By Yemi Olus
The 17th edition of the IAAF World U-20 Championships is fast approaching, and I am hoping that Nigeria will be represented by a formidable team when the competition gets underway in Tampere, Finland, from July 10 to 15. The event has been in existence since 1986, and used to be known as the World Junior Championships until 2015.
Over the years, the World Junior Championships has served as a launching pad to greatness for a good number of athletes that eventually went on to dominate the world in their respective events. Interestingly, Nigeria has won a total of 30 medals (10 Gold, 13 Silver and 7 Bronze medals) in the history of its participation at the World Juniors, and occupies the 18th position on the overall medals table topped by USA, with Kenya following.
23 of Nigeria’s medals were won from 1986 to 1998, which is over a space of 12 years, while the remaining seven medals were won from 2002 to 2014, another period spanning 12 years as well. What a sharp contrast in Nigeria’s fortunes at this competition!
It therefore goes without saying that the law of diminishing returns began to set in from about year 2000, and this is a disappointing development, considering that Nigeria’s Davidson Ezinwa shares the position of most successful male athlete in the history of the World Junior Championships with former American sprinter Chris Nelloms, and Dexter Lee of Jamaica, as the trio each has four medals to their name.
Let’s take a look at the first 12 years of Nigeria’s participation at the World Juniors, starting with the maiden edition in 1986. That year, Team Nigeria claimed four medals as Tina Iheagwam won the women’s 100m in 11.34secs to finish ahead of USA’s duo of Caryl Smith and Maicel Malone. In the 200m, Falilat Ogunkoya took Gold in 23.11secs, and Mary Onyali Silver in 23.30secs. The trio was joined by Caroline Nwajei in the 4x100m where they picked Bronze.
In 1988, Olapade Adeniken won a Silver medal in the 200m (20.88secs), while Anthony Eziuka picked a Bronze in the 400m (46.81secs) and the men’s 4x100m team (Abdullah Tetengi, Davidson Ezinwa, Victor Nwankwo and Olapade Adeniken) another Bronze medal.
Davidson Ezinwa stormed to a Championship Record of 10.17secs to win the men’s 100m in 1990, and went on to claim Silver in the 200m. Fatima Yusuf also broke the Championship Record in the women’s 400m, setting a new time 50.62secs while Charity Okpara followed with 51.28secs to win Silver. Omolade Akinremi won Bronze in the 400m Hurdles while the quartet of Innocent Asonze, Davidson Ezinwa, Nnamdi Anusim and Osmond Ezinwa also won Bronze in the 4x100m. This remains Nigeria’s best outing at the World Juniors.
Nigeria won a single medal in the 1992 edition, in the men’s 4x100m where Tony Ogbeta, Deji Aliu, Uche Olisa and Paul Egonye partnered to win a Bronze medal. However, Nigeria’s tally went to three medals in 1994 when Deji Aliu claimed Gold in the 100m (10.21secs) and Silver in the 200m (20.88secs). Olabisi Afolabi also raced to Gold in the women’s 400m in 51.97secs.
At the 1996 edition of the championship, Francis Obikwelu became the second man in the history of the competition to race to a sprint double, following in the footsteps of Ato Boldon of Trinidad and Tobago who won the men’s 100m and 200m in 1992. Seun Ogunkoya won the men’s 100m Silver, while Glory Alozie took Silver as well in the 100m Hurdles.
In 1998, Nduka Awazie struck Gold in the men’s 400m where he clocked a Personal Best (PB) of 45.54secs, while Joan Ekah claimed Bronze in the women’s 100m.
Nigeria was absent at the 2000 edition of the World Juniors, the first in the history of the country’s participation at the event. Ironically, fellow African nation Kenya topped the medals table that year with seven Gold, four Silver and three Bronze medals.
It is imperative to note that a good number of athletes that won medals for Nigeria at the World Juniors, went on to become world beaters in their respective events and won medals at the highest level of the sport in their senior years.
Mary Onyali won six continental and two Commonwealth Games Gold medals, and two Olympic medals. Falilat Ogunkoya won five continental titles and remains the African Record holder in the 400m. She also has a World Indoors Silver and two Olympic medals to her name.
Fatima Yusuf, Charity Okpara and Bisi Afolabi, alongside Ogunkoya, won a Silver medal in the women’s 4x400m at Atlanta ’96. Yusuf became the first African woman to run under 50secs and became the first black woman to win the 400m at the Commonwealth games, a feat she achieved as a junior athlete.