Highlights from the Nigerian National Sports Festival after a Six-year Hiatus

Shocks, shattered records and discoveries highlight the return of the multi-sports event.

Often called the baby of the Nigerian sports ministry, the “Nigerian Olympics” was resurrected in Abuja after a six-year dearth to make for the 19th edition of an event that has brought so many talent revelations.

Nigeria's Vice President - Prof. Yemi Osinbajo receives the National Torch of Unity from sports minister - Solomon Dalung at the 19th National Sports Festival
Nigeria’s Vice President – Prof. Yemi Osinbajo receives the National Torch of Unity from sports minister – Solomon Dalung at the 19th National Sports Festival

The Nigerian Sports Festival was last hosted by Lagos in 2012, with hosting rights for the next games awarded to Cross-River state, who kept on postponing kickoff and eventually got withdrawn as hosts by the sports ministry. This biennial multi-sport competition was inaugurated in 1973 by General Yakubu Gowon, with the purpose of discovering new talents and fostering national unity after the Nigerian civil war in 1970

The National Stadium Abuja was a beehive of activities from Thursday 6th December to Sunday 16th December, 2018, as 7227 athletes competed for 1757 medals in various sports for those 11 days. Delta State who were the defending champions from the Eko 2012 games, came into the games with a very large contingent and ended up defending their title with 163 gold, 88 silver, and 101 bronze medals. Rivers State placed second with 69 gold, 58 silver, and 67 bronze medals while team Edo came in third with 47 gold, 41 silver and 53 bronze medals.

Team Delta swimmer breaks 27-year-old record

Victories were kicked off by Kelly Ebi Caleb of Bayelsa State who won the first gold medal of the festival in the men’s 200 cycling event. At the swimming venue, a large turnout of fans watched as Team Delta dominated the medals category.

Track and field events provided quite a number of upsets and broken records, as National Champion Ese Brume decimated the previous NSF record in the women’s long jump when she lept 6.62m, to win gold for Team Delta. Precious Okoronkwo of team Lagos jumped 6.04m to win silver ahead of Grace Anigbata, who lept 5.94m for the bronze medal.

2014 Commonwealth Games Gold Medalist broke a 12-year-old National Sports Festival Long Jump record to clinch gold in Abuja

In the men’s long jump, Onyekwelu Benjamin of Lagos won gold with a personal best jump of 7.77m. Edafiadhe Joseph finished second with 7.60m and Oshasha Afeke got bronze for Edo with a 7.38m leap. In the other athletics final on day 1, Ruth Akusho of Plateau snatched gold ahead of veteran Deborah Pam in the womens 5000m race, clocking 17:05.85s.

Day 2 of athletics witnessed the men and women’s 100m final. In the men’s race, Usheoritse Itsekiri of team Rivers stormed to victory in a PB time of 10.28s. KADA 2009 champion, Ogho Oghene-Egwero of team Delta settled for silver ahead of Enoch Adegoke, after both athletes finished in a time of 10.32s.

Usheoritse Itsekiri of team Rivers poses with the timer after winning the Men’s 100m at the National Sport Festival in a new Lifetime Best of 10.28s.

In the women’s final, little known Bukola Bolutife of Team Ondo ran a perfect race to clinch the gold medal in PB time of 11.45s. Defending champion Peace Uko of Team Akwa Ibom finished in 11.52s ahead of WAUG champion Joy Udo-Gabriel in 11.53s. Bolutife’s win was even more fascinating as she only qualified for the 100m final as one of the fastest losers in the semi-finals.

Margaret Bukola Bolutife defeated seasoned medallists to win gold in the women’s 100m final

There was also a gold medal for team Oyo’s David Olowookere in the men’s 400m hurdles which he won in a PB time of 51.07s. The women’s race saw Rita Ossai scoop the gold medal ahead of Daisy Akpota of Edo state, finishing in 59.31s. In the mens 10000m, Team Cross River’s Ismaila Sodjo held off Emmanuel Gyang to win gold in a time of 31:37.00s.

Day 3 of atheletics witnessed perhaps the biggest upset of the sports festival when Nse Imaobong Uko, a 14 year old athlete from Akwa Ibom won gold ahead of older and more experienced athletes. With a new PB time of 52.36s, she relegated African Athletics Championships bronze medalist Yinka Ajayi to silver. Praise Idamadudu rounded off the podium places in the women’s 400m race.

Nse Imaobong Uko storming to the finish line in the women’s 400m event

Nse Imaobong Uko and Quadre Barakat Oyinlomo in Tennis were the revelations of the NSF, as Quadre scooped all the gold medals she competed for winning the singles, doubles and mixed doubles events for Team Delta.

Basketball also featured pulsating games as Team FCT won the men’s gold medal, while the women’s event was won by team Rivers ahead of Lagos, who won silver and team Plateau won the bronze medal.

Back to the track, where the men’s 400m final was decided on day 3, Team Rivers’ Orukpe Erayokan was too good for the rest of the pack as he raced in a season’s best time of 46.52s to win gold.

In the field, Augustin Nwoye set a new festival record in the men’s discuss throw, with a 55.23m throw, for team Rivers. It was a Rivers 1st and 2nd finish as Kenechukwu Uze threw his discuss to 49.51m.

Day 4 was highlighted by Queen Obisesan’s new festival record in the women’s hammer throw. She erased Vivian Chukwuemeka’s Gateway 2006 record throw of 61.38m to set a new record of 64.96m. Her competition were way short of her mark, with Sophiat Omizi throwing to a distance of 55.77m for silver and Olufunke Susan with a 53.59m throw to win bronze.

Long jump bronze medallist, Grace Anigbata set a new festival record in the women’s triple jump after she lept to a distance of 13.76m to clinch gold for Team Bayelsa. Her jump erases Otonye Iworinma’s previous record set at the Gateway 2006 games of 13.60m. Mercy Honesty of Akwa Ibom won silver with a 13.10m jump, while Delta’s Abide Mercy finished third with a 13.01m jump.

The “greatest” Nigerian male athlete was revealed at the end of the Decathlon event. Peter Moreno of team Rivers scored 6219 points to win gold ahead of Samuel Osadolor of Edo state who finished with 6044 points. Melody Bassey of team Akwa Ibom finished third with 5779 points.

Day 5 of athletics witnessed Tobi Amusan racing to a new festival record time in the women’s 100m hurdles. She won in 13.03s, chalking of 51 micro seconds from the previous record set by Amaka Ogoegbunam during the 2009 KADA games. Amusan was well clear of the pack after the sixth hurdle on her wag to clinching gold for team Delta.

Peter Moreno holds a National Record (NR) in the men’s pole vault

In the men’s 110m hurdles final, Abejoye Oyeniyi also set a new festival record, after he ran a 13.85s race. He won gold ahead of Martin Ogiriakhi of team Delta in 14.23s and bronze medallist Samuel Osadolor of team Edo who finished in 14.37s

The men’s 800m final was a battle between Soudi Hamadjam of Cross River and Edidiong Udo of Akwa Ibom. The pair left the rest of the field at the bell, with Soudi Hamadjam finishing first ahead of Edidiong Udo, after he crossed the finish line in 1:50.02s ahead of Udo who clocked 1:50.12s for the silver medal. Shimenenge Agber of team Bayelsa claimed gold in the women’s race with a time of 2:07.79s, while Comfort James of Akwa Ibom finished in the silver medal position with a 2:08.32s run.

Para Powerlifter, Esther Nworgu shows off her silver medal from the National Sports Festival in Abuja

The women’s high jump event saw another record set as Esther Isah of Lagos lept over the bar placed at 1.80m to win gold. Triple jump champion Grace Anigbata finished third in the event while the men’s event saw Mike Edwards equal the festival record of 2.15m after failing to clear the bar at 2.20m which would have been a new record.

Record breaker, Esther Isah shares here excitement with the press after the high jump event

In badminton, Anuolowapo Odeyori of team Lagos won the men’s singles event ahead of compatriot Godwin Olofua while the women’s doubles final saw Team Rivers clinch gold with a straight set win over team Edo. In The women’s singles event, Dorcas Adesokan of team Ogun won team Edo’s Deborah Ukeh for gold in straights sets of 21-8 and 21-16. The mixed doubles final was won by Gideon Babalola and Mariam Braimoh of team Delta. They won Enejori Abah and Amin Christopher of Rivers in the final.

Rising star, Adijat Gbadamosi with her silver medal at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Rising star, Adijat Gbadamosi became a national champion in the light-flyweight (48kg) division for women after she defeated Oyesiji Adeola of Kaduna by unanimous decision to clinch gold medal for Team Lagos.

After eleven days of activities, the Nigerian National Sports Festival came to a close, with Edo state awarded rights to host the games in 2020, still leaving Abuja as a back-up venue if Edo fails to organize proceedings in time.

Below is the final medals table. See how well your state fared.

Final medals table for the 19th National Sports Festival held in Abuja.

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