Nigeria may be losing its position as 'African giant' in the men's 100m

Nigeria's fastest man Favour Ashe

ATHLETICS Nigeria may be losing its position as 'African giant' in the men's 100m

Funmilayo Fameso 01:47 - 28.02.2023
With the recent success of Ferdinand Omanyala and Akani Simbine through the years, this question surfaces - is Nigeria losing its claim to the title of being called 'African giant' in the men's 100m?

The failure of Nigeria to produce a world-class male 100m sprinter or Africa's fastest man in over a decade is thought provoking and a situation that needs questioning.

Nigeria used to have some of the best sprinters in the world, having at least two finalists in a continental championship, a finalist at a major global championship, and their 4x100m relay squad were medal favourites at any athletics competition. 

However, that has changed with the recent African dominance and international legacy of South Africa's Akani Simbine since 2016, and the rise of Kenya's Ferdinand Omanyala in the past two years.

Perhaps one can say Nigeria has lost the rights to this title of being called the African giants. Is this true? Has the West-African nation really lost its position as the hub of Africa's best and fastest male sprinters? 

Simbine, the South African and former African speed king

The 29-year-old dominated the 100m in the continent from 2016 - 2022 and is recognised as one of the best sprinters in the world.

Akani Simbine dominated the African men's 100m from 2016-2022

He has finished in the top five in the men's 100m in the last four major championships, was the 2018 African Champion, helped his country’s 4x100m relay team to two African titles (2016 and 2018), and becoming the reigning World Relays Champions.

Simbine also ended the Jamaican twelve-year dominance at the Commonwealth Games by becoming the 2018 Champion and broke Nigeria’s Olusoji Fasuba’s long-standing 100m African Record (AR) of 9.85s with a new 9.84s in July 2021.

Simbine defeated Jamaica's Yohan Blake for the Commonwealth title in 2018

All these were before Omanyala came into the picture two years ago, and put a halt to his African dominance.

Omanyala making history with Athletics Kenya

In his first 2023 outdoor meet at the AK Weekend Meet at Nyayo Stadium in Kenya, Omanyala sped to a blazing 9.85s to win his qualifying heat. The following day (Saturday), he lowered this time to 9.81s for victory in the final, with these times being the fastest in history at this time of the year (February).

In 2022, he defeated Simbine for the African title in Mauritius and the Commonwealth title in Birmingham - becoming the first Kenyan to attain such a feat in sixty years.

He also equalled the South African’s AR of 9.84s before smashing it to 9.77s at the Moi International Sports Center in Kasarani, Nairobi. By doing this, he became the first African athlete in history to go sub-9.80s in the event.

Omanyala defeated Simbine for the Commonwealth title in Birmingham

So where do Nigerian sprinters rank in this speed chase? The supposed 'African giants' in the men's sprints?

The decline

In the '80s and '90s, Nigeria was known as the giant of African men's sprints and relay races before the sharp nosedive from 2010.

Since then the last time a Nigerian sprinter won the African 100m title was Fasuba in 2008, same year he was crowned the World 60m Champion, while Uchenna Emedolu won the African 200m title in 2006. At the Commonwealth Games, Fasuba was also the last to win a medal (silver in 2006, of which Emedolu won the same medal colour in 2002).

Fasuba, Emedolu, Deji Aliu, etc did not only dominate the African scene by winning several continental titles and international medals, but they ran world-class standard times and pushed each other to succeed. Sadly when they retired, Nigeria has not produced a consistent world-class sprinter up to their level.

Ekevwo and Oduduru's flashes of brilliance

Raymond Ekevwo, however, produced a rare victory at the 2019 African Games, where he became the 100m champion blazing to a sub-10s time of 9.96s and Usheoritse Itsekiri finished third in 10.02s.

Then a glimmer of hope came with Divine Oduduru when he performed exceptionally as a college athlete at Texas Tech University. In 2019, he got close to being the first to break Fasuba's AR by running 9.86s and clocked a National Record (NR) of 19.75s in the 200m.

Most Nigerians thought he was finally the ray of sunshine but he could not replicate this form when he turned a professional athlete, as injuries and his recent doping scandal case meant any chance of redemption from him is now gone into oblivion.

Divine Oduduru didn't live up to the huge expectations Nigerians had on him

Interestingly, in this decline and blurry moments through the years, the present generation of young Nigerian sprinters has shown that the country's continental dominance may soon be back, and what we have seen in the past two years is just the tip of the iceberg.

The present and the future silver lining

At the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, Enoch Adegoke ran a PB of 9.98s in his qualifying heat, becoming the eleventh Nigerian sprinter to break the 10s barrier.

Enoch Adegoke was the star performer for Nigerian athletes at Tokyo Olympics

He then finished second in his semifinal race with a time of 10.00s to advance to the final, making it the first time in 25 years, Nigeria had a men's Olympic 100m finalist since Davidson Ezinwa achieved the feat at Atlanta 1996.

Asides from Adegoke, there are a pool of young sprinters who can now be called the 'Big Five'. These youngsters are Favour Ashe, Udodi Onwuzuruike, Alaba Akintola, Itsekiri, and Godson Brume, while more are still on the rise to prominence in the country.

Favour Ashe is currently Nigeria's fastest man

The big five asides Onwuzurike are products of developmental programmes in Nigeria before they gained scholarships to US colleges; now dominating the NCAA with fantastic times, winning several medals, and becoming record holders in their various schools.

Ashe, for instance, won the Nigerian 100m title last year with a PB of 9.99s, the fastest time on home soil since Aliu ran 9.95s to win the 2003 African Games in Abuja.

Onwuzuruike, Akintola, and Itsekiri have gone below 10.05s, while Brume is showing significant signs this season of joining their league soon.

Onwuzuruike made the 200m semifinals at the 2022 World Championships in Oregon

These speedsters are still aged 25 and below, having shared competing at major athletics championships since 2019 - great signs of the talents at disposal as they still have years for so much improvement. They are the future silver lining of Nigeria's regain of dominance in the continent and pride internationally.

Is Nigeria still an African giant in the men's 100m?

Presently the answer is no. Considering the success of Omanyala and Simbine through the years and the new kid on the block in Botswana's Letsile Tebogo (Two-time World U20 Champion and World junior record holder), these men have certainly raised the bar so high.

Letsile Tebogo is another youngster to keep an eye on being the WU20R holder

These speedsters may currently be the big guns in the continent, but their respective countries does not have a pool of sprinters to choose from like Nigeria does now.

Also, Omanyala and Simbine are at their primes at 27 and 29 years old, meaning their prime years may be coming to an end, while the big five in Nigeria are still young and just getting to the peak of their careers.

It may not be the best times to call Nigeria an African giant, but Tebogo and the big five are set to dominate the scene for many years coming, and Nigerian male sprinters are coming to regain and solidify that title.