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Thursday, 25 July, 2002, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK

Ultimate honour for Igali

By Mike Burnett
BBC Sport Online in Manchester

World and Olympic wrestling champion Daniel Igali is no stranger to the Commonwealth Games.

It was in Victoria that a young Igali represented the country of his birth, Nigeria, to take his first major step in an incredibly successful career.

Eight years later, he has returned to where it all started to compete in the 69kg freestyle event in Manchester.

But this time, Igali has a new country and will be leading them out in Thursday's opening ceremony as Canada's official flagbearer.

"If I retire tomorrow, I'm not going to have any regrets because I've done one thing that every athlete wants - to be a flagbearer for their country," a delighted Igali told BBC Sport Online.

"I'm going to be reliving all the memories of 1994 and how different it'll be.

"I have a couple of friends that have won Commonwealth gold medals - they always rub it in my face"
Daniel Igali

"I was in the last row of the Nigerian national team walking into the stadium then and now it'll be me in front carrying the hopes of the nation for Canada."

Igali will have other special memories of the Victoria Games as it marked his first steps towards becoming a Canadian.

Having gone over there as a Nigerian, he decided not to return to his home country because of political unrest and four years later was competing under the maple leaf flag.

Certainly, his adopted nation cannot complain - over the past three seasons, Igali has become Canada's first world and Olympic champion, with wins at the world championships in 1999 and at Sydney 2000.

Gold hunt

Now the 28-year-old is hoping to add an elusive Commonwealth gold medal to his impressive list of victories.

"I have a couple of friends that have won Commonwealth gold medals - they always rub it in my face," laughed Igali, who now resides in British Columbia.

"You can be world and Olympic champion, but you're not a Commonwealth Games champion, so that's something that makes me want it more."

Hampered by back injuries, Igali struggled in the 2001season, only advancing to the fourth round of the world championships last November.

But the wrestling star says he is back to full fitness and relishing the challenge in Manchester.

No doubt, leading the whole Canadian team out will make it even more special.

"I've come to the Games that brought me to the limelight, so to come and bear the flag here is perfect."


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