By Daniel Edu
Since Nigeria gained independence in 1960, numerous athletes have defied the odds to become global and continental champions. As Nigeria celebrates its 63rd anniversary, here are profiles of 20 of the country’s top sporting heroes and heroines.
1. **Lucy Ejike (Powerlifting)**: A Paralympic legend, Lucy Ejike has won six medals in six Paralympic Games, including three gold, two silver, and one bronze. Despite being wheelchair-bound due to polio, she broke world records and dominated in powerlifting.
2. **Chioma Ajunwa (Athletics)**: Retired police officer Chioma Ajunwa made history by becoming the first Nigerian to win gold at the Olympic Games, achieving this feat in the women’s long jump at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
3. **Sydney Olympics 4x400m Team**: The men’s 4x400m relay team won gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympics after the disqualification of the U.S. team, becoming Nigeria’s greatest relay medalists.
4. **Asisat Oshoala (Football)**: Barcelona Feminin striker Asisat Oshoala is considered one of Africa’s greatest female footballers. She has numerous awards, including African Women’s Footballer of The Year and UEFA Women’s Champions League titles.
5. **Stephen Keshi (Football)**: Stephen Keshi is the only man to win the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) both as a player and a coach. He was a key figure in Nigerian football and qualified the national team for two World Cup tournaments.
6. **Tobi Amusan (Athletics)**: Tobi Amusan is Nigeria’s first and only world champion and world record holder in athletics, achieving gold in the 100m hurdles at the 2022 World Championships.
7. **Samuel Peter (Boxing)**: Samuel Peter was the WBC heavyweight champion in 2008 and was ranked among the world’s top heavyweights. He had a formidable knockout record.
8. **Atlanta Football Team**: The U-23 football team’s gold medal victory at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics was a historic achievement, defeating strong teams like Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina.
9. **Enyimba (Football)**: Enyimba is Nigeria’s most successful football club, winning the CAF Champions League twice and numerous domestic titles.
10. **Nduka Odizor (Tennis)**: Nduka Odizor is one of Nigeria’s top tennis players, reaching high rankings in both singles and doubles and winning titles in various tournaments.
11. **Golden Eaglets (Football)**: Nigeria has a strong record in the U-17 World Cup, winning it five times and nurturing talent that goes on to achieve greatness in football.
12. **Segun Toriola (Table Tennis)**: Segun Toriola is Nigeria’s most decorated table tennis player, participating in seven Olympic Games and winning numerous gold medals in African and Commonwealth competitions.
13. **Ajibola Adeoye (Para-athletics)**: Ajibola Adeoye won four gold and a silver medal at the Paralympics, setting world records in the 100m and 200m events.
14. **Super Falcons (Football)**: The Super Falcons are Africa’s most successful women’s national football team, winning 11 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations titles.
15. **Wellington Jighere (Scrabble)**: Wellington Jighere made history by becoming the world scrabble champion in 2015, the first African to achieve this feat.
16. **Rashidi Yekini (Football)**: Rashidi Yekini, Nigeria’s all-time highest goal scorer, won the African Footballer of The Year in 1993 and played a crucial role in Nigeria’s 1994 AFCON victory.
17. **D’Tigress (Basketball)**: The women’s basketball team, D’Tigress, is highly successful in Africa, winning six FIBA AfroBasket titles and reaching the quarter-finals of the 2018 FIBA World Cup.
18. **Victor Osimhen (Football)**: Victor Osimhen has risen to stardom with his impressive performances in Serie A and the Nigerian national team. He won the Serie A top scorer award and has been nominated for major awards.
19. **Nojeem Maiyegun (Boxing)**: Nojeem Maiyegun won Nigeria’s first Olympic medal after Independence, earning a bronze medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
20. **Ruth Ogbeifo (Weightlifting)**: Ruth Ogbeifo excelled as a weightlifter, winning medals at World Championships and the Olympics in the 75kg category.
These sporting icons have not only brought glory to Nigeria but have also inspired generations of athletes and fans with their exceptional achievements in their respective disciplines.