History makers, record breakers, trail blazers and the list goes on and on. These are the stuff that many Nigerians are made off. One of such is the Woman; Chioma Ajunwa-Opara; the first Black African woman to win an Olympic gold medal in a field activity.
Born 25 December 1970, Chioma Ajunwa, a native of Ahiazu-Mbaise, Imo state, Nigeria was born in to large family with a ‘humble’ background. Though an officer with the Nigerian Police Force, her record-breaking and historic feat came as a professional sportswoman, with a specialty in the long jump category. After various setbacks in her career she achieved fame when she became the first athlete in Nigeria to win an Olympic gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and to date remains Nigeria’s only individual Olympic gold medalist.
Other interesting facts about Chioma Ajunwa
- Chioma couldn’t further her tertiary education because of her family’s inability to pay her tuition fees.
- She ventured into becoming a mechanic but couldn’t continue because of her mother’s disapproval of that choice of career path
- As a professional sportswoman, Ajunwa originally played football for the Nigerian women’s team and was a member of The Falcons during the Women’s World Cup in 1991, but as she was constantly benched her skill was seldom used. Of her short-lived football career Ajunwa has stated “I’ve not regretted the decision [to leave football] because I’ve made my mark in athletics. I could have continued with football but there was a particular coach… He knew then that I was the best player in the team but he decided to keep me on the bench throughout every match so I left the team’s camp. She played as an attacker.
- As a footballer, Chioma played as an attacker.
- Ajunwa performed as a track and field athlete and specialised in the 100m, 200m and long jump. She competed at the 1990 Commonwealth Games, winning a bronze medal in the 4 x 100 metres relay, and competed at the African Championships in 1989 and the All Africa Games in 1991 where she won gold medals in the long jump.
- Ajunwa was banned from the sport for four years after failing a drug test in 1992, despite maintaining her innocence.
- Following the completion of her suspension, Ajunwa went on to become the first West-African woman, as well as the first Nigerian, to win an Olympic gold medal in a track and field event when she emerged victorious in the women’s long jump event at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, with a jump length of 7.12 meters (on her first attempt) during the final. Her feat, however, was overshadowed by Nigeria’s Olympic football team – renamed the Dream Team for the tournament – who matched her achievement when they beat Argentina to win a gold medal. In 2003, she was quoted in an interview as saying, “I toiled so much for this country, but then I was dumped…That I could be the only individual gold medal winner for Nigeria in over half- a-century of participation in the Olympics and I could still be treated like a scourge, I couldn’t believe it.”
- Following her Olympic gold medal at Atlanta ’96, Ajunwa was given a national award – Member of the Order of Niger (MON) – by the then Head of State of Nigeria Sani Abacha, but complained that she was overlooked compared to the Nigerian football team claiming she deserved more.
- Imo State awarded her a chieftaincy title.
- On 1 October 2010, Nigeria celebrated its 50th Independence anniversary. As part of that celebration, on Thursday 30 September 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan conferred special Golden Jubilee Independence Awards on 50 distinguished Nigerians and friends of Nigeria including Ajunwa for their contributions to the development of the country.
- Chioma Ajunwa has also served in a few boards and sporting bodies. She was appointed Chairperson of the Women’s Development Committee of Imo State Football Association. She also served as a committee member of the Revival of the Nigeria Academicals Sports Competitions.
Featured image source: Youth Village Nigeria