Mariam Bolaji has reached a significant milestone in her career, taking down one of the most experienced players at the Spanish Para Badminton International in Cartagena on her way to a historic first singles title for the Africa continent on the international stage.
Few weeks after her late coach and African champion Bello Rafiu Oyebanji was killed in a road accident, Nigeria’s Mariam Eniola Bolaji, making her international debut at the Spanish Para Badminton International in Cartagena, claimed a stunning gold to win the women’s singles SL3 final beating experienced Ukrainian Oksana Kozyna 18-21, 21-14, 21-18 after coming from a set down.
The title makes her the first Africa Para badminton player to win a title outside the continent.
In an interview with Badminton World Federation, the elated player dedicates her victory to her late coach.
“I dedicate this title to my late coach, Bello Rafiu Oyebanji,” Bolaji told the BWF. She added that she had learned lessons from losing to Kozyna in the group stage.
“I was remembering everything my opponent did to win points so that when I came back, I could win,” Bolaji said.
“I didn’t think I could do it – I’m so grateful, I am going to celebrate big when I get to Nigeria, I have made Africans proud of me”
Meanwhile the President of the Badminton Federation of Nigeria, Frank Orbih, said Bolaji’s victory is just a test of the great prospect of para badminton in Nigeria if given total support and attention.
” History was made today (on Sunday) in African and Nigerian para badminton with this record breaking and setting performance by Eniola Bolaji. She has become the first Nigerian and African to get to the finals and go on to win a gold medal in any para badminton event in any international championship.
“It is a huge consolation for the badminton family that Coach Bello Oyebanji did not die in vain. It is a very emotional one for us. It shows that with consistence and resilience the results will always come.
“She played in an international tournament for the first time with a great and amazing performance of winning gold in the single SL3 event and qualifying for the World Para-Badminton championship in Japan come October,” Orbih added.