In the last two days, we featured Part 1 & Part 2 of our annual series on the Top Nigerian Athletes of the year. We will continue our countdown in Part 3 of the series where we highlight the achievements of the athletes that made it to the Top 10 on our shortlist. Here’s Nos. 10 to 6.
10. Yinka Ajayi
After a lustrous 2017 where she improved a lot on her Personal Best (PB), quatermiler Yinka Ajayi had an even more splendid 2018, which was highlighted by the Bronze medal she won at the African Championships in Asaba.
Coming into 2018, Ajayi was on a mission to etch her name as the best 400m runner on home soil after playing second fiddle to Patience Okon-George for the better part of her career.
Ajayi kick-started her campaign this year at the AFN Golden League in Port Harcourt where she clocked a modest 53.16s. However, she got into her groove few weeks later at the Commonwealth Games Trials in Abuja, placing 2nd behind Okon-George once again.
The Durban 2016 4x400m Silver medallist finally unlocked herself from the shackles of Okon-George when she roared to victory at the Golden League in Abuja, clocking a new PB of 51.22s.
At the Commonwealth Games, Ajayi mustered a final placing, and then clinched Silver in the women’s 4x400m relay.
The apogee of her season came at the African Championships in Asaba where she stormed to her first international individual medal for Nigeria by clinching Bronze at the second time of asking. She also struck GOLD in the women’s 4x400m relay alongside Okon-George, Folashade Abugan and Abike Egbeniyi.
Ajayi capped off her season at the National Sports Festival (NSF) where she won Silver for Delta State in the 400m, and another Silver in the Mixed 4×400m relay.
9. Temilola Ogunrinde
Until the African Championships in August, the major name Nigerians associated with the women’s Hammer Throw in recent years was Queen Obisesan. It was rightly so, because Obisesan was shattering records left, right and centre on the home front.
However, somewhere in Minnesota, a collegiate student of the University of Minnesota was doing something special in the event. Her name is Temilola Ogunrinde.
Competing in a host of competitions for her college in the first half of this year, Ogunrinde improved a lot on her performances as she won, or placed 2nd in most of the meets.
Her best showing came in April in which she set a new Big Ten Conference Record and upgraded on her own Minnesota Programme Record with a career-best throw of 67.45m to finish as runner-up to Brook Anderson of North Arizona at the prestigious Mt. SAC Relays in California.
At the African Championships, Ogunrinde put on the green and white colours of Nigeria for the first time, and it was almost like she had been competing for a long time as she got the crowd roaring in every single round of the women’s Hammer Throw final.
The throw that got the locals all the more ecstatic was when she registered her fourth round effort of 67.39m, which clinched the Silver medal for her, while also breaking Queen Obisesan’s National Record (NR) of 66.86m set in February.
Apart from the medal she won at the African Championships, Ogunrinde won five Hammer throw titles for her school, while she also ended the season as Minnesota’s program record-holder.
8. Grace Anigbata
Very rarely do you see an athlete who is adept in both the Triple Jump and High Jump, but Grace Anigbata is one of those atypical kind. The ability to mix and blend both in competitions requires a particular level of focus and an unmatched technique to follow.
Anigbata, who is a student at the University of Port Harcourt, started her season in rather modest fashion, registering a 12.92m jump at the AFN Golden League in Kaduna late last year, while also coming close to equalling her PB of 1.78m in the High Jump, when she jumped a height of 1.75m.
Although she missed out on the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, Anigbata was hell bent on making up for it as she set her sights on representing Nigeria at the African Championships.
Watch Anigbata talk to Making of Champions’ about how she felt winning the Triple Jump on Day 1 of the Nigerian Trials, although the competition was eventually cancelled.
After preparing well for the Championships in her signature events, Anigbata faced a big dilemma. With both the final of the women’s High Jump and Triple Jump sandwiched between each other, Anigbata was caught between a rock and a hard place. However, the jumper’s decision to compete in the Triple Jump proved a wise choice as she struck GOLD in the final, leaping to a new PB of 14.02m.
At the West Africa University Games (WAUG), Anigbata won Double GOLD in the Triple Jump and High jump, while also winning Bronze in the Long Jump. Her year ended with her clinching GOLD in the Triple Jump at the National Sport Festival (NSF) in a new Festival Record of 13.76m. She also placed 2nd in the High Jump.
7. Abejoye Oyeniyi
Talking about dominance on the home scene, the men’s 110m hurdles is one event Abejoye Oyeniyi has stamped his authority on in the past one year.
In 2018, Oyeniyi made huge strides, setting a new PB in his event, while also differentiating himself from the rest of his competitors on the domestic scene.
In what was his first competitive outing for Nigeria, Abejoye was the sole representative for the country in the men’s 100m hurdles, where he placed 7th in his heat, clocking a time of 14.07s.
Still yet to run under 14s in his career, Abejoye finally dipped inside 14s for the first time in his career when he clocked 13.94s to claim victory at the MoC Grand Prix and Relays in June.
That performance gave him a huge morale-booster going into the African Championships in August, and he didn’t disappoint, winning Silver for Nigeria in the final in a much improved time of 13.87s. By virtue of placing Top 2 in Asaba, he qualified to represent Africa at the IAAF Continental Cup in Ostrava.
Although he arrived late to the Continental Cup due to no fault of his, Abejoye was still able to summon the courage to compete, placing 8th as he set a new PB of 13.84s in the final.
Abejoye ended the season on a bright note as he claimed victory for Team Rivers in a new Festival Record of 13.85s, shaving off 0.15 from Afiesimama Deima’s Benin 2002 festival mark.
6. Joy Udo-Gabriel
Where do we start with for Joy Udo-Gabriel? From being a National and Regional Champion at the Junior level, to winning titles at major senior competitions, the youngster’s stock has risen significantly in 2018.
Based in Nigeria, Joy started the 2018 season in late 2017 with the Golden League in Kaduna, which served as preparation for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. She notably etched a name for herself in the course of the season, placing 3rd at the Commonwealth Games Trials, which saw her qualifying for her first senior international competition.
Unperturbed by her newbie status on the global scene, the then 18-year old was pitted against Jamaica’s Gayon Evans and Trinidad and Tobago’s Reyare Thomas in the heats of the women’s 100m in Gold Coast, but she held her nerves to finish in 2nd, setting a new Lifetime Best of 11.42s.
Despite the fact that she didn’t make the final, Udo-Gabriel clocked the fastest time by a Nigerian in the women’s 100m. She later teamed up with the trio of Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor, Tobi Amusan and Rosemary Chukwuma to win Bronze for Nigeria in the women’s 4x100m.
She followed suit with a stellar performance at the National Junior Championships in Ozoro where she struck GOLD in the 100m and placed 2nd in the 200m. In the same vein, Udo-Gabriel took her dominance to West Africa, defeating all and sundry to emerge champion in both her signature events at the ECOWAS U-20 Championships. She also won Silver with the 4x100m team.
Going by her early season performances, Udo-Gabriel was named in Nigeria’s squad for the African Championships. The teenager got into the squad, and with Okagbare-Ighotegunor not running in the individual race, she represented Nigeria in the 100m.
At the Championships, she produced a controlled display to win both her heats and semis, and in the finals, despite running side-by-side World leader, Marie-Josee Ta Lou, she placed 3rd in 11.58s to take home her first senior individual medal.
Also, Udo-Gabriel was part of the 4x100m relay squad that won GOLD for Nigeria at the Championships, which led to her selection on the women’s 4x100m team to the IAAF Continental Cup in Ostrava.
Her season ended with her winning 100m GOLD & 4x100m Silver for University of Lagos at the WAUG in Port Harcourt, while also claiming Bronze for Delta State in the 100m at the recently-concluded NSF.
Following her impressive performances in the course of the season, Udo-Gabriel was nominated in two categories of the 2018 edition of the Nigerian Sports Awards: Track and Field Star of the Year and Discovery of the Year, which she won.
Watch Udo-Gabriel speak to Making of Champions about her 2018 season:
Watch out for the concluding part of this series which comes up tomorrow.