It must have been a bitter-sweet moment for Nigerians following the ongoing IAAF World Championships in London, when Nigerian-born Salwa Eid Naser pipped multiple Olympic and World Champion Allyson Felix on the finish line to take a Silver medal for Bahrain in a dramatic women’s 400m final.
For a youngster making her debut to the World Championships, the 19-year old brimmed with confidence and admirably held her own to finish ahead of her older and more experienced counterparts in all of her races. She also stormed to three consecutive National Records (NR), lowering her time in each race.
Running in the heats last Sunday, Eid Naser coasted to the overall fastest time of the day, clocking an NR of 50.57s to finish ahead of eventual GOLD medallist Phyllis Francis. Her new time erased the former NR of 50.72s, ironically set by another Nigerian-born Bahraini athlete, Kemi Adekoya, at the Rio Olympics last year.
Moving to the semis, the teenager sailed to victory once more in another NR of 50.08s, which was once again the overall fastest time, with the likes Felix, Novlene Williams-Mills and Beijing 2015 Bronze medallist, Shericka Jackson following.
Having looked so comfortable going through the rounds, the sprinter had already underlined her status as a major contender for the podium, and she did not disappoint. Competing under wet conditions at the London Olympic Stadium in the final, Eid Naser came from behind and dipped on the line just in time to set another NR of 50.06s to clinch the Silver medal, relegating Felix to 3rd place in 50.08s.
Speaking afterwards, the athlete who used to go by the Nigerian name Ebelechukwu Agbapuonwu and originally hails from Anambra State, said: “I think I surprised my opponents and I even surprised myself. Coming to these championships, I really did not think about a medal.
“After all the hard training I have been through, I just hoped to do something big. I was not really nervous before the race, just the same anybody is before the start.”
When asked about how she felt beating Felix who is America’s most decorated female athlete in Track and Field at the Olympics, Eid Naser said:
“I was not chasing Felix, I was pushing myself till the very end and I did not even see what was going on in the last metres. Felix is my role model, I am following her on Instagram.
“I just want to thank my team and my family: ‘I love you mama, I did it for you.’ In the future I will also focus on the 200m, but it’s 400m for now.”
Unknown to many, the 2015 World Youth Champion also recorded a slice of history in London as she became the youngest medallist in the women’s 400m in World Championships history at 19 years, 2 months and 17 days!
The only other person to have won a medal in the women’s 400m as a teenager is Germany’s Grit Breuer who took Silver behind Marie-José Perec in a World Junior Record (WJR) of 49.42s, at the 1991 edition of the competition at 19 years, 6 months and 11 days.
It says a lot that such a historic feat was achieved while competing in the red and white colours of Bahrain, a country that has transformed Eid Naser, a 2013 400m Champion at the School Sports in Port Harcourt, into a global phenomenon since she began competing for them three years ago.
She has since won several laurels for her adopted nation including Double GOLD at the 2014 Arab Junior Athletics Championships; Silver at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games; GOLD at the 2015 Asian Games; and another GOLD at the 2015 Military Games. It is not surprising therefore, that she has no regrets whatsoever competing for Bahrain as she states during this interview below:
In contrast, Eid Naser’s counterparts in Nigeria continue to be at the receiving end of a system that has refused to invest in her future by putting in place the right structures that will aid the development of Track and Field in the country.
It is no wonder that the country has continued to, and will continue to lose its best talent to countries like Bahrain that are waiting to receive them with open arms, a situation aptly captured by Making of Champions in a story titled Bahrain Drain- The Exodus of Nigerian Athletes to the Kingdom.
Coached by a Nigerian Sprints Coach on the Bahrain National Team, John George Obeya, who has been in Bahrain since 2010, Eid Naser’s Silver is Bahrain’s second medal at this World Championships, following Rose Chelimo’s GOLD in the women’s Marathon.
Ironically, Nigeria is yet to get to the podium at the competition, with Blessing Okagbare being the only athlete in an individual event to have qualified for the final of any event (Long Jump) thus far.