The World Athletics U-20 championships has produced over 90% of athletes who have gone on to win medals for Nigeria at the Olympics. Today [Wednesday, August 18 2021] in Nairobi, Kenya, a new set of U-20 athletes will be passing through that production line once again and will be hoping to become the finished product that will be good enough to challenge for medals at the Olympics.
Our correspondent takes a look at Nigerian athletes who graduated from the World U-20 stage to mount the podium at the biggest sporting event in the world, the Olympics…
Davidson Ezinwa (100m):
Davidson won Nigeria’s first of three 100m gold in this event with a 10.17 seconds championship equalling time in Plovdiv, Bulgaria in 1990. He will go on to develop into an African record holder (9.94) and a world class sprinter. Two years after he won the 100m gold (and silver in the 200m) he was a member of Team Nigeria’s 4x100m relay team that ran a new 37.98 seconds African record at the Estadio Olímpico in Barcelona to win an Olympic silver medal.He also made it to the final of the 100m event at the Games, finishing eighth. Four years later, Davidson was also in the final of the blue ribband event and his sixth place finish is the highest any Nigerian sprinter has finished in the history of the Games.
Olapade Adeniken (200m):
Adeniken won a 200m silver medal at the World Athletics U-20 championships second edition of Sudbury in 1988.Four years later he ran in the 4x100m relay team that won a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He was also fifth in the 200m event and sixth in the 100m, a joint record of the best place finish by a Nigerian in the 100m and best for 200m. Prior to that incredible performance in Barcelona, exactly in April of that year he became the first Nigerian sprinter to run a sub 10 seconds (9.97) in the event.
Deji Aliu (100m):
Deji rose from a 4x100m bronze medallist (1992, Seoul) to win the 100m gold two years later in Lisbon to become the second Nigerian after Davidson Ezinwa to win the blue ribband gold at the World Athletics U-20 Championships. Ten years later, he finally fulfilled expectations of his immense talent by winning a 4x100m bronze medal at the Athens Olympics. This was a year after he broke 10 seconds for the first time to win the Nigerian championship and the African Games in Abuja.
Francis Obikwelu (100m,200m):
Although Obiorah did not mount the Olympic podium for Nigeria (he won two silver medals in the 100m/200m for Portugal), his allegiance was undivided in 1996 when he dorned the green and white colours to become the second man after Trinidad and Tobago’s Ato Boldon to successfully complete a sprint double in the event. He however won a bronze medal in the 200m at the 1999 World Athletics U-20 Championships in Seville, Spain before he switche allegiance to Portugal.
Falilat Ogunkoya (200m):
Although she started out running in the short sprint, Ogunkoya made her name in the 400m event. She launched herself into stardom at the inaugural edition of the World Athletics U-20 Championships in Athens, Greece where shegot the better of her compatriot, Mary Onyali to win the 200m gold. Since then, Fali, as she is fondly called ruled the African continent and the world (in 1998) as a primus interpares. She made history as the first Nigerian track and field athlete to win an individual Olympic medal after winning the bronze in the 400m event. She also anchored to women’s 4x400m relay team to a silver medal finish at the games.In 1998, Fali was ranked the best quartermiler in the world after dominating the Golden League circuit and winning the Grand Prix final in Moscow.
Mary Onyali (200m):
After she was disqualified in the 100m event in Athens in 1986, Nkem switched her focus to the half lap race but couldn’t run past compatriot, Falilat Ogunkoya in the final. With a silver medal hanging on her neck, she began the tota dominance of the sprint event in Nigerian before extending it to the African continent. Her greatest achievement would however come 10 years later when she won a bronze medal in the 200m event at the Atlanta Olympics. This came four years after she anchored the women’s 4x100m team to a bronze medal finish at the Barcelona Olympics.
Fatimah Yusuf (400m):
Fatimah won the 400m gold at the World Athletics U-20 championships in 1990, the ame year she struck gold as a 19 year old at the Commonwealth Games. She, like Mary and Fali waited 10 years for her Olympic dream to come to fruition as a member of the 4x400m relay team that won a silver medal in Atlanta.
Bisi Afolabi (400m):
Bisi followed in Fatimah’s step by winning the 400m gold at the World Athletics U-20 championships in Lisbon, Portugal in 1994. Eight years later, she was in the Nigerian 4x400m relay team that made it to the podium at the Atlanta Olympics with a silver medal dangling on her neck.
Glory Alozie (100m Hurdles):
Glory was beaten to the gold medal in the high hurdles at the World Athletics U-20 championships in 1996 in Sydney, Australia by three hundreth of a second but the petite hurdler rose from that disappointment of settling for a silver to become one of the greatest sprint hurdlers the world has ever seen. In 1999 she became the first and only Nigerian to win medals at the World Indoor and outdoor championships viz her silver medals in the 60m hurdles in Maebashi, Japan and 100m hurdles in Seville, Spain. A year later, she became the first Nigerian to win medals at both the World championship and the Olympics when she overcame the grief ocassioned by the loss of her fiancee, Hyginus Anugoh a few days to the start of the Olympics in Sydney. She won a silver medal for Nigeria before switching allegiance to Spain.
Blessing Okagbare (Long jump):
Blessing failed to make it to the final in the long jump event at the 2006 World U-20 Championship in Beijing, China.Two years later, the beautifully built, long legged athlete stunned the world when she made it to the podium at the Olympics also held in Beijing. She won a silver medal and made the 100m final four years later in London.
Chioma Ajunwa (Long Jump):
Police woman Ajunwa’s 6.46m leap could only secure a fifth place finish for her at the World U-20 Championship in Plovdiv, Bulgaria in 1990 but the multi-talented athlete was undeterred and would make history 16 years later when she became the first and so far only Nigerian to win an individualOlympic gold medal. Injury prevented her from making a double history the folowing year in Athens, Greece at the World Athletics championship after leading the qualifiers with her 7.01m jump.
Ese Brume (Long Jump):
Like the two jumpers before her, Ese was nowhere near the podium when she dorned the country’s colours as an U-20 athlete in Eugene, Oregon, USA where the World Athletics U-20 championships was held in 2014. In fact Ese finished last (by ranking) in the qualifiers with her 5.18m effort.
Two years later in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, she made the final of the event at the Olympics. Five years on, she completed a Nigerian grand slam in the event at the games by winning a bronze medal at the Pandemic Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. She, in the process became the third Nigerian after Glory Alozie and Blessing Okagbare to win medals at both the Olympics and World Athletics’ flagship event, the World Athletics Championship.
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