A great athlete comes once in a lifetime and redefines the trajectory and narrative on how success in the sport is looked upon, be it through dalliances while competing, relationship with the fans or more importantly, squashing pre-conceived mindsets by ripping up the sprint manual. This athlete most of the time, leaves a lasting legacy in the hearts of people.
Cue in Usain Bolt. A beam-pole-like sprinter keeping the World at his feet when he obliterated three World Records (WR) at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. With a combination of speed, swash, and swagger, Bolt was destined to rule the World. Three Olympic Games and multiple World Championships after, his legacy is still being talked about.
Sprinters were supposed to conform to a stereotype: muscular, explosive and not far north of six foot. The start was where the race was won and lost. Bolt changed that mindset! Like Bolt, Jerry Jakpa is six foot plus, not explosive from the start, and more importantly is a talent that was spotted at a very young age, while doing fine exploits.
Discovered at the Top Sprinters auditions in Benin City in September 2015, his exploits at the age of 18 made Olympic Silver medallist Francis Obikwelu liken him to the great Bolt. “His height is incredible; he’s still growing and talented. I don’t want to use the word that you run like a Bolt; I want you to be you.”
The juxtaposition with Bolt by Obikwelu leaves a lot to delve deeper into, considering Jakpa has aligned in almost the same trajectory as Bolt during his burgeoning years until Beijing 2008. After that moment, he joined Making of Champions (MoC) Track Club and his career has been on an upward trajectory ever since.
A year after underlining his status as the next rated sprinter in Nigeria, Jakpa stormed to a sprint double in the Junior category of the 2016 Top Sprinter competition held at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos. After dipping below 11s in the semis of the 100m, the native of Delta State went on to win the final that same day. He followed suit in the 200m by running 21.97s to clinch GOLD, his first time inside 22s.
Still a Junior, perhaps Jakpa’s watershed season came in 2017 when he began to ruffle feathers with the established order in the senior categories. At the Junior Championships in 2017, Jakpa showed great promise when in the 100m, he overcame a poor start to clinch Bronze with a time of 10.81s.
A month later in the Senior Trials, he was part of an interesting 200m final that took over 15 minutes before a clear winner was ascertained. He won Bronze after setting a Personal Best (PB) of 21.21s. It wasn’t a bad way to draw the curtains on a season that saw him raking in two National medals from two events, and at two different levels.
He opened up his 2018 season at the All-Comers event in Abuja, winning the 200m with a Season’s Best (SB) of 21.28s and finishing 2nd in the 100m. One of the highlights of the season came at the MoC Grand Prix and Relays in June when he raced to a windy 10.25s to finish behind Emmanuel Arowolo, while also clocking 21.13s to place 2nd in the final. At the African Championships in Asaba he set a new Lifetime Best of 20.87s in his heat.
After about three months of inaction, Jakpa went into the 2018 National Sports Festival (NSF) all guns blazing. The Delta State-born athlete competed for Bayelsa and after winning his heat and semis (clocking a new PB of 10.32), he narrowly missed out on a medal in the final when he placed 4th with a 10.34s clocking to end the season.
2019 was the year Jakpa took his exploits out of Nigeria!. Representing MoC Track Club, Jakpa competed at the Gaborone International Meet in Botswana where he ran a new PB of 20.84s to place 2nd. A few days later, he flew to Japan to join up with his teammates where they competed in the World Relays, racing to a National Record (NR) of 1:22.08 in the men’s 4x200m.
A couple of months later, Jakpa chalked up three 20.59s clockings at the African Games Trials in Abuja, Cituis Meeting in Bern and Meeting du soir, La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland. Competitions were scanty in 2020 due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, but the sprinter still posted a 20.71s timing at Kip Keino Classic in Kenya.
At 22, Jakpa has lurked for a while, gradually disrupting the established order in the Nigerian scenery. He seems perfectly poised to pounce, especially with Olympic Bronze medallist Deji Aliu taking him under his wings the same way Glen Mills took charge of Usain Bolt after the Athens Olympics in 2004 and four years later, he shocked the World in Beijing.
Bolt was anointed as the savior of Athletics after the turmoil of Athens 2004, a tough gig for anyone. It might seem a tall order for Jakpa to carry that burden for Nigerian Athletics, but he certainly is on the right path to greatness.