By Yemi Olus
Sometime last year, one of my write-ups on this platform centred on Nigeria’s dwindling performance in the men’s Long Jump and the need to regain our dominance in the event, having produced greats like Yusuf Alli, Ajayi Agbebaku and Paul Emordi in the past. I also lamented about how it had become increasingly difficult to produce Nigerian male jumpers who could attain distances of 8.00m and beyond.
While Nigeria has won the women’s Long Jump title at the last five editions of the African Championships (Blessing Okagbare won the 2010 and 2012 editions, while Ese Brume did same in 2014, 2016 and 2018), the last time a Nigerian man made the podium in the Long Jump at the African Championships was when Stanley Gbagbeke picked a Bronze medal at Nairobi 2010.
The last Nigerian man to win Gold in the Long Jump at the African Championships was Obinna Eregbu, in 1993 – making it almost three decades since a Nigerian male jumper won the African Championships. This is a sad development, considering that Nigerian male jumpers dominated the African Championships in the 80s and 90s, winning seven consecutive titles in the Long Jump from 1984 to 1993.
Paul Emordi won the 1984 and 1985 editions, passing the baton to Yusuf Alli who won Gold in 1988 and 1989. Ayodele Aladefa took over in 1990 and then added another title in 1992, while Eregbu claimed Gold in 1993. However, the South Africans have since taken over the men’s Long Jump!
Khotso Mokoena became the first South African man to win the Long Jump at the African Championships, having soared to Gold in Nairobi 2010. Senegal’s Ndiss Kaba Badji won the title in 2012, then the South Africans reclaimed the title in 2014 and even ensured a clean sweep of medals in the event, taking Gold (Zarck Visser), Silver (Khotso Mokoena) and Bronze (Ruswahl Samaai) respectively. Samaai went on to win the event in 2016 and 2018 respectively, winning in Asaba with a Championship Record of 8.45m.
Last weekend, the performance of US-based Nigerian jumper Fabian Edoki, sparked a ray of hope within me. The Jumper is currently a Junior at the Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), and while competing in the indoor circuit – the Vanderbilt Invitational held in Nashville to be precise, he set a new Personal Best (Indoor) of 8.01m. Last year, Edoki set a PB of 8.10m (Outdoor) whilst competing at the Wes Kittley Invitational in Texas.
The mark Edoki set in 2018 made him the first Nigerian male athlete to jump above 8m in almost a decade, considering that Samson Idiata, who was the last Nigerian man to jump 8.00m – a feat he achieved in 2013, didn’t even go above 8.00m. He recorded a jump of exactly 8.00m!
Although some may consider it a bit premature, I believe that Edoki surpassing the 8.00m mark calls for some kind of celebration when we consider that the men’s Long Jump at the 2017 Nigerian Championships was won with a meagre 7.54m. The 2016 edition of the championship was won with 7.54m, that of 2015 with 7.89m, while the 2014 edition was won with 7.91m – yes, that’s how badly the men’s Long Jump has fared in recent years. It’s no wonder that Yusuf Alli’s National Record of 8.27m set 30 years ago still stands. Incidentally, Alli’s mark was a Championship Record and African Record at the time.
Edoki has shown a lot of promise since winning GOLD in the Triple Jump at the 2013 African Youth Championships held in Warri. His transition from the Triple Jump to the Long Jump is an interesting one, seeing that he started with the former, but is now showing more promise in the latter. He set a mark of 7.21m in 2014, and improved to 7.91m in 2016.
While competing for South Plains College during his first year in the US, Edoki won Gold in the Long Jump and Silver in the Triple Jump at the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). He currently has a PB of 16.02m in the Triple Jump.
His new Indoor PB in the Long Jump currently ranks him as No.3 in the world, although it must be said that it’s still very early in the season, so it is expected that his mark will soon be surpassed. However, I’m optimistic that he will post impressive performances when the season commences in earnest.
The competition in the men’s Long Jump is already heating up, and although Edoki hasn’t gone professional yet and still has a long way to go, he will have a lot to contend with after graduating from university. The No.1 mark in the men’s Long Jump last year was 8.68m, set by Cuban sensation Juan Miguel Echeverria who is still only 20-years old, and turns 21 in August. Edoki certainly has his work cut out for him, but his emergence may just be the beginning of a resurgence in the men’s Long Jump event in Nigeria.