It’s been 10 years since a Nigerian male sprinter last clocked 9s! Eight men have gone under 10s in Nigeria’s sprinting history, with two of them getting to the final of the men’s 100m at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, while one of them competed in the final of the event at Atlanta ’96.
And with the men’s 100m set to take off at the ongoing Rio Olympics on Saturday, August 13, in the mix of things would be Nigeria’s Seye Ogunlewe who would be hoping for a historic run at the Estádio Olímpico João Havelange in Brazil.
The 24-year old is Nigeria’s fastest man for two years in a row, having won back-to-back titles in the men’s 100m at the Nigerian Trials in 2015 and 2016.
It’s been a long road for Ogunlewe who started sprinting in his high school, Atlantic Hall School in Lagos. He recalls that his performance at an Invitational at International School Lagos (ISL) in 2007 caught the eye of former Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) board member, Mrs. Gloria Obajimi.
After graduating from high school in 2008, he proceeded to Ireland and won the Irish School Championships in 2009/2010 despite not training full time due to the cold weather. He also qualified for the 2010 World Juniors in Canada, running a time of 21.50s in the 200m without training. This was the turning point for Ogunlewe who decided that it was now time to give Track and Field his all.
Following a 2nd place finish at the Nigerian Trials in 2013, and securing 4th position in 2014, Ogunlewe emerged Nigerian Champion in 2015, setting a Personal Best (PB) of 10.19s to take the men’s 100m title ahead of his more experienced counterparts.
He replicated the same feat this year, delivering when it mattered the most by setting a new PB of 10.12s, the quickest time by a Nigerian sprinter in 2016. Even more spectacular was the fact that Ogunlewe looked in good shape to have gone faster had he pushed a little bit harder. His new mark landed him an Olympic berth, thus fulfilling his dream of competing at the world’s biggest sporting showpiece.
In his post-race interview with Making of Champions, the University of Essex graduate revealed that he could have met the qualifying time earlier, but decided to stick with his coach’s game plan.
After winning the National crown in 2015, Ogunlewe who has been self funded for the duration of his career, called for support from corporate organisations in order to help Nigerian athletes fulfill their potential as world beaters in any event.
Following his impressive performance this year, leading financial institution Union Bank set the pace for other corporate bodies by selecting Ogunlewe and four others as the bank’s ambassadors to the Rio Olympics.
The Union Bank Ambassador has been quite selective with his races this year, only competing at two international meets this year as he plans to peak at the Olympics. As such, Ogunlewe is not sprinting in Rio on the tailcoat of his fastest time of 10.12s as he is aware that he likely has to run a sub-10 if he is to get to the final at the games.
As such, the weight of history is against Ogunlewe when he steps out on the track on Saturday, considering that no Nigerian male sprinter has gone under 10s at the Olympics. The only Nigerian-born athlete to have achieved this rare feat is Francis Obikwelu who won Silver for Portugal with a scorching 9.86s at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
At the high point of the sprints in Nigeria, both Olapade Adeniken (10.12s) and Davidson Ezinwa (10.26s) got to the men’s 100m final in Barcelona ’92, finishing 6th and 8th respectively. Ezinwa got to the final four years later in Atlanta, finishing 6th in 10.14s. This was also the last time Nigeria got to the final of the men’s 100m at the Olympics.
Olusoji Fasuba is the last Nigerian to have run under 10s, having raced to a stunning African Record of 9.85s in Doha in 2006. However, in his outing at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, he posted 10.29s and 10.21s in the heats and quarterfinals.
When asked if he could see himself running 9s in Rio, Ogunlewe replied: “If I do what I’m meant to do, who knows? 10.12s will not take me to the second round at the Olympics. All that I achieved last year and at the trials this year are in the past now; I’m focusing on the future.
“My training has always been geared towards major championships. I don’t need to do 9.9s before I actually go into the games. Why don’t I just do 9.9s at the games? I’m going to give it my best shot.”
Hopefully, Nigeria’s fastest man will have fond memories of rubbing shoulders with the likes of Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin, least of which would be etching his name in the history books as the country’s first sub-10s runner at the Olympics.