Tuesday, September 29, 2020 4:32 pm
By Chris Adetayo
No list could ever do justice to the greatest sportsmen and women that Nigeria has produced in 60 years. Even discounting those who came before independence (like Hogan Kid Bassey and Emmanuel Ifeajuna) doesn’t make it any easy. Added to this is the proliferation of sports in which many have made us proud. Football may be the king of sports here, but so many others have done as much as, if not more than, football in spotlighting Nigeria on the global map.
So, to help, I have chosen to go for one hero per sport. Another criteria is how globally inpactful they were in their sport. Being a trailblazer does help too.
Below, I present my 10 Sporting Heroes for Nigeria @ 60!
Tennis – NDUKA “THE DUKE” ODIZOR.
Easily our greatest tennis player. Regularly featured in the Grand Slams in the early and mid-80s, including reaching the 4th Round of Wimbledon in 1985. Rose to No 52 in the world. Almost single-handedlt dragged Nigeria into the Davis Cup World Group. A true legend!
Table-Tennis – ATANDA “MANSA” MUSA
Serial African and Commonwealth Champion in the 1980s. He succeeded Sunday Eboh and was unbeatable for years, rubbing shoulders with the best from China etc. His rivalry with Yomi Bankole was the Tennis equivalent of Stationery Stores of Lagos and IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan. Mansa Musa was a true joy to behold.
Athletics – MARY ONYALI.
More women have done us proud in Athletics than arguably any other sport. And none match Mary for longevity, consistency and multiplicity of laurels at the highest levels. Represented Nigeria at 5 Olympics (that’s 2 decades of top flight consistency). A true Queen of the Tracks!!
Boxing – RICHARD “DICK TIGER” IHETU.
Legendary boxer. Back in the days when weight divisions were few (just about 8, instead of the over 24 presently) and becoming a world champion in multiple weight divisions was extremely rare, he was World Champion at Middleweight and then Light-Heavyweight. A master boxer of the type we have rarely seen.
Football – AUSTIN JAYJAY OKOCHA.
Visit any country in the world, state that you are a Nigerian and the name of Jay-Jay is likely to pop up. There have been more successful and awarded footballers from this land. But none has had the sort of global appeal, love and recognition that Jay-Jay commands. A true credit to Nigeria.
Golf – PETER AKAKASIAKA.
We haven’t made much waves in golf. Partly because golf remains a “country club” game in Nigeria, played mostly by middle-aged, pot-bellied men and women seeking an outlet for networking and long walks. But amongst the few that have gone pro, none has come close to what Peter Akakasiaka achieved, including playing at the British Open (which is the equivalent of the game’s World Cup).
Wrestling – MICHAEL OKPALA “POWER MIKE”.
A famous name when we were babies (we all claimed to be Power Mike). Decades on, still the most famous wrestler to come out of Nigeria. MIKE BAMIDELE runs him close (he was world champion for 8 years) but name recognition and being an heavyweight just makes Power Mike peerless.
Basketball – HAKEEM “THE DREAM” OLAJUWON.
He took to Basketball late in his teens. Yet ended up as one of the greatest players in the history of the game. 2 time “World Champion”, he won all individual awards in the sport and is rightly enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Weightlifting – OLIVER OROK. N
Commonwealth Champion. Narrowly missed being Olympic Champion in 1984. He had the best “Snatch” lift (a world record) but that took so much out of him that he didn’t get a lift in the “clean and jerk”. But his exploits was rewarded with a rare honorary gold medal by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Badminton – SAMSON EGBEYEMI. The only member of the 10 whose picture I couldn’t find. Memories of him are faint too, no thanks to a lack of development in the sports. He was African Champion for about a decade (70s – 80s). Dominant player who put the game and Nigeria on the map.
This is my list. What do you think?