On Tuesday we started the countdown of our TOP 12 athletics performers whom we think stood out exceptionally well for the Green-White-Green of Nigeria, listing Nos. 12-7. We now conclude the series with Nos. 6-1!
6. FOLASHADE ABUGAN:
The 2014 season couldn’t have gone much better for Abugan, given that teammate Regina George started the year as Nigeria’s undisputed leading quarter-miler. Abugan surprisingly claimed the 400m National title in 51.21s ahead of two-time defending champion, George, who had been favoured to make it a hattrick of national titles. She went on to consolidate her position as Nigeria’s new No. 1 by finishing in a commendable 5th place at Commonwealth Games, and then winning the African title in 51.21s again, in a photo finish ahead of Zambia’s National Football Team Captain, Kabange Mupopo. She capped off her outstanding season by helping Team Africa to a 3rd place finish in the 4x400m at the Continental Cup, and she has been ever-present in the mile relay team, which won medals at the World Relays, Commonwealth Games and African Championships this season!
5. DIVINE ODUDURU:
The Delta State athlete had a break-out 2014. After winning the men’s 200m in 20.87s ahead of recently naturalized Monzavous Edwards, to the surprise of many at the Nigerian Trials, few would have guessed that Oduduru would lower his time by more than a further half second this year. Though his official PB remains 20.66s which he ran at the semi-finals of the World Junior Championships in USA, he went on to equal the fifth fastest man of Nigeria’s all-time list in the 200m when he raced to a Silver medal in the final of the World Juniors in with 20.25s! The staggering time was wind-assisted (over 2m/s tailwind) and hence doesn’t count for official record purposes – what does count is that he claimed Nigeria’s only medal in the World U-20 category in the last 2 editions! He is the first Nigerian to run that fast in the 200m since Deji Aliu did it 12 years ago!
4. TOSIN OKE:
The triple jumper has been the most consistent male athlete for the country this season in terms of medal winning. He leapt to a fifth national title and SB of 17.21m at the Nigerian Championships, which was only 2cm down from his lifetime best. He went to the Commonwealth Games as the defending champion but missed out on the GOLD medal by finishing 2nd behind South Africa’s Khotso Mokoena, before suffering the same fate at the African Championships in Morocco. He narrowly missed out on a place on the podium with a 4th place finish at the Continental Cup, posting a jump of 16.89m.
2014 has been the “Year of the Silver” for Oke. Speaking exclusively to MAKING OF CHAMPIONS, he stated that he wants to represent Nigeria at one more Olympics at Rio 2016 before hanging up his jumping spikes!
3. WOMEN’S 4X400M RELAY TEAM:
Nigeria’s female mile relay squad have been the most consistent set of athletes for the country this year. After starting the season with an African Indoor Record of 3:29.67s in the semis at the World Indoor Championships in Poland, they ran an improved time of 3:27.16s, placing 2nd behind USA at the Penn Relays, with Regina George running a 50.49s anchor leg to overhaul Jamaica.
The best was yet to come, as the quartet of Folashade Abugan, Regina George, Omolara Omotosho and Patience George ran the 3rd fastest time ever by a Nigerian quartet, a blistering 3:23.41s to claim bronze at the IAAF World Relays in the Bahamas. On that occasion Regina George ran a mind boggling 49.4s split on the 2nd leg to help the team to the Bronze – hopefully it is a sign of greater things in the coming years!
At the Commonwealth Games, they lived up to their pre-championships expectations, winning the Silver medal behind Jamaica, with Ada Benjamin replacing Omotosho in the quartet. The team consolidated their impressive performance this season by sprinting to their first GOLD medal of 2014, and fourth back to back win at the African Championships in 3:28.87s, before helping Team Africa to 3rd place with 3:25.51s at the Continental Cup. The team is ranked 3rd in the World this year and will be medal contenders at the 2015 World Championships and 2016 Olympics!
2. ESE BRUME:
The long jumper has definitely been the revelation of the year in Nigerian athletics and deservedly takes 2nd position on our list. Going to the Commonwealth Games, not many people would have given her the chance of becoming the GOLD medal winner for the country, especially after a disappointing performance just a week before where she didn’t make it past the qualification round at the World Junior Championships. Brume started her season by dominating her event at the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) Golden League, before upping her game to win the GOLD medal with a leap of 6.68m at the Nigerian Championships. She added another GOLD medal to her outstanding season at the African Championships, then came 5th for Team Africa at the Continental Cup with a leap of 6.34m.
Brume is now set to follow in Blessing Okagbare’s footsteps, and possibly also transition from jumping to sprinting next year, as she exclusively revealed to MAKING OF CHAMPIONS – we wish her the best of luck as she looks to progress from Commonwealth GOLD to World Championship and Olympic Glory over the next 2 years!
1. BLESSING OKAGBARE:
The Beijing 2008 bronze medalist deservedly takes the top spot as the reigning Nigerian and Commonwealth 100m & 200m Champion, and African 100m Champ as well – she opted out of the African 200m, perhaps to pick her battles in a tough, long season! She started her Diamond League season, with a 2nd place finish in the 100m, in a time of 11.18s in Qatar. At Shanghai leg of the Diamond League, she won a double with Meet Records in the Long jump (6.86m) and 200m. She ran also a PB of 22.23s in the 200m to come 2nd behind surprise winner Tori Bowie in Eugene.
At the Nigerian Championships in Calabar, she became the first athlete in the Country’s Track and Field history to win a sixth consecutive title in the 100m in a CR of 11.06s before going on to make it a sprint double in the 200m in 22.62s.
Tipped as a medalist at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Okagbare lived up to pre-championships expectations. She won the 100m in a Games Record of 10.85s, erasing 0.06s off the previous record before making it a double in the 200m in 20.25s. She also helped the women’s 4x100m relay team to a silver medal finish in 42.92s.
At the African Championships in Morocco, she regained her 100m title lost in 2012 by winning with another CR of 11.00s flat ahead of her African rival Murielle Ahouré, before anchoring the 4x100m relay team to a fifth back to back title in 43.65s. Exhaustion began to set in for the African champion who capped off her season with a 3rd place finish in the 100m in Zurich, and 6th place in the 200m in Brusells, losing out on the Diamond League Trophy in both events.
Okagbare is now the most prolific athlete of the Diamond League since its inception in 2010, notching up her 38th appearance in the series. She participated in nine Diamond League meetings this season, winning four of them. She’s ranked second in the IAAF World rankings in the 100m this year, and fifth in the 200m.
At the end of the season, it could be said that Team Nigeria athletics posted a fair performance in the 2014 athletics season – a future generation of athletes in Brume and Oduduru is set to emerge in Nigerian athletics, and Okagbare is set to lead Nigeria’s charge for medals at the 2015 Worlds and the 2016 Olympics!