Favour Ofili takes the baton in Wu20 4x400m for Nigeria, photo by Dan Vernon for World Athletics
In his two columns a week, Deji Ogeyingbo gives us insights into athletics in his home country, Nigeria, and also the world. This column is on Favour Ofili.
Relentless Favour Ofili offers hope for Nigeria
The best female sprinter in Nigeria. It’s a title that has undoubtedly belonged to Blessing Okagbare. A woman, who despite the internal wranglings and administrative issues that blighted Nigeria for the past decade, carried the sport on her shoulders to produce countless pieces of sprinting on the global stage thereby putting Nigeria on the map.
However, there comes a time where there has to be a change in the guard, either amicably or forcefully. It’s eventually going to happen as time happens to us all. Okagbare has given her bit to Nigeria with her performances on the track and duly deserves all the praises and plaudits.
The past never stops informing the future and the greats never forget the past. The future of Nigerian and African sprinting is Favour Ofili. A young, precocious, wiliness to break barriers and the mind to go all out, the student at Louisiana State University (LSU) is one many Nigerians pin their hopes on for a brighter future in the sport.
2021 has been a year in which lots of youngsters have lived up to the billing in their respective disciplines in the sport. The likes of Erriyon Knighton, Christine Mboma, Athing Mu have all shown their credentials to the World. Ofili surely gets into the conversation with these youngsters after her outstanding performances in the track this year.
Ofili’s journey to this point did not start this year. She had shown much promise while still competing on the Nigerian circuit. However, she began to draw attention to the track world when she was named the best female athlete at the 2019 African U18 and U20 Championships.
Prior to that superb display in Abidjan in which she scooped Gold in the youth category of the 200m and 400m, Ofili had won the 400m at the African youth games in Algiers the year before.
One of the things that makes Ofili special is the fact that she was qualifying for senior competitions while still a teenager. At 16, Ofili won a Silver at the African Games in Rabat, dipping inside 52s for the second time in her career.
Perhaps her breakthrough moment on the World Stage came when she qualified for the World Championships in Doha. As the youngest entrant over the 400m, Ofili made it into the semis, where she clocked a new Personal Best of 51.51s.
After teaming up with LSU in the fall of 2020, the stars continued to align for Ofili. She didn’t take long to break the African indoor record over the 200m when she stormed to a 22.75s timing in Arizona in February. Although the time wasn’t enough to pick the top honors as she was pushed to third after there were faster times in other heats.
The youngster has had a massive impact over at LSU in her first season. Ofili won Silver at the SEC Outdoor Champs, as she roared to a wind-assisted 22.16s (+4.1m/s). She had earlier won Bronze indoors in February.
As most part of her journey, Ofili usually is the youngest to line up in major finals she competes in. That didn’t change at the NCAA Champs this year in which she was sandwiched in between a star-studded cast in the final in June. Regardless, Ofili put up a show as she narrowly missed out on a medal by whiskers.
Despite suffering the ignominy of not competing for Nigeria at the Olympics due to her not having the required number of “out of competition” testing after qualifying for both the 200m and 4×100, Ofili put that behind her as she made her way to Nairobi for the World U20 championships.
The manner in which she brushed aside her opponents in the heats and semis of the 200m got many viewers on their feet as the lanky sprinter lit up the track. In the final, Ofili was sandwiched between Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, and in spite of being level with them at the curve, she came up short as she placed third in a new PB of 22.23s.
She picked up the pieces the next day as she joined forces with the 4x100m team to win Bronze in a new U20 record for Nigeria. Still not satisfied, Ofili anchored Nigeria’s 4x400m team to Gold on what was a befitting finale to her storied championships.
On what Nigerians should expect from her in the future, “They should expect fast times from me, they should keep praying for me in order for me to compete healthily and to be in good shape all the time” Ofili said after clinching Bronze in the 200m at the World Junior Championships in Nairobi this year.
Meanwhile, Ofili’s form going into 2022 can only get better. Still a teenager, the possibilities of what she can achieve are limitless, both for LSU and Nigeria. It is however the latter that has pinned its hope on her as the country looks for the next superstar to carry its flag on the global stage.
And so, as ever with athletics, it can be very fickle. Every once in a while, it unearths a gem. One that gets people’s hearts in their mouth when they grace the track. Ofili certainly was cut from such cloth. But as with everything special that comes our way, there is a fliting possibility of her not fulfilling her potential. However, the desire is that she doesn’t fall on the other end of the spectrum.