Nigerian Para Powerlifter Latifat Tijani came into the media mix-zone humming and grooving to James Brown’s hit single – “I Feel Good - na na na na…I feel Good!
And why wouldn’t she, having just set a personal best of 107kg to clinch gold in the women’s -45kg Para Powerlifting competition at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Tijani brushed aside the challenge from China’s Zhe Cui (110kg) and Poland’s Justyna Kozdryk (101kg) to clinch her maiden Paralympic gold.
However, five years back in Rio, she was at the receiving end. After lifting 106kg on her last attempt, Tijani was in line for top honours, but another Chinese, Dandan Hu, gate crashed her party with a lift of 107kg to steal gold. It was clearly a bitter pill for her to swallow and she was seen weeping throughout the presentation ceremony.
“I feel a lot of happiness within and I can’t express it. I wanted this gold badly, want to dedicate this win to almighty Allah. This gold is for him,” said a thrilled Tijani.
“I cried a lot in Rio but vowed that I would comeback in 2020 and win gold,” revealed the 39-year-old mother of two.
Tijani was so hungry for the gold that she stepped the pressure on her rivals by opting to go straight for her personal best mark of 105kg.
“I missed on the first attempt at 105kg but I kept telling myself I can do it. I have been lifting way above that. I wanted to change what happened in Rio.”
The path to success hasn’t been easy. A hairdresser by profession, in 2017 Tijani took the toughest call of her life to shut her salon in the Ogun state, in western part of Nigeria, to focus fully on the sport.
“Missing gold was playing on my mind, and I wanted to give everything in four years’ time. It was like an obsession. Even if I sit here and sleep, I will dream of weights and nothing but more weights. I wanted to win that gold badly,” said Tijani, who had won silver at Rio in the -45kg category.
Life wasn’t easy and meeting ends was a struggle after closing the salon. But with the 'gold' quest on her mind, Tijani just wanted to keep going:
“You can imagine how it would be, but I was working all the time. It was getting difficult to balance everything. After all day at the salon, cleaning the shop before closing and heading for training, then looking after family".
“My training as getting affected but I somehow managed. Then I told myself 'Let me go all out' and everyone in the family was also very supportive,” revealed Tijani, whose search for success was also delayed with COVID-19 postponing the Games.
“I was in good shape and then COVID happened. I was staying indoors. However, my coach said 'you have to come out and keep training.' He arranged a place far from the crowd and I have been working hard on my fitness. Thankfully, everything came good today,” said Tijani, who signed off by saying all she wants is to keep winning - “More golds… more golds and nothing else.”