Nigeria has a rich history of winning medals at the Paralympics! Since making its debut at the Barcelona 92’ Games and seven outings later, the country has racked up 70 medals (36 GOLD, 18 Silver, 16 Bronze) at the Paralympics.
Athletics, a sport that forms a huge part of Nigerian Sportsmen and women’s DNA, provided its very first medals at the Paralympics at the Barcelona Games when Ajibola Adeoye romped to two GOLD medals after winning the men’s T46 100m (10.72) and 200m (21.83) in a then World Record (WR), which still stands as the African Record (AR). At the 1996 Summer Paralympics, he defended both sprint titles and won a Silver medal in the Long Jump.
Given Nigeria’s history in the sprints at the Olympics, Ajibola’s victory at Atlanta ’96 was meant to usher in years of dominance in the Paralympic sprints. That idea seems fanciful now, particularly given that the last time a Nigerian sprinter won a medal on the track at the Paralympics was when Adekunle Adesoji clinched Silver in the men’s’ T12 at the London 2012 Paralympics. This situation leaves an awkward question hanging in the air for Nigeria heading into the Tokyo Paralympics: If we’re going to challenge for medals in the sprints, when so much seems to be in a flux, who can mount up a challenge?
The answer doesn’t seem so far away, considering the fact that Ifeanyi Christian seems to be on the right trajectory as he is Nigeria’s fastest para-athlete in the 100m, 200m, and 400m! He competes in the T46/T47 Category in Para-Athletics, for single-arm amputees above or below the elbow, and he is vying to become Nigeria’s first T46 100m Olympic Champion since Adeoye won the 100m & 200m Paralympic titles at Barcelona ’92 and Atlanta ’96.
Unfortunately, Adeoye is an unsung hero whose exploits at Barcelona ’92 and Atlanta ’96 still remain unmatched by any African to date. Sadly, the African Record holder passed on in 2011 and was buried without any fanfare despite spending part of his life to bring honour and glory to Nigeria.
At Christian’s first competition abroad in 2019, he won three GOLD medals in the T46 100m, 200m, and 400m at the World Para-Athletics Grand Prix in Tunis, qualifying for the 2019 World Para-Athletics Championships in Dubai where he was a 100m Finalist. He has more or less already qualified for the Paralympics. In the 100m, he is ranked in the Top 10 for all three of his events globally, so his Paralympic qualification is in the bag.
“It will be a dream come true for me after suffering many disappointments in the past, especially not going to the Commonwealth Games in 2018. This will be my very first Paralympics and I hope to do Nigeria proud in Tokyo”, Christian said on how it will make him feel if he makes it to Tokyo.
His Personal Bests (PB) in the 100m/200m speak volumes about his level of improvement, having just competed for the first time internationally two years ago. With his 11.04s clocking in the 100m in Tunis, he isn’t far away from breaking Ajibola’s AR in the event.
The 200m record seems not far fetched for Christian having chalked up 22.20s clocking in Tunis. The Imo-state born athlete champing at the bit to get into Para-athletics competitions, you cannot put it past him as far as erasing the mark Ajibola set while competing at the Barcelona Games is concerned.
Also, he has made up some grounds in his quest to break the 400m AR in the T46/47 category as Morocco’s Sadni Ayoub currently has that locked down with his 48.96s run in the UAE in 2009. Christians PB in the quarter-mile is at 49.56s and it looks increasingly likely that this might be the first record to fall.
With the dearth of competitions for physically-challenged athletes in Nigeria, Christian had to resort to keeping himself fit and in shape at meets for non-disabled athletes, although any times set in such competitions will not be recognized by the Paralympic Committee.
In his first competition in 2021, the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) All-Comers meet in Akure, Christian finished 3rd in Heat 1 of the men’s 400m with a time of 50.20s. Certainly not a bad way to open the season!
With a few international competitions coming through in 2021 for para-athletes despite the ongoing global pandemic, Christian will hope to get into a couple in order to put him in a good position to lower his times. More importantly, he will set his sights on making a return to the Tunis 2021 Grand Prix slated for March 18 to 20. The North African country seems to be a good stomping ground for him as that was the location he set his current PBs in the 100m, 200m, and 400m.
There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Christian does not need to worry about fortune; not in its modern sense anyway. And despite the road to the Tokyo Paralympics being filled with a lot of bumps, the sprinter’s journey to being Nigeria’s first T46 Paralympic Champion since Atlanta ’96 is on track.