In 2022, Nigerian athletes excelled across a range of events and international championships, starting from the African Senior Championships to the World Athletics Championships, Commonwealth Games and even the World U-20 Championships in Cali, putting up remarkable displays at every showing.
We round up our latest feature, looking at the best Nigerian male athletes in this two-part series through the 2022 season.
5. Alaba Akintola
Already one of the best sprinters in Nigeria, Alaba Akintola took another step in his track career when he moved to Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), a decision that paid off almost immediately. For Akintola whose base was in Nigeria prior to 2022, he had never competed on an indoor track, all of which changed in February as he ran a clutch of Personal Bests (PB), including a 6.67s clocking over 60m.
In just his second indoor 200m race, he stormed to a massive PB of 20.72s to emerge C-USA Champion, breaking the MTSU School Record that had stood for 17 years! He also won the C-USA title over 60m in 6.72s.
Outdoors, he opened up with what would have yet been another PB (if not for the wind) – 10.27s, the fastest time across all heats at the Tennessee Relays. He would then build on this momentum for the rest of the season as he carried it on to run a blistering 10.09s at his next meet at the War Eagle Invite and 20.34s in the 200m which is perceived to be his more favoured event.
Like he did indoors, he swept the C-USA short sprint titles again, torching the tracks in a PB of 10.04s to take the 100m, securing him time qualification for the World Championships in Oregon and the 200m in 20.36s on the same day.
He set a PB and School Record of 20.26s over 200m in the process of qualifying for the NCAA Championships where he would bow out in the semifinal in the both the 100m and 200m.
Back in Nigeria for the National Championships, he was one of the favourites for the 100m & 200m titles. In the 100m, he held his own against Favour Ashe, but his counterpart managed to outpace him while Akintola settled for 2nd in 10.06. However, he was a runaway winner of the 200m, clocking 20.51s to take his first title at the National Championships.
He was selected to compete for the country at the Commonwealth Games in the 200m where even though he arrived on the day of his event, he managed to make it to the semifinals and was a member of the 4x100m team that collected the Bronze medal at the Games.
4. Ezekiel Nathaniel
After his exploits in his first international competition at the World U-20 Championships in Nairobi, Ezekiel Nathaniel was only set for great things as he soon moved to the US to further his education and track career in Baylor.
Being a 400m hurdler, he barely ran indoors, but he ran on the Baylor 4x400m teams, eventually qualifying for the NCAA Indoor Championships where they placed 4th in their heat.
He kicked off his outdoor campaign running 46.20s over 400m and a brilliant PB of 49.14s in the 400mH at the Texas Relays, what was the fastest time in the NCAA at that point of the season, immediately setting him up as one to watch for the rest of the season.
Subsequently, he struggled in between his season with a few of his races and especially his hurdling technique, something perfectly okay for someone who until 2021, was running the 400m and 800m. However, running for Baylor at his first Big-12 Championships, he was in absolutely amazing form as he stormed to a massive PB of 48.42s, breaking Henry Amike’s National Record (NR) set in 1987!
With that time, he qualified for the World Championships, set a new World U-20 Lead, an NCAA Lead and moved to 4th on the global toplist at the time. He then made it past the NCAA preliminaries and qualified for his first individual NCAA final where he just missed a podium placement with a 49.24s clocking in 4th place.
He competed at the World Championships in Oregon, making it to the semifinals where he hit the first barrier, stumbling badly but just managing to finish the race. He also competed at the Commonwealth Games, making it to the final this time around and placing 6th.
3. Udodi Onwuzurike
Udodi Onwuzurike first made waves in 2021 at the World U-20 Championships, when he broke through to win the 200m title, going from underdog to champion and announcing himself to the world in grand style.
Soon after that, he was on his way to Stanford University where he would learn to combine both his academics and track career and in only his first indoor race in the NCAA at the Washington Indoor Preview, the freshman broke the School Record over 60m with a PB of 6.67s!
He didn’t get to complete the indoor season, due to injury but he soon picked up the trail outdoors. In his first race back, he stormed to a new PB & School Record of 10.14s in the men’s 100m heat at the Stanford Invitational and further lowered it in the final, turning in an astonishing 10.07s. By so doing, he not only defeated collegiate athletes, but also seasoned professional ones.
Onwuzurike was having a great first year in university as he won several of his races by some margin. At the PAC-12 Championships in Eugene, Oregon, he finished 2nd in the 100m and 200m, setting a brilliant new PB of 20.09s in the 200m and breaking the School Record yet again in the process!
Thereafter, he absolutely dominated the events at the NCAA West Preliminary, further lowering his times. He won the men’s 100m in 10.03s, breaking Davidson Ezinwa’s long-standing National Junior Record set in 1990 and securing his second time qualification to the World Championships in July. Relentlessly, he smashed the African U-20 Record in the 200m, clocking 20.08s to qualify as the fastest man to the NCAA Championships.
At the NCAA Championships, he bowed out of the 100m in the semifinal round and qualified for the final, finishing with a podium placement in 3rd. He ran the 100m and 200m at the World Championships, making it to the heats and semifinals respectively.
A fortnight after, he was running again at the Commonwealth Games where he went all the way, qualifying from the heat, winning his semifinal and placing 6th in the 200m final. He capped off a brilliant season with a Bronze in the men’s 4x100m at the Games.
2. Favour Ashe
Even though Favour Ashe had never competed indoors before 2022, it didn’t take long for him to make his mark in the NCAA in his freshman year at the University of Tennessee.
He opened up with a 6.58s clocking over 60m at the Bob Pollock Invitational in Clemson, immediately taking him up to 4th on the Tennessee all-time list in the company of greats such as Christian Coleman, Leonard Scott and Justin Gatlin. About two weeks after that, Ashe who was still 19, stepped up his performance on the NCAA circuit, winning his qualifying heat of the men’s 60m at the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville in a new Personal Best (PB) of 6.52s.
Not only was the mark a PB; it also doubled as a Freshman Record for his school, breaking the previous mark held by Leonard Scott at 6.56s, which was set way back in 1999, before Ashe was born, and earned him SEC freshman of the week honours for the second time this year, making him the first Vol to earn multiple accolades since Christian Coleman did in 2014.
Soon, he improved that time at the NCAA Indoor Championships, winning his heat in 6.51s and going on to place 3rd in the final with 6.55s.
His indoor performance then translated to the outdoors, winning his first few meets in quick succession and posting a very quick windy 9.79s over 100m at the LSU Invitational in Baton Rouge, the fastest all-conditions time in the NCAA for the season. At the SEC Championships, he clocked a new PB of 10.04s to take the win and finished 2nd at the NCAA Preliminaries to secure his spot at the Nationals.
Although there were a lot of brilliant Nigerian athletes in the NCAA, Ashe was the only one who made the men’s 100m final, even going on to finish 2nd, only surged in by Joseph Fahnbulleh’s explosive finish.
At the Nigerian Athletics Championships, he warded off the challenge posed by Alaba Akintola and Udodi Onwuzurike to win his first National title in a PB of 9.99s! He had successfully broken through the magical sub-10 barrier.
He was selected to run at the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games, making it to the semifinal on both occasions and closed out the season with a Bronze medal in the 4x100m at the Commonwealth Games.
1. Chukwuebuka Enekwechi
Over the years, Chukwuebuka Enekwechi has remained the most consistent Nigerian male athlete and without any doubt, the best Shot Putter on the continent.
He opened up 2022 with a 20.79m heave at the USATF Golden Games and improved to an impressive 21.19m SB at the São Paulo International Meeting in Brazil, a meet where he has become a regular since 2020.
At the African Athletics Championships in Mauritius, Enekwechi defended his title in style by erasing his previous Championship Record (CR) of 21.08m set at Asaba 2018, replacing it with a new SB and CR of 21.20m. The 2018 Commonwealth Games Silver medallist opened his account with an effort of 20.21m, following it up with a throw of 20.11m. He went further with marks of 20.29m and 20.46m respectively, and then produced his winning distance of 21.20m on his fifth attempt.
The GOLD medal won by Enekwechi was his third continental GOLD as he has absolutely dominated the event in Africa since making his debut for Nigeria in 2017. He’s won titles at the 2018 African Championships in Asaba and 2019 African Games in Rabat.
He would soon extend his SB at the National Championships in Benin with a captivating performance which he sealed with a 21.25m throw on his last attempt.
He competed at the World Championships and was a 4th place finisher in the event at the Commonwealth Games.
At the 2022 National Sports Festival, Enekwechi added the men’s Hammer Throw NR to his Shot put NR throwing a distance of 67.45m on his third attempt to clinch GOLD for Delta state – a Games Record as well – breaking Christian Okoye’s 36-year-old former record of 66.92m. He then set a Championship Record of 20.89m to win the men’s Shot Put title.