Females add glamour and spice to sports globally. In this report, ’TANA AIYEJINA takes a look at some Nigerian female athletes who have created waves on and off the sporting arena
ASISAT OSHOALA (FOOTBALL)
Oshoala is the new face of women football in Nigeria nay Africa. The 21-year-old broke into global limelight in 2014, when she emerged Most Valuable Player and top scorer at that year’s Women’s U-20 World Cup, as Nigeria finished runners-up to Germany.
She again led the Super Falcons to a record eighth African Women Championship in Nambia few months later, winning the MVP award, as well ending in second place in the top scorers chart behind compatriot Desire Oparanozie.
Her success story continued, as she was crowned the African Women’s Player of the Year for 2014, before sealing a high-profile move from Rivers Angels to English side, Liverpool Ladies, last year. In 2015, Oshoala was named the BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year.
BLESSING OKAGBARE (ATHLETICS)
Okagbare is no doubt Nigeria’s queen of the tracks. The African 100m record holder has been Nigeria’s most consistent athlete since winning a bronze medal in the women’s long jump event at the Beijing Olympics, eight years ago, as a 19-year-old.
Even though the multi-talented athlete has had her fair share of controversies with AFN officials and the media, she remains the fans favourite and the hope of a medal for the country at major global athletics championships.
Okagbare won gold in the 100m and 200m at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, becoming the fourth woman ever to achieve the feat. Her 10.85secs effort also saw her breaking Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie’s 12-year record of 10.91secs.
She’s married to ex-footballer, Igho Otegheri.
CHICHI IGBO (FOOTBALL)
Igbo may not be a household name on the football pitch but off it, especially on the social media, she is a big hit. The Fortuna Hjørring of Denmark midfielder catches the eye with her muscular and masculine physique, which she displays with glee on the social media.
Igbo’s boyish look and penchant for men’s clothes has made some question her sexuality but she insists she doesn’t have to dress like a girl, before she is seen as feminine. And she has never hidden her views about lesbianism — she once posted pictures of herself and her white girlfriend cuddling on the social media, which generated a lot of reactions.
Last year, Igbo, along with other gays took to the streets of Europe to celebrate after same sex marriage was legalised in the United States.
She posted on Facebook, “This is how my God created me; I might work out every now and then but all you see didn’t come from working out. I was created special and I love myself just the way I am.”
The 29-year-old, who has featured in the UEFA Women’s Champions League, represented Nigeria at the 2007 Women’s World Cup but she said she had to quit the team due to poor treatment of players by officials.
Last year, Igbo was featured alongside other female athletes in V Magazine, which had actress Scarlett Johansson on the cover.
MELISSA IFIDZHEN (TENNIS)
Promising tennis sensation Ifidzhen is seen as the future of the game in Nigeria. Born in Russia to a Nigerian father and Russian mother, the 17-year-old made her Nigeria debut last year, when she paired Elizabeth Garos-Pam to beat Algeria’s Saadia Belhadj and Sihem Sahli in the girls doubles of the 38th ITF/CAT African Closed Junior Championship in Egypt.
The right hander started playing tennis since she was five and previously represented Russia, where she was the U-12 champion in 2010.
She also won the European Championship in 2010 and was the champion in the singles and doubles events of the Hitec Bouneweg Junior U-14 Open. In 2014, she reached the final of the singles event of the Governor’s Cup U-16 event in Russia but she made up with a winners medal in the doubles event.
FUNKE OSHONAIKE (TABLE TENNIS)
At 40, former African champion Oshonaike is still one of Nigeria’s best most consistent athletes of all time. She began representing Nigeria at 14, before she moved to Italy in 1994, to play professionally. Oshonaike has appeared at five Olympic Games, beginning from Atlanta ’96.
Now resident in Germany, Oshonaike’s rise from the streets of Somolu, Lagos, to global reckoning is truly meteoric. The third child in a family of 10, she had to battle with poverty from a very young age, but sports came to her rescue, and today, she is one of Africa’s most decorated female table tennis players.
A trained cosmetologist, Oshonaike has a Diploma in Physical and Health Education from the University of Lagos.
KEHINDE OBAREH (BOXING)
African champion Obareh punched her way to a gold medal win in the Lightweight (57-60kg) division at last year’s AAG.
The ever-smiling pugilist suffered a career-threatening wrist injury in 2014, during her defeat to former world champion India’s Sarita Devi. But she has bounced back after surgery abroad to stake a claim as Africa’s best in her category.
A Lance Corporal in the Nigerian Army, the beautiful Obareh says being a boxer or military personnel has not made her different from any other woman out there, but she admits some men get nervous when they realise she’s a soldier cum boxer. And her achievements alongside fellow soldiers Edith Agu-Ogoke and Caroline Linus has helped spread the female boxing gospel across the country.
JOYCE EKWOROMADU (BASKETBALL)
Ekworomadu’s parents are Nigerians but the basketball star was born in the United States and immediately took to basketball like bees to honey, when she first had a taste of the game at 10.
And it wasn’t long before she made her mark as she emerged the Southland Conference Player of the Year and Student Athlete of the Year in 2008.
Though born in the US, the basketballer did not forget her Nigerian roots, thus her decision to play for the D’Tigress even though she also stood a chance of representing the US.
“I am the first generation American born in my family but I am 100 per cent Nigerian and love to embrace the culture,” she said.
She was scouted in 2006/07 by then D’Tigress coach Kevin Cook, who then organised trials in Houston. Ekworomadu made the squad for the 2007 All Africa Games and since then, she’s been an integral member of the side.
On the courts, she’s been inspirational with the national team and is seen by her teammatesas a leader and role model. Off it, Sweet J, as Ekworomadu is fondly called, uses basketball to inspire young girls all over the world to become what they want to be.
LOVELINE OBIJI (SPECIAL SPORTS)
If there’s anything Obiji is good at, surely it’s breaking and setting new world records. The 25-year-old set a new world record in the women’s heavyweight category (from 61.1kg) at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, when she erased Egypt’s Randa Mahmoud’s previous effort of 143kg with a lift of 144kg.
At last year’s AAG, the London 2012 Paralympic gold medalist set another world record in the 86kg women’s powerlifting event with a lift of 149kg.
CYNTHIA UWAK (FOOTBALL)
Former Super Falcons striker and two-time African Women’s Player of the Year, Uwak, was a feared striker while featuring for the women’s national team. However, she has made the news in recent years off the pitch due to her boyish looks.
The 2007 Women’s World Cup star recently took to Instagram to post a topless photo of herself after doubts of her true gender by some.
The 29-year-old striker, who currently plays for Aland in Finland, admitted in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH that she was once “a tomboy climbing trees and playing with boys.” But she maintains that it shouldn’t be a reason to label her a man or a lesbian.
LAURITTA ONYE (SPECIAL SPORTS)
Nollywood actress Lauritta Onye is the country’s most successful dwarf athlete. She had carved a niche for herself in Nollywood, featuring in prominent roles in films like Lords of Money, before becoming an athlete in 2007.
The fair-skinned lady, who competes in discuss and shot put, won her first international medal—silver— at the 2011 All Africa Games. Last October, she won gold (Nigeria’s only medal) at the 7th IPC Athletics World Championships.
The Imo State-born athlete, who is popularly known as Laury White in Nollywood, was among athletes rewarded by President Muhammadu Buhari last month.