down, kissing the mat, and praying.
She then ran off to one of her coaches who carried her around the mat as they celebrated her biggest career win then.
That celebration went viral.
"I didn’t plan it. The moment I knew I won gold, the joy. The joy of winning a gold medal… I didn’t know how to express myself. That is why I rolled on the ground and I said, 'God I give you the glory for making this possible for me.' That was special. I never imagined that moment,” she said.
4 - Inspired by another Nigerian with an Olympic wrestling medal
Officially, Oborududu is the first Nigerian to win an Olympic medal in wrestling
But another Nigerian had in fact won gold at the Olympics, 21 years ago.
Daniel Igali, who also hails from Bayelsa state, won 69kg freestyle gold at Sydney 2000.
He won in it for Canada.
Igali switched nationality in 1998, and is the current president of Nigerian Wrestling Federation and is Oborududu’s idol.
In fact, Igali’s Olympic moment has been a huge source of inspiration for the former world number two.
“Nigerian wrestling is special because we always want to win, we want to be number one in the world, number two [at worst]. And our president Igali, is an Olympic champion. And when he told us about himself and how he won it, that is what every wrestler wishes for, be in the Olympics and to win,” she said.
“Sometimes when we watch the Olympic video of our president Daniel Igali, how he received his medal, how he was crying. You know everything that happened at the Olympics, that is our desire, we want to be like him. Everybody in the team wants to be Olympic champion.”
5 - Plans to retire after Tokyo Olympics
The final against Tamyra Mensah-Stock could be the last time we will see Blessing Oborududu grappling on the mat.
“I think this Olympics will be my last Olympics,” she said upon qualification for Tokyo 2020.
After three Olympics, her first being the London 2012 Games, she had set herself a target of clinching a medal at the World championships or Olympics.
With that done, the Business Administration graduate now plans to retire after her long career, but she might stay heavily involved in Nigerian wrestling.
She remains a role model for many Nigerian girls looking to take up wrestling.
“A lot of the young wrestlers are coming up now and they keep saying, 'I want to be like Blessing, I want to be like [Odunayo] Adekuoroye.' Now everybody loves wrestling in Nigeria.”