Who is the greatest female athlete in Nigeria’s track and field history? This is the million naira question Complete Sports editor and track and field expert, Dare Esan has attempted to find an answer to.
A shortlist of five athletes has been drawn up based on the quality of their performances at major global Championships/Games, records set and how long the record have stayed as well as the quality of medals won at global track and field events.
Today, Complete Sports has provided readers with a brief summary of how each of the five shortlisted athletes fared at major global events and records set.Readers are free to pick who they consider the greatest Nigerian female athlete of all-time.
Ajunwa may not be the most decorated Nigerian female athlete of all time but her feat at the Olympics in Atlanta where she leapt to an historic gold medal in the long jump pit has made her a candidate for the greatest Nigerian female athlete of all time award.
Ajunwa’s road to Olympic glory started in 1990 when she jumped 6.46m to place fifth at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
Two years later,she jumped an impressive 6.90m in Lagos to serve notice of a big star in the making.She was unfortunately off the scene for the following four years.
Ajunwa however returned with a big bang in 1996.She began her Olympic conquest with a 6.81m leap in the qualifiers before returning the following day to make the most important leap of her athletics career,a massive 7.12m in her very first jump in the final.
It was a new Nigerian and African record.The first long jump medal by an African woman at the Olympics.The first and so far only individual Olympic gold medal by a Nigerian in the history of the Games!.
Ajunwa proved her feat in Atlanta was not by happenstance as she went to the IAAF World Indoor Championships the following year in Paris,France to make the podium again.
This time she was beaten to the gold by Fiona May,the Italian she defeated to win Olympic gold just a year earlier.Her 6.80m leap was however good enough for a silver medal finish.
She was on her way to becoming the first Nigerian woman to win a medal at the IAAF World Championships indoors and out before injury cut short her historic ambition in Athens at the outdoor championships where her 7.01m leap was the best in the qualifiers.
Ajunwa also holds the Nigerian indoor 60m (7.02 seconds) and long jump (6.97m) records.
Onyali was the greatest sprinter that came out of the African continent in the 1980s and 90s. She dominated the Nigerian and African sprint scene for nearly two decades but it is her global accomplishments that made her a candidate for the award of greatest Nigerian female athlete of all time.
Onyali led the Nigerian 4x100m relay team to a historic bronze medal at the Barcelona Olympics. It was historic because it was the first time an African nation made the podium in the event.
Four years later, Onyali ran the race of her life to win her first and only individual Olympic medal-a bronze in the 200m. She instantly became the first Nigerian to win two medals at the Olympics.
She followed it up with a 100m bronze at the IAAF World Cup in Athletics in Johannesburg in 1998,running 11.05 seconds behind Marion Jones (10.65) and Bahamas’ Chandra Sturrup (10.97).
Four years earlier,she led an all-Nigerian 4x100m quartet to win gold for Africa in the IAAF World Cup in London.She won a bronze medal in the 100m at the competition.
She however began her five-medal winning spree in the competition in 1989 in Barcelona where she won two silver medals in the 100m and 200m.
What has eluded her in her storied career is a global individual title as she was also beaten to the gold medal at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Athens,Greece in 1986 by her compatriot, Falilat Ogunkoya.
What Alozie lacks in size, she made up for with an incredible talent that made her a household name in the 100m hurdles globally.
She began her race to stardom as an U20 athlete,racing to a silver medal finish at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Sydney,Australia in 1996.
The following year,she became the third Nigerian woman to run a sub-13 seconds over the 100m hurdles after Taiwo Aladefa (12.87 in 1995) and Angela Atede (12.63 in June,1997).
It was in 1998 that Alozie showed her true elements as she broke the Nigerian and African record thrice.She started with an impressive 12.46 seconds in Salamanca,Spain in July before improving twice in August to 12.44 seconds,first in Monaco at the Herculis Zepter and then at the Memmorial Van Damme in Brussels,Belgium.
She was a world champion in the event at the IAAF World Cup in Athletics in Johannesburg,South Africa after winning a silver medal at the Grand Prix Final in Moscow, Russia. That year,Alozie won 15 of all 17 races she competed in and was deservedly named the year’s best sprint hurdler by the influential Track and Field News.
If 1998 was spectacular,the following year was extra-special.This was the year she made history as the first and so far only Nigerian woman to win a medal at the IAAF World Championships indoors and out.
She began the year with a new 7.82 seconds African record in the 60m hurdles in February before going to Maebashi, Japan a month later to win a silver medal at the World Indoor Championships.
In the summer of the same year,she equalled her personal best and African record (12.44 seconds) to win a silver medal in the 100m hurdles final at the IAAF World outdoor championships in Seville, Spain.
In 2000,she made history as the first Nigerian woman to make the podium at both the Olympics and the IAAF World Championships when she raced to a silver medal finish in the 100m hurdles at the Sydney Olympics.
Alozie’s incredible achievements donning the green and white colours of Nigeria was achieved in just three years-1998 to 2000 before switching allegiance to Spain.
Fali, as she is fondly callled is one of the greatest quartermilers the African continent has ever produced and also one of the most decorated.She is one of the very few Nigerian athletes who have been crowned world champions.
Fali first showed signs of a star in the making in 1986 when she outran compatriot,Mary Onyali to win the 200m title at the inaugural edition of the IAAF (now World Athletics) World Junior Championships in Athens, Greece.
She followed it up with an IAAF World Cup (now Continental Cup) bronze in 1989 in Barcelona, Spain before prematuredly quitting the sport later that year.
Fali would however return in 1995 to begin an incredible journey to real stardom. After becoming the first set of Nigerian nay African 400m runners (with Fatimah Yusuf) to race in the final of the event at World Athletics’ flagship event,the World Championships (in 1995 in Gothenburg,Sweden),Fali would go on to race in three more finals.
A 50.31 seconds runner in 1995,Fali made history in 1996 at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia,USA where she became the first Nigerian track and field athlete to win an individual medal courtesy her bronze medal feat in the 400m.Her bronze-winning 49.10 seconds finish remains the fastest in the Nigerian and African all-time list.
She also led Team Nigeria’s 4x400m quartet to a silver medal finish and a 3.21.04 seconds Nigerian and African record.In the process she became the first and so far only Nigerian to win two medals at the same Games.
If 1996 was spectacular for this two-time African 400m queen and the second Nigerian woman to successfully complete a 200m/400m double in African championships history,1998 was her crowning glory at the time as the greatest African 400m runner in history. It was the year she was crowned the best at the IAAF World Cup in South Africa and the Grand Prix Final in Moscow.It was also the year she was ranked the best 400m runner in the world and joint fourth in the overall women’s ranking (with compatriot,Charity Opara),a feat no other Nigerian has achieved in the international circuit.
In 1999, Fali raced to a silver medal finish at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Maebashi, Japan to become the first and only Nigerian 400m runner to run in the final of the event indoors and out.She broke 50 seconds a record 19 times,13 more than Charity Opara and 16 more than Fatimah Yusuf.
Unarguably one of the greatest sprinters the African continent has ever produced,Okagbare carved indelible niches for herself on the track and in the field and her accomplishments have made her one of the candidates for Nigeria’s greatest female athletes of all time award. But is she the greatest in Nigeria?
She is the second Nigerian woman after Glory Alozie to win medals at track and field’s two biggest stages viz the IAAF World Championships where she became the first to win two medals at the same championships and the Olympics where her fortuitous bronze win later transformed to silver.
Okagbare began as a jumper,both long and triple.While she won both global and continental medals in the long jump,she set a Nigerian record in the triple jump-14.13m (record broken barely three months later by Chinonye Ohadugba).
Her journey to stardom began at the 2008 Olympics where she won a silver medal in the long jump event.She served notice of her talent a year earlier at the African Games in Algiers where she leapt to a 6.46m silver medal finish.It was also the year she became the first Nigerian woman to hit the 14m mark in the triple jump courtesy that 14.13m leap at the Teslim Balogun stadium in Lagos in May.
All eyes were on her to follow in the footsteps of Chioma Ajunwa and probably break the 7.12m African record in the long jump. But destiny and coach Bob Kittens saw the sprinter in her and the very attractive Okagbare grabbed the opportunity to race to stardom on the track with both hands.
After showing how good a sprinter she was in 2010 when she won the 100m and long jump titles at the NCAA championships final, the longlegged Okagbare took her talent to the the global stage.
In 2013 she made history on two fronts viz the 100m and long jump.In the 100m she became the first Nigerian nay African woman to legally break 10.90 seconds when she set a new 10.86 Nigerian and African record.
Barely 90 minutes or so later, she rewrote her history books as she stopped the clock at 19.79 seconds at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London.It was the first time a Nigerian and African woman would also break 10.80 seconds in the blue ribband event!.
That same year,Okagbare made history as the second Nigerian nay African woman to hit the 7m mark in the long jump after jumping 7.00m to win at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco.
She also made history not only as the first Nigerian to win medals in both track (200m) and field (Long Jump) events but also the first to win two medals in IAAF World Championships history.
Okagbare has raced inside 11 seconds a record 18 times,16 more than Mary Onyali and 17 more than Glory Alozie,the two other Nigerians who have legally broken 11 seconds in the blue ribband event.