Nigeria Tokyo 2020 Olympics Is Feminine
Every epoch has its defining moments for men and women, who shape history, either for good or for bad. In Nigeria’s participation at the Olympic Games in the last three decades, the women have always given the country something to cheer for more than their male counterparts.
Chioma Ajunwa became Nigeria’s first and only individual gold medallist at the Olympic Games when she unleashed a giant leap of 7.12m on her first attempt in the long jump final at Atlanta 1996.
Her African record stood untouched for years until early this year when it was broken by Ese Brume, who was born just months before Ajunwa’s feat in Atlanta.
Brume achieved a 7.17m jump in Chula Vista, California, U.S. The distance took her to the top of the 2021 list, which assured Nigerians that under normal circumstances, she would get a medal at the Tokyo Olympics. She did just that.
The story of Nigerian women leading the race to glory for Nigeria at the Olympics actually began at the Barcelona ‘92 Games.
The Nigerian women’s 4x100m quartet of Beatrice Utondu, Faith Idehen, Christy Opara-Thompson and Mary Onyali produced a historic run, storming round the track in a time of 42.81seconds to win the Bronze medal.
Beatrice Utondu brilliantly led off the team, passing the baton well to Faith Idehen who ran a great backstretch and handed the baton to Christy Opara-Thompson.
Coming off the final turn, Nigeria was slightly behind France, but Mary Onyali’s grit wrestled with the endurance of Marie-José Perec over the final 100m. Nigeria eventually clinched the Bronze medal in an interesting finish.
Onyali and ‘her gang’ had broken the National Record (NR) and African Record (AR) in 42.39s from the preliminaries behind Jamaica (42.28s) and ahead of France (42.58s). Till today, their time still stands as the Area Record in the event. They stood as Nigeria’s most celebrated women athletes at the Olympics before Chioma Ajunwa grabbed the gold at Atlanta ’96.
Four years later, hurdler, Gloria Alozie, came to the party in Sydney, Australia, where she won silver for Nigeria in the 100m hurdles. She later switched nationality to Spain, where she won a gold medal at the 2002 European championship.
Beijing 2008 Olympics saw long jumper, Blessing Okagbare, writing her name in the history books. She grabbed a bronze medal, which was later converted to silver after one of the athletes tested positive for banned drugs.
Apart from her Olympics record, Okagbare is also a World Championships medalist in the long jump and 200 metres. She also holds the women’s 100 metres Commonwealth Games record for the fastest time at 10.85 seconds. She is also the current African record holder in the 200 metres, with her run of 22.04 seconds in 2018. Okagbare, the African 100m and long jump champion in 2010, has also won medals at the All Africa Games, IAAF Continental Cup and World Relays.
However, Okagbare was handed a provisional suspension for allegedly taking banned drugs on July 31, 2021, at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
At London 2012 Olympics, Team Nigeria failed to win a medal, and at Rio 2016 Games, the country got one, a bronze through the men’s football team.
Team Nigeria’s participation at the Tokyo Olympics was almost marred by crises, including the disqualification of 10 athletes over anti-doping rules violation and the provisional suspension placed on the country’s top sprinter, Blessing Okagbare.
The setback, notwithstanding, the women were able to hold their own when the men failed to live up to the expectations of Nigerians.
In athletics, Ese Brume put smiles on the faces of Team Nigeria officials in the early hours of Tuesday, when she won a bronze medal in the long jump event.
Brume, who recently wiped out Chioma Ajunwa’s 25-year-old 7.12m Atlanta’96 gold medal jump with a 7.17m leap, ensured that Nigeria’s 13 years wait for a medal in athletics became a thing of the past.
At Rio 2016 Olympics, Brume was Nigeria’s only athlete to appear in a final of any event, and at Doha 2019 World Championships, she won a bronze medal for Team Nigeria, when the hope for a medal was fading away.
Brume grew up wanting to be a beauty queen, but her stock in athletics has risen over the last two seasons. Before then, Brume had captured a gold medal for Nigeria at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, and a week later, won gold at the African Senior Athletics Championship in Rabat, Morocco.
Shortly after she clinched the bronze medal on Tuesday, Ese Brume’s parents, Dickson Oghenebrume and Sally Abaka dedicated the medal to the President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, and the incumbent and immediate past Governors of Delta State.
“We are the happiest parents in Nigeria right now,” Oghenebrume said. “We are so proud to see our daughter bring Olympic glory to our nation… Pinnick is a father to Ese.
When Ese was discovered at the inter-house sports at St Theresa’s Grammar School, Ughelli, he took her up, groomed her and set her up as a programmed athlete. Since then, our daughter has been growing in profile.
Blessing Oborududu bagged a silver medal in the 68Kg women’s wrestling category in Tokyo. Although Oborodudu lost 4-1 in the final match to U.S.’s Tamyra Stock-Mensah, her achievement was celebrated late into the night by Nigerian officials in Tokyo. She defied her injury to participate in the final fight.
Oborududu is the first-ever Nigerian to win an Olympics medal in wrestling. She made it to the final by defeating Mongolia’s Soronzonboldyn Battsetseg 7-2 in the semi-finals. She had earlier defeated Kyrgyzstan’s Meerim Zhumanazarova 3-2 in the quarterfinals, after seeing off Azerbaijan’s Elis Manolova in the Round of 16.
Nigeria Wrestling Federation President, Daniel Igali, revealed that Blessing Oborodudu’s success at the Tokyo Olympics is a result of 10 years of careful planning. Igali, a former Olympics gold medallist, said that he discovered the 68kg wrestler from her school’s inter-house sports, saying that Oborodudu is one of the most disciplined athletes he has worked with.
“The results we are beginning to see at the Olympic level is about a decade of preparations coming to fruition,” Igali said. “If anyone deserves to win a medal here, Blessing Oborududu does. By far one of the best-disciplined athletes I have ever groomed.
I discovered her at their inter-house sports competition. She lost in the finals, but I saw traits that I felt we could fine-tune.
“The rest is now history. It’s been over a decade of near misses. I am so happy for her, the coaches, and the team,” Igali said.
Gloria Alozie travelled to Sydney with her former fiance, Hyginus Anugo, also a member of the Team Nigeria track and field squad.
The couple, who were planning to tie the knots in January 2001, had moved to Valencia, Spain in 1997 to train ahead of the Sydney Games.
They could still have done so had Anugo left Australia, as he had initially planned, after failing to make Team Nigeria’s final cut for the relay team. He attended Nigeria’s pre-Olympic training camp in Adelaide but, as the seventh fastest of eight 400m runners, was dropped from the squad when the decision was made to take just six men for the relay.
Not wishing to miss his fiancee’s big shot at Olympic glory, while Alozie headed off to Yokohama for a final competitive test before the Games, Anugo made his way to Sydney and found accommodation in the halls of residence at Southern Cross College.
A devout Christian, like Alozie, he was returning from evening prayers eight days before the opening ceremony when a bus slowed to let him cross a busy road outside a convenience store.
Anugo was waving his thanks to the driver when he was hit by a car travelling in the opposite direction. He was killed instantly.
Gloria Alozie was still in Japan at the time. She was told her fiancee had been badly injured by a car but not that the 22-year-old love of her life had been killed. The tragic news was broken by her teammates when she arrived at Kingsford Smith Airport in Sydney. They wanted to be on hand to console her.
Alozie went on to grab a silver medal in the 100m hurdles, after narrowly losing the gold. Not satisfied with the manner in which Team Nigeria officials handled the burial of her fiancee (Hyginus Anugo), Gloria Alozie changed nationality to Spain, where she won a medal at the World Athletics Championship.
She is back in Nigeria as a coach with Making of Champions (MoC).