The Lou Marsh Legacy - Honouring Canada's Top Athletes

Daniel Igali

Wrestling

2000


Photograph of Daniel Igali holding Canadian flag at the Olympics

Photograph of Daniel Igali holding Canadian flag at the Olympics

Date
October 1, 2000
Collection
The Canadian Press/COC

Dreams…a size too big!

Baraladei Daniel Igali remembers his first Olympic wrestling practice. He was ten years old as he excitedly raced barefoot through the dirt streets of Eniwari, his village in the deep interior of the Niger Delta, to catch a glimpse of Appah Macauley a famous Nigerian wrestler. Daniel proclaimed to his friend that he too would be going to the Olympics one day. They tumbled to the ground and wrestled on the grass and dirt before returning to school. Their soiled school uniforms meant six strokes of the cane each from the teacher who advised the lads to stop wasting time dreaming. After all, people from their village did not go to the Olympics. Unaffected, Daniel never let go of his grandmother’s belief that dreams should be a size too big so that you can grow into them. Although there was little organized sport, wrestling was deeply imbedded in his native Ijaw culture.

Strong-minded, agile and quick, Daniel won a National Championship in Nigeria at 16, and became African Wrestling Champion in 1993 and 1994. When he touched down in Victoria, British Columbia, in August 1994 for the Commonwealth Games, as the 20 year old Captain of the Nigerian wrestling team, his life was about to dramatically change. Each day as Daniel learned more about Canadian life he began to foresee the opportunity of a good education and the chance to become a better wrestler. Seeking refugee status from military-ruled Nigeria was one matter but leaving behind his family was the most difficult decision of his life.

Wrestling in his new country revealed weaknesses. He lacked proper training, stamina and confidence. At least until Coach Dave McKay at Douglas College and later Coach Mike Jones at Simon Fraser University grabbed a hold of his raw talent and began the process of molding their new protégé.

In 1998 he became a proud Canadian citizen. He wasted little time in bringing home Canada’s first World Wrestling Championship from Ankara, Turkey in 1999, only three weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery.

At the 2002 Olympics in Sydney Australia, Daniel began to feel the overwhelming pressure of being the favourite, of being expected to win. He picked up his draw sheet to find the number four man in the world as his very first match. He complained to Coach McKay. Stunned, McKay responded, “You know what’s going through that guy’s mind? He’s got the World Champion in the first draw. You’re the bad draw!”
Indeed, Daniel was flawless. He beat his feared American arch-rival Lincoln McIlravy in the semi-finals with only 46 seconds left in a nail-biting over-time. He showcased world class counter-attacks to dominate the formidable Russian, Arsen Gitinov in the tension riddled final. A whistle blew and he heard: “Daniel Igali, Canada. Gold!”
He spontaneously wrapped himself in a large Canadian flag, then, gently placed it on the ground to do a ceremonial jog around it before kneeling to kiss it. In the medal ceremony he began to sob. In Ijaw culture that would denote being a sissy. For Daniel it represented overwhelming pride and gratitude to a country that had given him so much.

Grappling with glory Adobe PDF Transcript


Highlights

1997-1999
116 consecutive matches while representing Simon Fraser University
1998
World Cup, Silver Medal - 69 kg Freestyle Wrestling
1999
Pan American Games, Bronze Medal - 69 kg Freestyle Wrestling
1999
World Wrestling Championships, Gold Medal - 69 kg Freestyle Wrestling
1999
Norton Crowe Award
2000
Sydney Olympic Games, Gold Medal - 69 kg Freestyle Wrestling
2000
Sydney Olympic Games, Gold Medal - 69 kg Freestyle Wrestling
2000
Norton Crowe Award
2000
Lou Marsh Memorial Award
2002
Commonwealth Games - Gold Medal - 74 kg Freestyle Wrestling
2004
Athens Olympic Games - Semi-Finalist - 74 kg Freestyle Wrestling