By John Andah
Women have played a huge part in Nigeria’s rise to prominence in the world of sports.
Although male boxer Nojim Maiyegun won the country’s first medal (bronze) at the Olympics in Tokyo 1964, it was at the 1996 edition in Atlanta that Africa’s most populous nation made a giant stride in the biggest sporting event in the world. Chioma Ajunwa, a policewoman, made history by winning Nigeria’s first individual gold medal that year in the United States, a feat she achieved in long jump.
Till date, Nigeria has not bettered its exploits of winning six medals (two gold, one silver and three bronze medals) at a single Olympics. Four of these medals were won by the country’s women with Mary Onyali and Falilat Ogunkoya finishing in the medal range of the 100 and 400 metres events respectively.
Before then, the quartet of Onyali, Faith Idehen, Christy Opara and Beatrice Utondo had won bronze in athletics relay event in Barcelona 1992 Olympics, and the country’s senior women’s football team Falcons – now known as Super Falcons – had occupied the position of Africa’s best.
And in table tennis, 44-year-old former African champion Olufunke Oshonaike is working towards becoming the first female athlete to participate in seven Olympics as Nigerian sporting women keep going great guns.
Many believe that the heroics of the aforementioned athletes, among other sporting legends, fuelled the rise of the likes of Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor, Tobi Amusan, Odunayo Adekuoroye, Asisat Oshoala and not forgetting the country’s historic Bobsled and Skeleton team.
Oshoala has on three occasions been named Africa’s best player by the Confederation of African Football (Caf), and she is arguably the richest among African female players; while Okagbare has since taken over from Onyali as she holds the current African record in 200m with her run of 22.04 seconds in 2018.
Nigerian sprint hurdler Amusan, 21, is one of her country’s bright prospects in the track and field event. And come Tokyo 2020, the Commonwealth and African champion is confident that she is in the right fettle to clinch another Olympic gold for Nigeria.
Amusan, after surprising many by winning the 100m hurdles at the Brazzaville African Games in 2015, said, according to the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), that she was determined to silence those who thought she was not good enough to win the race.
“People were saying I couldn’t make it to the finals, but I thought, ‘No problem’. In the first round I had the fastest time and a PB (personal best) of 13.11 (an African U20 record). Then, in the finals, I ran 13.15 and I won. It was a huge victory for me. I realised then that I had the talent in the hurdles, so I took it really seriously,” IAAF quoted her as saying.
The Ogun-born athlete started 2018 on a winning note by making the final of the 60m hurdles after beating reigning world champion Sally Pearson in the semi-finals of the World Indoor Championships. And at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Tobi surprised Jamaica’s 2015 world champion, Danielle Williams, to win the 100m hurdles with a season best of 12.68 secs, three seconds short of the Games record of 12.65 secs.
But the athlete had some setbacks, which she said made her stronger.
“I would talk about the World U20 Championships in Bydgoszcz. I went in with the fastest time, but had trail leg problems and went from first to fifth in the final. That got me really heart-broken. I felt like I should quit hurdling after that one race,” she told IAAF. “I was so emotionally and mentally drained. Going into the competition I had the expectation of, ‘You’re winning this’. And then everything switched around in 12 seconds. That’s one of the lows.
But those disappointments have made me really strong. Every time I step on the track, and in training, I look back and think, ‘None of those girls who beat me then [at World U20s] will ever defeat me again’.”
Another Nigerian woman, doing great things in wrestling, is Adekuoroye.
She claimed her second Commonwealth gold medal at Gold Coast 2018. The freestyle wrestler, 24, has represented the country in major sporting events over the years, bagging her first gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and in 2016, she won a silver medal at the World Wrestling Championships.
Also in 2018, Nigeria‘s Bobsled and Skeleton team, otherwise known as Ice blazers, made up of Ngozi Onwumere, Akuoma Omeoga, Seun Adigun and Simi Adeagbo made history by flying Nigeria’s flag at the winter Olympics for the first time. No African team, male or female, had done so.
And in football, Nigeria lifted the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations for a record ninth time after edging out a stubborn Bafana Bafana of South Africa 4-3 on penalties in December, 2018. The Super Falcons, who had qualified for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France by reaching the final of last year’s tournament in Ghana, retained the trophy for the third time on the bounce. Only Equatorial Guinea have prevented the Nigerian women from making it smooth sailing in their dominance of African football.
Nigeria’s female basketball team, D’Tigress, were not left out of the country’s impressive outings last year. They may not have won the 2018 FIBA World Cup, but they achieved a remarkable feat after plying through a forest of adversity. Competing in Group B, Otis Hughley’s ladies got the better of Turkey 74-68; overcame Argentina 75-70; and edged out Greece 57-56 in a nail-biting contest.
No African team had won a group game at the basketball showpiece before the last edition in Tenerife, Spain.
Photo Credit: Google
John Andah is a sports journalist and Senior Assistant Editor with Concise News Global.