On Monday, we featured Part 1 (10-6) of our annual series on the Top 10 Nigerian Male Athletes of the year and we’re back with Part 2 of the series where we highlight the achievements of the athletes that made it to the Top 5 on our shortlist.
Our rankings take into account the general performance of the athlete in the course of the season including medals won, Personal Bests (PBs) and records set, as well as the level of consistency of the athlete amongst other indices. How would you rate our rankings as compared with that of the IAAF? Do let us know in the comments!
- Rilwan Alowonle
For a while, Nigeria hasn’t produced a 400m hurdler that has threatened to challenge the status quo of the event at the very top, but the coming of Rilwan Alowonle, who started competing for Nigeria in 2018, changed that perception.
After not making the final at the African Championships which took place on his home soil, Alowonle was on a mission to prove his doubters wrong heading into the 2019 season. Alowonle started his season with flourish at the Pepsi Florida Relays where he nicked the win with a 50.36s clocking. He went a few ticks down at the Drake Relays where he ran 50.01s.
However, his preparations sufferred a jolt when he lost his dad in May – a man who had been a pillar of support not just in his life, but in his Athletics career, and had even come all the way from the US to watch him compete at the 2018 African Championships in Asaba.
That notwithstanding, Alowonle forged on with his next set of races in June where he throttled Europe, racing in Finland, Germany, and Switzerland. These races ushered him to his first African Games in Rabat.
At the Games, Alowonle kept the powder dry in his heat, racing to a time of 50.77s to qualify for the final. In the final, the hurdler ran the race of his life as he returned home with a new lifetime best of 49.42s, but the time, agonizingly, wasn’t enough to earn him a medal as he finished 4th.
Going into the World Championships, Alowonle reeled himself back from the jaws of being eliminated in the first round, bouncing back in the final 100m to place 4th in 50.04s and qualify for the semis where he eventually finished 8th in his race.
Watch Rilwan Alowonle speak to Making of Champions after competing at the World Championships:
MoC Ranking: 5
IAAF Nigeria Ranking: 8
- Usheoritse Itsekiri
Sometimes leaving your comfort zone is not as dangerous as you think. In fact, it helps you become more productive. Well, that’s the short summary of how Usheoritse Itsekiri’s decision to take a huge leap of faith by competing in the European circuit in 2019, eventually paid off!
Since winning the 2018 National Sports Festival (NSF), there was this inclination that he was going to dine with the best of athletes in the sport. After an appearance at the All-Comers meet in Ijebu-Ode where he won his 100m heat, Itsekiri began his voyage in France, securing the win in the men’s 100m in 10.30s at Meeting Elite, Forbach.
He followed it up with an inspiring 10.07s run to come 1st in the 100m event at the Rehlingen Leichtathletik Meeting 2019 in Germany. The winning time was a huge Personal Best (PB) for him and saw him securing qualification for the IAAF World Championships in Doha.
Races in Montreuil, Dessau, Rheinau-Freistett and Kortrijk, where he set a new PB in the 200m, clocking 20.53s, all saw him finish inside the top two, a form that ushered him into the Nigerian Championships in Kaduna, where he became the overwhelming favourite to win the title.
He duly delivered, dominating the heats and semis, winning both easily, before going to win his first National title in 10.23s. He also went on to do the double as he won the 200m in 20.95s.
Going into the African Games in Rabat, he employed the same tactics as he won his heat and semis, barely boiling an ocean. And despite leading the first phase of the final, Itsekiri eventually had to settle for the Bronze a PB of 10.02s to qualify for the Olympics. He went on to help Nigeria’s 4x100m relay team win Silver at the Games.
Making his debut at the World Championships, Itsekiri finished 7th in his 100m heat.
MoC Ranking: 4
IAAF Nigeria Ranking: 3
- Raymond Ekevwo
Surprisingly, a lot of people outside the Athletics circle didn’t know about Raymond Ekevwo until he made a splash at the African Games where he won GOLD in the men’s 100m.
Since leaving the shores of the county in 2017 to go study at Oral Roberts University in the US, before being hampered by injury, Ekevwo has steadily risen back into reckoning after joining up with the University of Florida last year.
However, the chink of light for Ekevwo was to make a mark both on the African and the world scene. He achieved the former in 2019, while showing the world a glimpse of what to expect with his performance at the World Championships.
Ekevwo started the season competing for his school at the Pepsi Florida Relays where he clocked 10.28s to clinch the win. About a month later, he followed it up with a 10.12s clocking in the 100m at the Tom Jones Memorial.
Nigerians began to take note of his exploits when he became the second Nigerian to qualify for the 100m event of the World Championships when raced to a time of 10.02s to place 2nd at the SEC Outdoor Championships.
His quest to make it into the NCAA Championships finals didn’t matarialize as he placed 4th in the 100m final in the East Preliminary Round. He, however, was able to set a new PB of 20.84s in the 200m a day later.
At the African Games, Ekevwo wasn’t the pick for the win, considering that Ivorian Arthur Cissé came into the games against the backdrop of some splendid displays in the course of the season.
Having maintained an unbeaten run through the rounds, Ekevwo proved his mettle by storming to the title in 9.96s – the first sub-10-second clocking of his career to become Nigeria’s first Men’s 100m Champion at the African Games since 2007! He was also part of the 4x100m relay team that won Silver for Nigeria at the Games.
Ekevwo ended his season at the World Championships, making the semi-final of the global showpiece where he finished 5th in 10.20s. Prior to that, he placed 2nd behind Zharnel Hughes in his heat where he returned a time of 10.14s.
Watch Raymond Ekevwo speak to Making of Champions after placing 2nd in his 100m heat at the World Championships
MoC Ranking: 3
IAAF Nigeria Ranking: 5
- Divine Oduduru
What a year 2019 Divine Oduduru has had! He is perhaps one of the most interesting characters to ever run the track for Nigeria, not just because of his exploits on it, but off it as well especially as it relates to his bubbly interviews.
Like life, Athletics isn’t all milk and honey, and Oduduru tasted the good, the bad, and the ugly this year. It however must be worth noting that for someone whose main wish it to get his family out of poverty, his sights are firmly fixed on the good and how he can make the most of it.
Since blitzing to the NCAA outdoor 200m title last year, Oduduru had a fabulous indoor season that culminated in March when he scorched to a 20.08s indoor clocking to claim his first NCAA Indoor title in Lubbock, Texas, a time which elevated him to third on the all-time lists behind Frankie Fredericks and Elijah Hall-Thompson.
Oduduru took things a notch higher in April when he became the first Nigerian in almost 13 years to dip inside 10s with a new PB of 9.94s while competing at the Michael Johnson Invitational.
Exactly 55 minutes later, he graced the track again in the 200m and went all out, storming to an astonishing PB of 19.76s that broke the Nigerian Record set by Francis Obikwelu (19.84s) in Seville as far back as 1999.
The Delta State athlete had an exemplary outdoor season in the NCAA. From the Big 12 Conference to the NCAA West Preliminary rounds, the 2015 African U20 double medallist took each race with aplomb as he coasted to victory in every single one of them.
It was however at the NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas in June that Oduduru made a splash. After dominating the heat and semis, he went one better in the final as he won in a PB of 9.86s, tying with Noah Lyles and Christian Coleman for the then 2019 World Lead (WL) and coming within 0.04 of Coleman’s Collegiate Record and 0.01s of Olusoji Fasuba’s African Record!
On the same day, Oduduru won the 200m in 19.73s to retain the title he won last year, breaking the Championship Record of 19.87s. The time saw him trail Michael Norman and Lyles this year, and also sits him tightly as the third fastest in African history, behind Fredericks (19.68s) and South Africa’s Clarence Munyai (19.69s).
The immediate attention that followed was telling. Sponsors began to come in their droves, but it was global sports company PUMA who got the nod, as Oduduru sign the dotted lines with them, few weeks after confirming he was turning Professional.
Oduduru made his debut in the Diamond league at the Hercules meet in Monaco, but didn’t have the best of showings as he finished 8th in 10.26s. Also, he competed in the 200m at the Paris Diamond League where he placed 6th in 20.50s.
Competing for Nigeria at his second African Games, Oduduru won Silver in the 200m just as he did four years ago in Brazzaville. He went on to claim another Silver in the men’s 4x100m.
His season ended at the World Championships in Doha, and although he was listed to run in 100m and 200m by the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Oduduru opted to run just the half-lap event and Did Not Start (DNS) the 100m, which led to his disqualifcation from the championship.
However he was reinstated for the 200m after a successful appeal and was able to run. He, however, had to settle for 8th in the semis of the event. We can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeves ahead of the Olymics next year.
MoC Ranking: 2
IAAF Nigeria Ranking: 2
- Chukwuebuka Enekwechi
Taking the No. 1 spot on our Top 10 Nigerian male athletes rankings of 2019 is Chukwuebuka Enekwechi! It is however fitting that he is the only field athlete on our list this year, and he duly takes his spot at the top after churning out consistent displays all through the season.
For an athlete who came into the season ranked outside the Top 10, but eventually got a seat at the table of the top dogs by finishing the year ranked 8th, Enekwechi’s stock rose to the highest point this year.
He got off to a flying start this season as he smashed his own PB at the first time of asking at the George Class Invitational in Indiana, reaching a new mark of 21.28m.
In April, Enekwechi, the Commonwealth Games Silver medallist, produced a National Shot put Record of 21.77m to beat Brazilian favourite Darlan Romani at the 35th Grande Prêmio Brasil Caixa de Atletismo at the first IAAF World Challenge and IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge.
Enekwechi’s winning mark added one centimetre to the Nigerian Record set three years ago by Stephen Mozia. It also moved Enekwechi up to 2nd place on the African all-time list, just 20cm behind continental record-holder Janus Roberts.
The thrower also made his debut at the IAAF Diamond League at the Golden Gala – Pietro Mennea in the city of Rome, finishing 8th with a 20.54m throw.
Less than a week to the African Games, Enekwechi extended his own National Record to 21.80m as he won the CAS Meeting in Schifflange. He went into the African Games as the overwhelming favourite and delivered! The African Champion produced a best throw of 21.48m in Rabat to add more than a metre to Frank Elemba’s Games Record of 20.25m from 2015.
Heading into his second World Championships, Enekwechi became the first Nigerian to qualify for the final of an event, having placed 8th in his pool with a 20.94m throw. In the final, he was able to reach 21.18m, a mark that saw him finishing in 8th place to bring a fitting end to his 2019 season.
MoC Ranking: 1
IAAF Nigeria Ranking: 1