As the countdown to the postponed Tokyo 2021 Olympics begins, we take a look at seven Nigerian athletes who have not only qualified for the Tokyo Olympics but are targeting either a final event appearance or podium finish in Japan.
Ese Brume (Women’s long jump).
At her first Olympic Games appearance in Rio 2016, Ese Brume finished a respectable 5th in the women’s Long Jump with a mark of 6.81m, arguably as the best Nigerian Track and Field athlete at the Games.
However, the Cyprus-based athlete has made huge strides since travelling overseas to further her studies in 2017. She made her Diamond League debut in 2018 and defended her African title in front of a home crowd in Asaba, equalling her PB in the process and becoming the first African athlete (male or female) to defend three successive titles in the Long Jump at the African Championships.
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Competing in a handful of meets in 2019, Brume very well in the form of her life, joined the league of athletes that will compete at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games in Japan after the former Commonwealth Champion jumped 6.96m to win at the 2019 Erzurum Challenge Cup in Turkey.
She also won the African Games title in Rabat and landed a Bronze medal at the World Athletics Championships, albeit Nigeria’s only medal at the competition, thus ending a six-year medal drought for the nation.
With her place solidified as one of the best jumpers in the world, Brume will fancy her chances as a strong contender for the Gold medal at her return to the Olympic Games.
Amusan Tobi (Women’s 100m Hurdles).
Tobi Amusan first arrived on the Olympic scene in Rio and made it all the way to the semifinals, just missing out on a spot in the final as she finished 3rd in a time of 12.91s.
In 2018, Amusan made the final of the 60m Hurdles at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, competed at the Commonwealth Games and struck Gold in the women’s 100m Hurdles, becoming the first Nigerian to win Gold in the event. She also ran the 3rd leg on the women’s 4x100m team that won Bronze in Gold Coast.
Oluwatobiloba Amusan qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games, following her superlative performance in Doha running the fastest 100m Hurdles time of the heats at the 2019 World Championships – 12.48s – and replicated the time in the semifinals but narrowly missed out on a podium finish in the final despite still churning out a quick 12.49s.
Arguably one of the best hurdlers in the world, there is no doubt as to Amusan making the final of the event at the Olympics and if she gets her start just right, could be in the mix for a medal.
Blessing Okagbare (Women’s 100m, 200m).
Having competed at the last three consecutive Olympic Games, Nigeria’s fastest woman Blessing Okagbare is well on her way to making a fourth appearance at the quadrennial showpiece in Tokyo.
Her first Olympics at Beijing 2008 saw her take a Bronze medal in the women’s Long Jump, which was subsequently upgraded to Silver. She made the women’s 100m final at the London 2012 Olympic Games and competed in the women’s 100m and 4x100m at the next staging of the Games in Rio 2016, helping the women’s 4x100m relay team into the final of the event.
Since then, Okagbare has broken Mary Onyali’s long standing 200m African Record (AR) with a 22.04s clocking in her 2018 season opener at the Abilene Wes Kittley Invitational in Texas.
In 2019, the Nigerian ran a blazing 22.05s, the 4th fastest time of the season to win the women’s 200m at the Prefontaine Classic, just outside her own AR and competed at the Doha 2019 World Championships.
Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare-Ighotegunor secured qualifications for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, after storming to an impressive Season’s Best (SB) of 11.07s to finish 2nd at the Shanghai Diamond League.
Divine Oduduru (Men’s 100m, 200m).
Running against Usain Bolt in his Olympic debut at Rio 2016, Divine Oduduru was inspired to a Personal Best (PB) of 20.34s in 2nd place behind the Jamaican and was infact, the only Nigerian to make it into a semifinal across any of the men’s sprints.
He has however since then, made huge strides competing in the NCAA for Texas Tech, breaking multiple School Records (SR) and National Records (NR) in his three years at the institution before turning pro.
Oduduru broke records in 100m, 200m races recently in the US, where he ran the world’s fastest time for the year at the 2019 Michael Johnson Invitational in Waco, Texas. He sped to a massive 9.94s run over 100m, becoming the first Nigerian man to dip under 10s in 12 years and then topped it off with the 200m, shattering one more of Obikwelu’s NRs with a stunning 19.76s clocking.
As one of the fastest men in the world currently, Oduduru has his sights on a second Olympic appearance with strong chances of picking a medal.
Raymond Okevwo (Men’s 100m).
Raymond Ekevwo’s rise to the top of African sprinting has been a steady and consistent one, ever since he first made a mark at the 2016 D. K. Olukoya Youth & Junior Championships.
In 2019, he switched over to competing for the Florida Gators where he quickly became one of the school’s Top 2 fastest men for the season as he posted an astonishing 10.02s for 2nd place at the SEC Outdoor Championships, securing him the Olympic qualification.
He made a full rebound when selected to run the 100m at the 2019 African Games in Rabat where after winning his heat and semifinal races, Ekevwo claimed Gold with a new lifetime best of 9.96s, a feat last achieved by a Nigerian man in 2007.
Having rubbed shoulders with the best in the world in Doha where he was a semifinalist, he’ll be looking to make the 100m final at the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games.
Utseorise Itsekiri (Men’s 100m).
Being one of the fastest Nigerian men in over a decade and one of the three to have secured qualification in the 100m ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games, Usheoritse Itsekiri is currently in a good place in the sport.
In 2019, He defeated former World Record holder, Asafa Powell in Belgium over 100m with a time of 10.19s. He was selected to represent the country in the men’s 100m at the African Games in Rabat, easily winning his heat and semifinal races at the competition. Itsekiri ultimately peaked in the final of the event where he stormed to a new PB of 10.02s for the Bronze medal, his first international medal.
The icing on the cake was that it secured him qualification to the Tokyo Olympics where he will compete against the very best in the world and hopefully, make the final of the 100m.
Chukwuemeka Enekechi (Men’s shot put).
After capping off his collegiate career for University of Purdue with glitz, earning a 2nd place finish in the men’s Shot Put at the 2016 NCAA Championships, Chukwuebuka Enekwechi won his first national title in Sapele the same year and since then, has gone on to win a plethora of titles, establishing him as the best Shot Putter in Nigeria and arguably, in Africa.
He kept his movement up the slope in 2019 as he broke ground to a huge PB of 21.77m, stunning favourites to win the event at the IAAF World Challenge in Braganca Paulista, a mark that bettered the previous Nigerian Record set by Stephen Mozia in 2016 by one centimetre.
He would later extend his National Record (NR) to 21.80m at the CAS Meeting in Schifflange, 17cm shy of the African Record set by Janus Robert in 2001.
Enekwechi dominated the men’s Shot Put at the African Games in Rabat with 21.48m and in his second consecutive World Championship appearance, made the final, going on to finish 8th in what is regarded as the greatest Shot Put final in the history of the sport, albeit Athletics.
Given his performance in Doha, he was the only Nigerian male athlete to make the final of any event at the World Championships.
With the stakes as high as ever in the men’s Shot Put globally, Enekwechi would be hoping to get past the 22m mark in 2021 and with that kind of performance get in the mix for a medal, come the Olympic Games in Tokyo.