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Sports News of Monday, 2 January 2023


2023 Preview: 12 emerging Nigerian athletes to watch

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2022 was a remarkable year for some young Nigerian athletes as they recorded laudable achievements both nationally and internationally.

While the seniors broke new ground, there were some youngsters who put on scintillating performances to grace the ecosystem.

In this report, PREMIUM TIMES recounts 12 youngsters who are setting the pace to take over from the maestros in their respective fields.

1) Stella Ayanleke, 100m hurdles

Ayanleke exemplifies the “never give up” spirit after a string of setbacks. The recent University of Lagos Human Kinetics graduate was sidelined for a year because of a fractured arm injury sustained in 2021, but she ended 2022 with a smile after setting a personal best of 13.58s and winning her first-ever gold medal at the National Sports Festival in December.

Ayanleke’s success story started during the Nigeria University Games (NUGA) when she returned to the track for the first time after suffering a hand injury. She won a gold medal in the 110m hurdles for the University of Lagos in a time of 13.91s.

She told PREMIUM TIMES in an exclusive interview, “I would rate 2022 an 8/10. It has taught me how to be physically and mentally ready to prepare for competitions. Also, getting a gold medal in NUGA, getting a bronze medal in National trials in June to winning the National Sports Festival with a new personal best has been so accomplishing. I am so thankful to God for the Grace and Mercy.

“My plan for 2023 is to make the team for the All African Games and also to run a sub 13s.”

L- Marylove Edwards

2) Marylove Edwards (Tennis)

Marylove Edwards continued to dominate women’s tennis with several heroic performances and medals to show. The University of South California student took part in seven national competitions where she won six and lost the semifinal berth in the Davnotch Tennis Open in May.

Nigeria’s top-ranked female tennis star, Edward, defended her title during the 2022 Lagos Tennis Open, where she defeated Oiza Yakubu in the final.

Meanwhile, she rounded up 2022 in a grand style with double medals at the RainOil Open in December. She won the women’s singles and partnered with Anu Ayegbusi to win the doubles.

Aside from national events, the 18-year-old Edwards took part in competitions in Tunisia and Morocco.

Edwards began her international challenge in March during the J1 Casablanca and J3 Rabat played in Morocco. She failed to progress past the first round in both competitions to Belgian and French players.

She took part in the J3 Monastir in Tunisia in April and lost in the first round to the Japanese Kaili Demo Teso. In the same month, Edwards also competed at the J3 Sousse Grade 3 tournament in Tunisia, where she lost in the first round to Tunisian Ons Boubaker.

Edwards told this newspaper that her focus for 2023 is to compete in the WTA.

3) Favour Ofili (Athletics)

Ofili had a bright 2022 on the track where she broke Blessing Okagbare’s 200m sprint record in May during the Tom Jones Memorial with a 21.96s finish.

The University of Tennessee athlete who turned 20 on 31 December 2022, was part of the Nigerian quartet of Tobi Amusan, Rosemary Chukwuma, and Grace Nwokocha that won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in the 4x100m relays with an African record of 42.10s.

She also won silver in the 200m at the Commonwealth Games with a 22.51s finish behind Jamaican Elaine Thompson-Herah, who won gold with 22.02s.

Despite failing to win a medal at the 4x100m, Ofili teamed up with Rosemary Chukwuma, Grace Nwokocha, and Joy Udo-Gabriel to break Africa’s 30-year-old record with a new one of 42.22s.

4) Ifeakachukwu Nmor (Swimming)

If you are conversant with swimming, the name Ifeakachukwu Nmor must ring a bell. The fresh graduate of Accounting from the University of Port Harcourt won a gold and three silver medals at the National Sports Festival for Delta State to add up to his burgeoning medals haul in 2022.

Nmor was the best athlete during the 2022 NUGA competition as he clinched ‌15 medals-13 gold and two silver medals in men’s swimming for the University of Port Harcourt.

5) Akiayefa Timipame-Ere (Swimming)

Just like Nmor, Akiayefa Timipame-Ere is a widely exposed Nigerian swimmer who has represented the country in several competitions.

The Nile University of Abuja student in March scooped the best outstanding female athlete during NUGA. Timipame-Ere, who just clocked 23 on Christmas Day, won 11 medals during the National Sports Festival whilst representing Delta State.

6) Tima Godbless (Athletics)

2022 was an exceptional year for 18-year-old Godbless, who broke a 23-year-old Nigerian record set by Joan Uduak Ekah during the U-20 Championship in Cali, Colombia. Godbless recorded a ground-breaking personal best of 11.08s during the 100m.

However, the youngster couldn’t clinch any medal at the competition as she finished fifth in the final in 11.19s. But the Bayelsa representative at the National Sports Festival shone like a million stars winning a gold medal in December with 11.32s. She clinched a second gold in the mixed 4x100m relay.

7) Marvelous Asemota (Athletics)

Marvelous Asemota had a busy 2022, featuring in several competitions. The 22-year-old fresh graduate of Computer Education from Benson Idahosa University started the year with two gold medals at the NUGA event in the 100m and 200m races.

She came fourth and first in the 2nd and 3rd AFN All-Comers in Lagos and Abuja in April and May, respectively. She then wrapped up the year with a bronze for Team Edo during the NSF, in the 4x100m relay mixed relay race.

Taiwo Matti

8) Taiwo Matti (Table Tennis)

One of the biggest discoveries for Nigeria in Table Tennis in 2022 was 17-year-old Taiwo Matti, who also burst into the international space.

The Ginasio Clube de Valbom player won two gold medals at the West Africa qualifiers for the World Championship in May. In the same month, he won a silver at the African Club Championship. The youngster kept the fire burning by clinching three gold medals in Tunis during the African Youth Championship in July.

Mati wrapped up 2022 with a silver medal at the African Senior Championship in Algeria.

Matti told PREMIUM TIMES that his plans for 2023 include attending more championships to increase his world ranking.

9) Sukurat Aiyelabegan (Table Tennis)

Aiyelabegan is one of the fastest-rising Table Tennis stars in Nigeria. The youngster took part in seven tournaments in Nigeria, winning several medals.

Sukurat won a silver during the African Cup Tennis Championship played in Lagos in May. She then clinched a bronze in the women’s doubles for Kwara State during the National Sports Festival. Aiyelabegan ended the year on a high note, winning gold at the Lagos State league in December.

Aiyelabegan told our reporter “It is too early to get carried away, but I am enjoying the spotlight.

“I know it is going to take time because I’m still young and I have lots of room for improvement but, the little exposure I have had is down to my passion and resilience.”

11) Vivian Ekpeyong (Table Tennis)

The University of Calabar student won a bronze medal at the just concluded National Sports Festival in Delta during the team’s event. Asides from this, Ekpeyong was the most valuable athlete in the Table Tennis category where she won four medals-three gold and a bronze.

12) Samuel Dada (Basketball)

Dada experienced tremendous growth in 2022 with groundbreaking achievements. The college student started the year by winning a bronze at the Crown Elites Championship in Lagos.

The Warlord Academy player took part in the Sam Oguche tournament where he won silver with his team.