Not many people can boast of winning a National title every year for three straight years, but that has been the reality for Usheoritse Itsekiri who has transformed into one of the country’s finest sprinters and only one of three male sprinters to have qualified for the Tokyo 2021 Olympics!
Itsekiri burst on the national scene in 2015 when he represented Nigeria at the African Youth Championships in Mauritius and the Commonwealth Youth Games in Apia, Samoa, later that year. By 2017, he stormed to his first National title at the AFN/MoC National U-20 Championships in Abuja, running a time of 10.60s to secure the title, and then took Silver in the 200m. He finished the season with a Personal Best (PB) of 10.44s.
The promising sprinter made his first senior national team in 2018 ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, where he participated in the men’s 4x100m relay by virtue of his 4th place finish in the men’s 100m at the Commonwealth Games Trials held in Abuja.
He further helped the team get into the final with a 38.52s clocking for 3rd place in qualification and was also a member of the men’s 4x100m team that won Silver at the African Championships in Asaba behind South Africa.
In what was a pivotal moment in his career, he set a PB of 10.31s to win the 3rd semifinal of the men’s 100m at the National Sports Festival (NSF) in Abuja and then went even better in the final, overhauling a star-studded field to win GOLD in a new PB of 10.27s to end his season on a high note.
In his words after winning his first National Senior title, he said “Words can’t explain how I feel because I came here as the underdog and I got the job done, so I feel really good.”
Itsekiri regarded the NSF a stepping stone and added that while he had been on the relay team to the Commonwealth Games, he hoped to be on the team in the flat sprints for every senior championships the following season, a status he fully attained in 2019.
Itsekiri’s 2019 season had so many highlights that it’s hard to single out a particular moment as his most outstanding! He travelled to Europe and competed in several meetings, winning most of his races.
At the Pfingstsportfest in Rehlinghen (Germany), he set a PB in qualification with a time of 10.16s and then upset the field in the final where he upped his performance, whittling down his PB to 10.07s (+1.7mp) to qualify for the World Championships in Doha in what was just his second race in Europe.
Taking his competitions one at a time as he terms it, Itsekiri won all of his 100m final races in Europe and even defeated former World Record (WR) holder, Asafa Powell in the men’s 100m at the Guldensporenmeeting in Belgium in 10.19s. He further set a PB of 20.53s to win the men’s 200m race at the same meet.
“It was tremendous,” he says about competing against big names on the circuit and attaining a level of consistency in the 100m. He also added that competing at such a high level of sprinting helped bolster his confidence, coming to the National Championships.
All of these performances set him up as the favourite for the men’s short sprint titles at the Nigerian Athletics Championships in Kaduna where he comfortably won his heat and semifinal races in the 100m.
In the final, Itsekiri drove hard from the centre of the field and waded off challenges from Seye Ogunlewe and Enoch Adegoke, laying claim to his second senior national title in a time of 10.23s, thus putting a stop to Ogunlewe’s three-time winning streak.
Two days after, the talented sprinter extended his dominance to the 200m where he clutched another National title, securing the double in a time of 20.95s ahead of Jerry Jakpa, the first time in several years since a male athlete accomplished such a feat at the National Championships.
He was selected to run the 100m at the African Games in Rabat, easily winning his heat and semifinal in similar times of 10.27s and 10.25s. In what was a high-octane final, he proved his mettle against the very best in Africa as he stormed to a huge PB of 10.02s to claim the Bronze medal at the Championships behind his countryman, Raymond Ekevwo (9.96s) and Arthur Gue Cisse (9.97s). Just on the cusp of breaking 10s, his time ultimately qualified him for the Tokyo 2021 Olympics!
Itsekiri thereafter teamed up with Ekevwo, Divine Oduduru and Emmanuel Arowolo to take Silver in the men’s 4x100m behind the Ghanaian team and drew the curtains on what was by all standards, his best season, by making his World Championships bow in Doha where he competed in the heats of the men’s 100m and 4x100m.
As the 2021 season takes off, one only wonders what Itsekiri has got up his sleeves, especially in preparation for the Olympics. Watch out for Part 2 of his story!