Sports is entrenched in the Nigerian system and is a major part of our daily lives. Via the numerous age grade competitions and inter-school sports tournaments in the country, talent is usually identified early enough.
Over the years a number of sports men and women have risen to the top of their game, honing their skills and competing in various international events.
These superstars have gained global recognition for their craft while also winning major laurels along the way.
Below is a list of 10 of the greatest sports heroes to come out of Nigeria
Chioma Ajunwa is a former athlete and footballer, best known for being the first Nigerian to win an Olympic gold medal. She leapt a distance of 7.12 metres to win gold at the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta.
Ajunwa also won medals at the African Athletics championships, the All-Africa Games and the Commonwealth Games. As a footballer, she played for the Super Falcons at the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
To this day she remains the only woman to feature at both the FIFA Women’s World Cup as a footballer and the Olympics as a track and field athlete.
One of the most decorated footballers to come out of the country, Asisat Oshoala has been the jewel of the Super Falcons for many years. She is widely regarded as one of the greatest African footballers of all time and one of the best in the world.
Oshoala is a three-time winner of the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations, lifting the title in 2014, 2016 and 2018. She has also won numerous individual awards, including five African Women’s Footballer of the Year honours, BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year among others.
At club level, Oshoala currently plays for Barcelona where she has won three consecutive Primera Division titles from 2019 – 2022. She has also won the UEFA’s Women’s Champions League and was the Primera Division top scorer during the 2021/22 season.
Lucy Ejike is a Paralympian, who uses a wheelchair due to polio and focuses on the powerlifting event. She has represented Nigeria at six consecutive Paralympics events from 2000 in Sydney to 2021 in Tokyo, winning medals at each, including three gold, two silver and one bronze.
Ejike has also won consecutive powerlifting world titles from 2017 to 2021. She has set several powerlifting records and is the current world record holder in the -61kg category, lifting a total of 142kg in September 2016.
She currently works as a sports administrator in her native Enugu State.
Mercy Akide is a former footballer, generally considered to be one of the first real superstars of the Nigerian women’s game. She won several individual awards during her playing days, including the inaugural African Women’s Footballer of the year award in 2001.
Representing the Super Falcons of Nigeria, Akide won three consecutive Africa Women’s Cup of Nations in 1998, 2000 and 2002. She also played at three FIFA Women’s World Cups, two Olympic games and was a 1999 and 2004 FIFA World All-Star.
Since retiring, Akide has taken up management, serving as head coach for Stars U-16 C Gold Girls before joining the coaching staff of Virginia Rush Soccer Club.
Widely considered the greatest Nigerian striker of all time and one of the best African players of all time, Rashidi Yekini had a career that spanned nearly 20 years.
He is the all-time leading scorer for the Super Eagles with 37 goals and has the honour of netting Nigeria’s first ever World Cup goal when he scored the opener against Bulgaria at USA 1994.
In 1993, Yekini had unprecedented individual success, which culminated in him being named African Footballer of the Year, the first ever for Nigeria. The following year, he led the Super Eagles of Nigeria to the Africa Cup of Nations title in Tunisia, winning the golden boot and being named the best player of the tournament.
Yekini passed on 2012 at the age of 48 after a lengthy period of illness
Perpetua Nkwocha is a former female professional footballer and one of the most decorated players in the women’s football scene. She participated in seven Africa Women’s Cup of Nations, winning five and played in four FIFA Women’s World Cup between 2003 and 2015, as well as three Olympic games.
Nkwocha was voted African Women’s Footballer of the Year four times and was top goalscorer at the AWCON three times. She is also the all-time leading scorer for the Super Falcons with 80 goals in 99 appearances.
She is the current coach of Swedish Women’s Football Division 2 side Clemensnas IF.
Nwankwo Kanu is an icon of Nigerian football having burst onto the scene at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 1993. He is one of the most talented players the country has ever produced and captained the National U-23 team to Olympic gold in 1996.
Affectionately known as Papilo to his millions of fans in Nigeria, Kanu is a two-time winner of the African footballer of the year award. He also won the Eredivisie and UEFA Champions League with Ajax and lifted three Premier League titles with Arsenal.
Kanu is also known for his philanthropy, setting up the Kanu Heart Foundation after his own experience with a congenital heart defect. The foundation aims to tackle homelessness and treat children with undiagnosed heart disease.
Odunayo Adekuoroye is a freestyle wrestler, competing across several weight categories. She is considered one of Nigeria’s greatest wrestling exports and is the current African champion in the 59kg category.
Known for challenging herself by alternating several weight categories, Adekuoroye has won medals at 48kg, 53kg, 55kg, 57kg and 59kg. She is a three-time Commonwealth Games gold medalist and has also won silver and bronze medals at the World Wrestling Championship.
Tobi Amusan is one of Nigeria’s brightest lights in track & field in recent years, specializing in the 100 metres hurdles and competing as a sprinter. She became Nigeria’s first ever World champion and world record holder in 2022 when she won gold in the 100 metres hurdles at the World Championship in Eugene Oregon, running a time of 12.12 seconds in the semi-final.
Amusan is also a three-time Commonwealth champion and four-time African champion, alternating between the hurdles and the 4×100 metres relay. She also finished top of the Diamond League in 2021 and 2022.
The only medal missing from Amusan’s collection is the Olympic gold and at 25, She still has time to put that right.
Jay Jay Okocha
Widely considered one of the greatest footballers to ever grace a football pitch in Nigeria, Jay Jay Okocha is well loved among fans in the country. Blessed with sublime skills during his playing days, Okocha endeared himself to Nigerians with his ability to leave opponents and fans in awe with some mesmerizing piece of footwork.
Okocha was part of Nigeria’s golden generation that won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994 and made their first appearance at the FIFA World Cup in the same year. In a career that spanned over a decade, he featured at three World Cups and five AFCONs, captaining the Super Eagles between 2002 and 2006.
Since retiring, Okocha has taken up several roles away from the pitch. He has been very visible in the betting space as he is the face of Betking, a leading betting operator that features very visible on the list of best betting apps on camparison site Betting Apps Nigeria.