by Azeezat Fadekemi Sulaiman
“It’s difficult growing up in Britain as a mixed race person, you’re not complete until you find out your identity.”
British Born John Akinyemi represented Nigeria in the 2012 London Olympics. He burst into limelight after declaring in 2008 that he would represent his country of origin Nigeria, at the Olympics even though he was born and bred in England.
‘Johny,’ as he is popularly called became the first Olympic canoeist to ever represent Nigeria at the world stage.
‘It was an interesting experience’, he says. Growing up in Warrington; a part of England where your chances of running into a black or ethnic minority person is very slim, he admits didn’t do much for finding his ‘identity’- a popular issue with many who are mixed race.
He went on a journey of self discovery at 18, travelling for the first time to Nigeria to find out more about his heritage and to make sense of his identity, an experience he says was amazing.
Akinyemi’s father as his name suggests is a Yoruba man born in Lagos but, his mum is British. Family is everything to him, he says, and they have literally been his pillar of support through some of the most trying times in his career.
The support from the Nigerians has been incredible, he says and it’s one of the things that keep inspiring him even though he struggles to financially support his career.
In a recent chat with Naija Living, the 23 year old lamented the need for Nigerian corporations and brands to support both home grown and international talent.
Canoeing requires regular training and participation in international championships to keep fit, he tells me. It also requires buying equipment and renewing old ones…like his current Canoe which he says he’s had since forever.
Ever so humble, the Beijing 2008 bronze medallist handles his dilemma with enviable sensitivity.
“It’s really difficult getting funding because, British companies won’t fund you because you’re representing Nigeria and Nigerian companies don’t know you and don’t know much about the sport because, it’s not a popular sport over there.”
He also amazingly reveals that so far, most of his funding has come from his dad and he now desperately needs funding if he is to keep representing Nigeria at international competitions.
With all the challenges that have accompanied his decision to go on the lonely and sometimes trying decision to abandon a potentially lucrative team GB career for representing Nigeria, Akinyemi is resolute in sticking with his fatherland, come what may.
“I don’t regret it at all. It’s been an amazing experience and I’m immensely proud to be Nigerian and British,” he says.
Watch excerpts from the interview below.