The number of qualified Nigerian athletes for the Tokyo Olympics track and field events rose to nine at the weekend as two of the country’s student-athletes based in the United States joined the list.
Ruth Usoro made history by becoming the first Nigerian athlete (male or female) to qualify for the Olympics in both the Long Jump and Triple Jump, a feat she performed in two consecutive days while competing at the Big 12 Indoor Championships in Lubbock, Texas.
Usoro won both titles in 2020 before the track season was cut short due to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. She laced up her spikes to compete in the Long Jump in Texas, and with an early lead and total Personal Best (PB) of 6.63m, the Nigerian looked good for the win. The presence of her teammate, Monae’ Nichols, who arrived as the NCAA Leader with 6.75m at the Championships, could not stop her.
In the fourth round, it wasn’t even Nichols who staged a challenge for the title, but former World Junior Record holder in the 60m Hurdles, Tara Davis who swept to an equal PB of 6.68m to take the lead.
Subsequently, Davis passed her fifth attempt and remained in the lead as Usoro reached 6.52m.
Keeping her composure and cheered on by her school, Texas Tech’s jump team, Usoro took to the runway again for the last and final attempt of the night, flying out to a record-breaking 6.82m, which gave her the ticket to the Tokyo Olympics. Usoro was full of excitement as she rejoiced with teammates after qualifying for the Olympics in the Long Jump.
Usoro also successfully defended her Long Jump Big 12 title, with a Meet Record (MR), School Record (SR), NCAA Lead, the second best jump in the world for the season and the third best on the Nigerian all-time list alongside Ese Brume.
To top it off, it was an Olympic qualifier, hitting the exact mark of 6.82m required to qualify for Tokyo.
Again showing resilience, Usoro wasn’t done as she returned the next day to compete in the women’s Triple Jump where she was ranked number 1 in the NCAA, having reached a National Record (NR) of 14.28m in her season opener in January.
She made history becoming the first Nigerian athlete to qualify for the Olympics in both the Long Jump and Triple Jump.
As the favourite for that title, she bounded out to a huge PB of 14.36m in the third round to nail the win, a new NR and the second best jump ever recorded in the NCAA.
Apart from being a Collegiate Lead and School Record, Usoro secured a second qualification to Tokyo.
On her part, Favour Ofili was also in a class of her own as she set two Personal Bests in the 200m in two days, sealing her remarkable performance with a new African Indoor Record and Olympic qualification on the second day of the Indoor South East Championships in Arkansas. Ofili will also aim to qualify for the 400m in the coming weeks.
Competing at the Indoor South Eastern Championships (SECs) in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Ofili broke ground to a big total Personal Best (PB) and Indoor National Record (NR) of 22.75s to win the first heat of the women’s 200m final.
The Nigerian who competes for LSU, had won her heat the day before with a 23.15s PB and was only running her 3rd individual race on the collegiate circuit.
Ofili improved on Murielle Ahoure’s Indoor African Record of 22.80s that had stood since 2009 and in the process, qualified for her first Olympic Games in Tokyo as her time was quicker than the Olympic standard set at 22.80s.
While she also bettered the previous Indoor Nigerian Record set by Regina George in 2013, Ofili moved up to 5th on the all-time U-20 list in the event.
The Founder and CEO of Making Of Champions (MoC), Bambo Akani, described the feat recorded by Usoro and Ofili as major achievements for Nigeria.