There is no denying the fact that athletics – track and field, has won more laurels for Nigeria than any other sport.
The sport has recorded a lot of firsts for the country at the Olympics, Commonwealth and the African Games.
Today, ’ DARE ESAN looks at athletes who performed historic feats both for Nigeria at multi-events Games and also for the sport.
Josiah Olutunji Majekodunmi:
Majekodunmi who was educated in Abeokuta, capital of present day Ogun State competed at the 1950 British Empire Games at Auckland, New Zealand where he won Nigeria’s first medal in any international sports, a silver medal in the Men’s High Jump event.
The 1.95m height he cleared on the day was only bettered by reigning Olympic champion, John Winter’s 1.98m height which was a Games record at the time.
Mostly remebered for his infamous role in the 1996 botched military coup, Ifeajuna was a history maker in Nigerian and African sports, especially track and field where in 1954 he won a high jump gold medal to become the first Nigerian and black African in track and field and indeed all sports to win a gold medal in any major international sporting event and caused Nigeria’s national anthem to be played at a global event for the first time ever.His winning height of 2.03m was also a Games record.
Multi-eventer, Oshikoya is one of the greatest athletes Nigeria has ever produced and her accomplishments on both the track and the field events are unprecedented in Nigeria’s history at the Games. She was not just the first Nigerian woman to win a gold medal at the Games courtesy of her 6.46m leap in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1974.
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Oshikoya actually won three medals at the Games viz bronze in the 100m hurdles (13.69) and silver (4423 points) in the Pentathlon to become the first and so far only Nigerian to win three medals in three distinctive events at the Games.
A former president of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria,Violet Nwajei (nee Odogwu) made history at the Commonwealth Games in Kingston,Jamaica in 1966 as the first female African medalist in Games’ history courtesy her 6.15m leap in the long jump pit that fetched her a bronze medal.
Two years later she captained the Nigerian women athletics team to the 1968 Olympics. She did not win a medal but was a finalist in long jump.Olympic Games.
1984 Olympics Men’s 4x400m Relay Team (Sunday Uti, Moses Ugbusien, Rotimi Peters, Innocent Egbunike):
The quartet set the ball rolling for Nigeria in track and field at the Olympics by becoming the first to win an athletics team (any) event medal for Nigeria. Favoured to finish in the top two especially after lead-off runner, Uti stormed out of the blocks in a flying manner, Nigeria faded badly and in the final leg, Egbunnike gave up his second place with less than 50m to go to settle for the bronze,setting a 2:59.32 African record in the process. It was the first relay medal by an African team-men or women at the Games.
Unarguably one of the cleanest and most successful athletes that Nigeria has produced, Falilat rose from an athlete that ran barefooted at the National Sports festival in 1985 in Ilorin to become one of the best in the world in her event, the 400m.
She won a 400m bronze medal for Nigeria at the Olympic Games in 1996 and that effort made her a history maker as she became the first track and field athlete to win an individual medal for Nigeria at the Olympics.
Ogunkoya later anchored the 4x400m relay team to a podium finish,earning a silver medal and an African record (3.21:04) in the process.That feat ensured she ended her participation in Atlanta on another historic manner, becoming the first Nigerian athlete,in all sports,to win two Olympic medals at the same Games.
Deservedly tagged African queen of the track in the late 1980s till the late 1990s, Onyali won a 200m bronze medal at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996.That feat made her the first Nigerian track and field athlete to win two medals at the Olympics.Four years earlier she led the Nigerian 4x100m team to win African women’s first ever and so far only medal in the history of the Games-a bronze medal.
Unarguably the greatest Olympian Nigerian has ever seen, multi-talented policewoman, Ajunwa rose from a huge setback in 1992 to leap into Nigerian track and field immortality in Atlanta, USA where she achieved a number of firsts.
Ajunwa was not just the first Nigerian,man or woman to win an Olympic gold,she was actually the first and so far only Nigerian to win individual Olympic gold.She is also the first Nigerian nay African woman to hit the 7m mark in the history of the event.Her 7.12m gold winning leap is still an African record till date.
WORLD INDOOR CHAMPIONSHIPS
A year after policewoman, Chioma Ajunwa, became the first Nigerian athlete at the senior cadre to cause Nigeria’s national anthem to be played in any major, truly global event, another police officer, this time a man, Sunday Olanrewaju Bada, ensured for the second successive year the world would stand still to listen to the nation’s anthem. This Bada (now late) achieved inside the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy in Paris, France where he raced to a new 45.51 seconds African record to win the 400m gold ahead of pre-championships favourite, Jamie Baulch of Great Britain who came into the competition unbeaten.
WORLD OUTDOOR CHAMPIONSHIPS
Triple jumper, Agbebaku’s name will always echo and re-echo as the first athlete, man or woman, to win a medal at World Athletics’ flagship event, the World Championships.
Ajayi, who came to the inaugural edition of the competition in Helsinki, Finland in 1983 on the back of his triumph and African record-setting feat (17.26m) at the World University Games in Edmonton,bCanada, left his mark as the first Nigerian athlete to make the podium in any event as his 17.18m hop, step and jump fetched him a priceless bronze medal.
1995 World Championships’ Men’s 4x400m Relay Team (Udeme Ekpeyong, Kunle Adejuyigbe, Jude Monye, Sunday Bada):
Nigeria’s most decorated male athlete, Sunday Bada was at the heart of Nigeria’s first relay medal win at World Championships when he almost single handedly fetched the country a bronze medal (3:03.18).
The policeman (now late) got the baton in seventh position after the third exchange and raced past three out of the six athletes in front of him to win a bronze medal for the country.
WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIPS
Sprinter Iheagwan may not have been a household name in Nigerian track and field like Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya or Blessing Okagbare but she achieved a feat no Nigerian athlete (man or woman) can ever accomplish again-she became the first Nigerian to win a global title for Nigeria albeit at the junior level.
Iheagwan raced to 100m gold at the inaugural edition of World Athletics’ World Junior Championships in Athens, Greece in 1986 to make history ahead of her country girl in the race, Onyali who was disqualified in the race and Ogunkoya who won the 200m gold much later.
Iheagwan ran 11.34 seconds to win the race.
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