Tokyo 2020: Young Ogunbanwo hits the pool with sights on longstanding swimming record
No Nigerian woman has ever gone under a minute in the women’s 100 freestyle event. When Abiola Ogunbanwo arrives at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on Wednesday for the start of Heat 1 of the women’s 100m freestyle, she would be hoping to finally become the first Nigerian woman to do so. She would also become the 10th Team Nigeria swimmer to compete at the Olympic Games.
Before her, the only Nigerians to have graced the pool at the Olympics were Musa Bakare (Barcelona ‘92), Ikhaghomi Joshua (Barcelona ‘92), Ngozi Monu (Sydney 2000 & Beijing 2008), Gentle Offoin (Sydney 2000), Lenient Obia (Athens 2004), Eric Williams (Athens 2004), Yellow Yeiyah (Beijing 2008), Samson Opuakpo (Rio 2016), and Rachael Tonjor (Rio 2016).
But the 17-year-old Ogunbanwo, who has been horning her skills at the globally acclaimed FINA Development Centre in Kazan, Russia would be hoping to do what no other Nigerian swimmer has done when she dives into the pool on Wednesday – progressing to the semi-finals of the Olympics and becoming the first Nigerian woman to break the one-minute barrier.
Competing against her in Heat 1 would be Mineri Gomez of Guam, Andela Antunovic of Montenegro, and Nepal’s Gaurika Singh.
The Nepalese, Singh, was the youngest Olympian at the Rio Olympics in 2016, when she was 13. Now 17, and with a personal best of 1:00.62, she and Antunovic (PB 1:00.49) will be favourites to challenge Ogunbanwo for the top spot in Heat 1.
Ogunbanwo has a personal best of 1:00.77, which she set in April at the Russian national swimming championship, but the national record holder in the women’s 200m freestyle will need to become the first Nigerian woman to finish under a minute if she is to stand a chance of progressing to the semi-finals in her event.
In swimming, the time a swimmer finishes is all that matters in the heats, as only the fastest 16 swimmers will advance to the semi-finals.
Sweden’s Sarah Sjoestroem has held the world record of 51.71s since July 2017, but with most of the top swimmers in the women’s 100m freestyle returning sub-55s times, Ogunbanwo’s chances of making it to the semi-finals look bleak.
However, if the teenager can finally become the first Nigerian woman to go under a minute and shatter Monu’s longstanding Nigerian record of 1:00.50, which has stood since 2007, then the Lagos-born swimmer can rightly consider her maiden appearance at the Olympics a massive success.