Young swimmer Ogunbanwo threatens swimming record in Tokyo
When Abiola Ogunbanwo arrives at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre today to feature in the first heat of the women’s 100m freestyle, she will be entering the record books as only the 10th Nigerian to take part in swimming at the Olympic Games. But she could also become the first Nigerian woman to go under the one-minute mark and, in the process, consign Ngozi Monu’s longstanding record to the archives.
Before Ogunbanwo, the only Nigerians to have graced the pool at the Olympics were Musa Bakare (Barcelona ‘92), Ikhaghomi Joshua (Barcelona ‘92), 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 honing her skills at the globally acclaimed FINA Development Centre in Kazan, Russia, will be hoping to do what no other Nigerian swimmer had done – progressing to the semifinals 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 semifinals 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 is able to 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.