Newsletter - March 11,
Interview With Daniel Igali, Olympic Champion
I first met Daniel Igali at the
offices of Joel Gordon
Formation Productions, director
of his most current project, Wresting with
Destiny, which aired this past Tuesday on CBC.
Wrestling with Destiny
profiles Canadian Olympic champion
Daniel Igali. I went to the
private screening of this documentary last week - it was a very moving and
insightful look into the life of an intriguing individual, a man who thrives
on achieving the impossible. Even more exciting, on the night of the
screening (Saturday, March 6), it was announced that Daniel has now
qualified for the2004 Olympics. Earlier that day, Daniel had wrestled and
won against Zoltan Hunyady of Fergus, Ont., in a best-of-three Saturday to
earn a spot on the Olympic team in the 74-kilogram class. (See related
SPORTS NEWS.) See pictures from
Joel Gordon, who battled Malaria
and was near death during the filming of this documentary is currently
launching a new website with clips from the documentary in case you missed
it! Check it out
We conducted the interview en route to the airport for Daniel’s departure
back to Vancouver on Sunday, March 7, 2004.
you hope people will take away with them after seeing Wresting with Destiny?
I hope they see the
struggle that people face when they come to a foreign land. I hope they
also see the link between Canada and the third world. I also hope that they
see that I am not just a wrestler but that I’m a human being too.
When I initially came here in 1994, I wanted to stay here. It was because
the Canadian wrestlers were my idols. I wanted to wrestle like them. In
1998, the first year that I qualified to be on the Canadian national team, I
found out that no Canadian wrestler had won the World Championships. That
was the biggest thing I had to deal with because I had this complex. I
started thinking that if they haven’t won it, and I wanted to be like them,
then how much less were my chances to do it? That is something I struggled
with for the longest time. I spoke with therapists and coaches – we worked
on this for ages because I couldn’t get out of it. I don’t even know what
broke it. I remember one day my coach told me “Daniel, there’s a first
time for everything - so you could be the first one to do it. You know how
you wanted to be like the Canadians? Now you’re like them and you’re going
to be better and everybody else will want to be like you – and be better.”
And now that’s what happened. Nine years ago when I came here, I wanted to
be like them but when I found out that they hadn’t won a World Championship,
I was distraught. Even when the Olympics came around, it wasn’t as big a
barrier because I knew I was a World Champion then. So, I had an
opportunity to win the Olympics. But the World Championship – going in and
knowing that nobody had done it before was devastating for me.
What was the more meaningful win for you?
It was the World Championships. My biggest victory to date has
been the  World Championships. It was even more satisfying for me
because the American I beat in the finals was someone I had lost to three
straight times within a year! And I beat him at the World Championships and
after that I beat him at the Olympics – very satisfying. His name was
Lincoln McIlravy. I remember wrestling
him three times and being exhausted to the point where it was
difficult to walk after all the matches. When I beat him, he was more tired
than I was and that for me was more satisfying than even the victory because
I knew I had overcome him – both physically and mentally. That was
satisfying beyond belief.
What was the most difficult thing about having someone following you around
to do a documentary on your life thus far?
I think the most difficult thing initially was not knowing where it was
headed – not knowing when it would be aired. It was something that I knew
that Joel [Gordon] was taking on because he thought it was worthwhile. I
didn’t know what would happen. But on the personal level it was more the
fact that initially the cameras were there and I didn’t not how to react –
if you should “act” for the cameras or not. That went away after awhile and
you could be just natural and not worry about the cameras. Initially
though, it was about ‘how should I portray myself’, ‘should I just be me or
should I be an actor?’
Did you act?
No, not necessarily. There were some parts that we had to
recreate things but for the most part, it was just me being me.
Now this is a project
that has taken approximately four years and a
lot happened in your life. There were things that happened during that
period of time that were necessary for people to get the complete essence of
your life. So, we saw a few things - the struggle to come to this country,
to win a Gold medal and even losing a family member. It’s hitting us now in
the right time.
What was the most
enjoyable thing for you about having completed this documentary?
For me, the documentary unveiled so many feelings that I had bottled inside.
Growing up in Nigeria, as a man, you are always told to be strong and not
talk about things. I would get emotional talking about some of the issues.
Like my dad’s death was a big blow. Maureen’s [Matheny]
death and the recurring dreams and things that happened with Maureen were
very emotional for me but it brought it out and I became a freer person
because we constantly dealt with them.
Do you think that you’re going to try to
“drop the veil” a little more in your life now?
Yeah, but you have to have the avenue to do that. When this
out, I didn’t even know it was going to head in that direction but questions
kept being asked. The, you start responding to them
and it came out.
Afterwards you felt that there was this huge burden taken off your
Do you think that it was because someone was
asking the questions?
Somebody was asking the questions but if a reporter from Paris
called me up and spoke to me about those things, I wouldn’t be as open but
once I got to trust Joel and he became a good friend, I could just talk to
him. So, it was very therapeutic for me. But I think that trust element
came along because it was over a period of time and I don’t think I would
have done that with someone I just met. It was ultimately very good for me
on the therapeutic level.
It might be a different documentary if this
was completed in one year, without the benefit to you personally.
It could very well have been.
If you had to recommend to the powers that
be some suggestions in raising the profile as well as the funding for
amateur sport in Canada, what would it be?
This has been an age-old question and an ongoing discussion. There are
different streams of thought in this regard. Amateur athletics [in Canada]
do not get the kind of attention they get in Europe or America because in
Canada, we’re quite a bit nonchalant and we’re very engrossed with
professional sports, especially hockey. I think that the profile of
athletes is not in the forefront because companies do not see any benefit in
sponsoring an amateur athlete when they can sponsor a basketball player and
have him on television every day. Both of them kind of go hand in hand.
Now, it’s not just the government, it’s the corporations, the media – they
all have to work in tandem to get it done. And it does not help that the
highest performers in the system like me, get $1,100 a month. And so it’s a
very sad commentary.
One of the questions we always get asked when we talk to kids at schools is
‘how do you survive?’ We’re now saying to kids that they should get
involved in sports and these kids are asking us how do you survive in
sports. We’re saying ‘well, it’s not about the survival, it’s about the
sport’. I mean, it doesn’t make any sense to tell them that. So, there’s a
long-winded answer but it requires everybody - the government, corporations
and media to make it work. And until we have that mesh, it’s going to be
Even when you break through in sports like wrestling, you may have one
person or corporation that says we’re going to try to take care of your
training and living expenses but you’ve got to have a mortgage, you’ve got
to have a life. Nothing else is going to guarantee it for you. You’ve got
to look at your life after sports by working or doing other things. You
can’t have any meaningful investments through what we do. So, it’s a
difficult route we all tread on.
Where could people write to support amateur
sport? How could people reach you if they wanted to support you financially?
My site - www.igali.com.
What do you do when you're not training,
wrestling in matches, speaking or doing personal appearances? Do you have
any hobbies that are just for you?
What is happening now is that my spare time is for school. I’m doing my
masters at SFU so I use my spare time to catch up on school. If I’m not
doing that, I do play video games. I have a soccer game that I play. I
play in the English league, the Italian league, the French league. Those
are the kind of things that keep me going. Sometimes I go out with my
friends and we go bowling. On Sunday evenings also, I play indoor soccer.
I’m a big sports fan. My favourite is watching soccer. Arsenals are my
favourite team in the English premier league. So, I follow all their
games. I try to make sure that I catch all their games on TV.
What would be your ultimate dream be if
money or any obstacles were no consideration?
That’s a tough question. I definitely want to get involved with
kids at a level different than what I am now. I know the value of
sports and I want to use sports to do that and I know what sports has done
for me in my life. Everything I’ve ever done in my life has been through
sports – friends, everything. So, I want to use that as a vehicle to
reach out to kids a bit more. Other than that, if I were to choose what I
would want to be, I would want to be comfortable enough to be somewhere
where I won’t have a TV or any of these modern distractions and live on a farm
or something with my kids and my wife. Just something simple – somewhere
that I won’t have any worries at all. Any of the modern worries.
That’s one of the things that I’m doing in Nigeria – included
with the school project is a gym that is dedicated to where kids can come
and play. I
went to university for four years on a scholarship
given to me by Paul Nemeth, one
of my biggest supporters, and he gave me $50,000
for my school project. He was very interested in the gym and in kids being
able to go and play in that gym. So, I think with this school project, that
is going to happen – kids will have the opportunity to be able to
further their goals and lose themselves by playing in a safe environment.
I’ll make sure they have a basketball court, an indoor soccer field and a
wrestling mat. That is coming to fruition in a way but if I’m going to live
in Canada, I’m going to try to recreate something like that here too.
If you reflect on your life in general – not
just your career -but your life, what do you think is the biggest thing that
sports has taught you and/or given to you.
If it hadn’t have been for sports, I wouldn’t be in Canada. I think that
sports opened me to a new world here in Canada and gave me a new lease on
life. Coming to Canada is something that God had pre-ordained for me but it
was through the sports vehicle that I got here. So, that is one thing that
I will remain ever grateful for - that I was given the opportunity to come
to such a land. And to be able to contribute to a society that I believe in
my heart is the greatest place to live on earth.
Congratulations - You’ve now qualified for
the 2004 Olympics. What’s next for you?
Thank you! I will still be doing my schoolwork. It keeps me
grounded. I remember before the Olympics – the summer of the Olympics - I
had two courses in school and I know how that helped me. I wasn’t
totally frustrated with training – I still had something to go back and do.
I’m one of those people that who have to stay busy all the time. So, I will
still have school. I’m planning on going to Nigeria in about six weeks for
about one week just to go and see my people back home. It’s always very
refreshing and invigorating to go home and come back. I’ll do that and then
training will receive the priority in my life until the 2004 Olympics.
You were mentioning in the documentary that
you’re thinking about retiring and what you want to do at that point. You
were talking about a committee that you wanted to be on – tell me a little
bit more about that.
The IOC (International Olympic Committee) is the governing board for sports
internationally. They have about 120 members worldwide and on that board,
they have eight athletes that represent the interests of athletes. They
elect four every four years so right now, the last four people elected,
their term has expired and they’re going to re-elect four more people. So,
every country puts in candidates – we had Charmaine Crooks representing
Canada at the IOC board. Her time is now up so we had a mini-election
within Canada to elect a representative to the IOC Athletes Commission and I
was the person that was elected. In 2004 at the Olympics, all the athletes
would have to vote for four more people to go join the four others on the
board. If I’m lucky enough to be voted as such, I would be an IOC member,
which would really be great because then you can really fight for the
interests of athletes for their welfare, education, financially, for
training grants – all those things that athletes need. Especially athletes
from the third world countries, they need it more. Because I come from
Nigeria, a third world country, and I live now in Canada; I have an
understanding of both worlds. I think I would be a great candidate to
represent Canada at the Athletes Commission at the IOC.
I think that you are a perfect example of
what can be done by someone when they’re embraced by Canada. We are very
proud of you and consider you a transplanted Canadian. So, congratulations
Thank you very much.