Like every other year, 2014 was a mixed bag for Nigerian sports in which some sports personalities braced the odds to distinguish themselves in their chosen fields.
Aside the actors, athletes themselves, a sprinkle of administrators also deserve rave remarks for their efforts which in turn helped the fortunes of their different sports.
One sport that gave Nigeria so much to cheer in the outgoing year was athletics where the heroics of the likes of Blessing Okagbare and Ese Brume brought smiles to many faces.
Table tennis through Aruna Quadri also deserves worthy mention as the humble ping-pong star shook the table tennis world which culminated in the 26-year-old soaring on the world rankings like never before.
Below are PREMIUM TIMES’ top 14 sports personalities/group for 2014 in no particular order.
1. Blessing Okagbare
The queen of the tracks posted a series of top-notch performances this season. Okagbare
was blazing hot at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games where she set a new games record en-route wining the 100m gold medal. The Delta State-born athlete who got married in the course of the year also added the 200m Gold in Glasgow before going on to stamp her authority on the continent, winning the African Championships 100m gold as well and also anchoring the 4x100m relay team to another gold medal. Okagbare also posted fond memories in the prestigious IAAF Diamond League, especially in Shanghai where she won a double with Meet Records in the Long jump (6.86m) and 200m. She ran also a PB of 22.23 seconds in the 200m to come 2nd behind surprise winner Tori Bowie in Eugene. In all, Okagbare participated in nine Diamond League meetings this season, winning four of them. She’s ranked second in the IAAF World rankings in the 100m this year, and fifth in the 200m.
2. Asissat Oshoala
The 20-year-old female football star was arguably the most celebrated amongst her peers
in the outgoing year. Ever looking humble and gentle, Oshoala played pivotal roles in the successes recorded by the national teams, the Falconets at the Canada 2014 FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup and the Super Falcons at the Africa Women Championships (AWC). Little wonder she scooped individual awards for herself at the big stage and she is also reported to be on the wish list of several top sides in Europe. Oshoala was the best player and highest goal scorer at the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. She was also best player and second top goal scorer with the Super Falcons team who won the 2014 African Women’s Championship. Oshoala capped the wonderful year winning the Federation Cup with her local club Rivers Angel. Rivers Angels are also the Nigeria Women League champions.
3. Aruna Quadri
From his humble beginning in the ancient city of Oyo, Aruna Quadri has braved all odds to
rise to stardom in global table tennis. The 26-year-old stunned the world with his exceptional performance at the just concluded World Cup in Dusseldorf, Germany. In modern table tennis, Quadri has become the first black and African player to make it to number 30 in the world and this feat has received accolades across the globe. Quadri produced major world table tennis shocks by recording two stunning upsets on the opening day of the Liebherr ITTF Men’s World Cup in Dusseldorf, Germany. The 26-year-old, who was ranked as low as 237 at the start of the year, beat world number 27 Kenta Matsudaira of Japan in his opening group game. He went on to beat world number 37 Alexander Shibaev of Russia to progress to the final 16.
4. Vincent Enyeama
The Super Eagles may have failed in their bid to qualify for the Africa Nations Cup in
Equatorial Guinea, but that has by no means diminished the heroics of Lille of France shot-stopper Enyeama. Enyeama was outstanding for Nigeria at the World Cup in Brazil where he was given high ratings like other world class goalkeepers at the Mundial. Having narrowly missed out on the BBC African Footballer of Year, Enyeama has his eyes on the top prize at the CAF Awards where is amongst final shortlist of three players to be accorded the biggest individual award in African football. Enyeama however faces tough test from the duo of Yaya Toure of Ivory Coast and Gabonese Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
5. Mfon Udoh
The Enyimba striker was the crowned king of soccer on the home front in the outgoing
year. Udoh has his name etched in the sands of the Nigeria Football League having set a new all-time goals record of 23 goals in a season. Udoh was understandably voted the best player in the League last season at the League Bloggers Award in Lagos and the former Akwa United star is already eyeing a move to Europe with possible destination being Spain. Udoh has already being drafted to the Super Eagles team where he vowed to continue his goal scoring spree.
6. Ese Brume
The 18-year-old passes for the biggest revelation in athletics for the outgoing year 2014. After the disappointment at the World Junior Championships in the United Sates, Brume surprised everyone including herself to win the Commonwealth Games Long Jump gold. The outing was her first big outing and wining gold was to say the least very pleasant. Weeks later, Brume was able to prove skeptics wrong that she was no flash in the pan as she again finished tops in the African Women Championships beating all comers to the Gold medal in Marrakech, Morocco.
7. Obafemi Martins
The 30-year-old striker had a wonderful season in the United States where he stars for Seattle Sounders. Despite being overlooked by national team handlers, Martins was in no way deterred a he continually churned out breath-taking performances for his team week in week out. The Nigerian striker scored a club-record 17 goals during the regular season, it wasn’t just his scoring that set him apart in 2014, as Martins tied Mauro Rosales’ club record with 13 assists, including four game-winners. Martins was one of three Sounders FC players that started the 2014 AT&T MLS All-Star Game, was voted to the MLS Best XI alongside Chad Marshall and finished runner-up in Volkswagen MLS MVP Voting. For his efforts, the 30-year-old signed a contract extension on October 28 to remain in Seattle, so Sounders fans will be watching backflips for years to come.
8. Wahid Enitan Oshodi
While serving as the Lagos state Sports Commissioner, the Barrister also doubles as the President of the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF), a post he has used in changing the fortunes of the game. It is worthy to note that the NTTF under Oshodi successfully engaged its players in 19 local and international competitions within the year. Some of these competitions are the Lagos Open and the 2014 International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) African Top 16, which it hosted with 12 countries in attendance between June 23 and June 28. Aside the competitions held in Nigeria, the country’s stars, particularly Aruna Quadri, showed the nation’s resurgence in the sport with sterling performances in the world arena.
9. Odunayo Adekuoroye
The 20-year-old wrestler busted to limelight at the 2014 Commonwealth Games where in a spectacular fashion she won the 53kg freestyle wrestling. It was the perfect stage for Adekuoroye to bury the disappointment she had to endure at the African Championships in Tunis where she had to settle for silver. Having now broken the duck, the Ondo-state born wrestler says its forward ever for are and she now has her eyes glued to winning gold at the Rio Olympics.
10. Lovelyn Obiji
The power-lifter remains a perfect example to highlight the ability in disability. Having registered her name in the minds of many at the power-lifting event of the 2012 London Olympics, Obiji continued in the same light in 2014 Commonwealth Games where she not only won the gold but a new world record as she lifted 122.4kg to set the new world record in the heavyweight class.
11. Kano Pillars
Winning the Nigeria League for three consecutive seasons gives the Pyramid Boys some leverage to be given a mention as one of the standouts for the outgoing year. Winning the league was indeed a collective effort on the part of the Nigeria champions who are now looking forward to making meaningful impact on the continent in the CAF champions League.
12. Rivers Angels
Like Pillars the dominance of the Port Harcourt team is unrivalled in the women circles where they this year did a double winning the league title and the Women’s Federation Cup. On the national scale , Rivers Angels is now a talent factory as the team provideda whopping 11 players from the all couquering Super Falcons team and a h.ndful also in the Falonets team that made it to the finals of the FIFA U 20 Women’s World Cup in Canada.
13. Daniel Igali
Arguably one of the few round pegs in round holes in sports administration in Nigeria, the wrestling boss has overtime gone out of his way to get result for the country. A popular figure amongst the country’s wrestlers, Igali posits that wrestling in Nigeria was growing, but there were still shortcomings that could be tackled head-on with better funding.
14. George Ashiru
Termed a silent achiever, Taekwondo under is making giant strides under the leadership of Ashiru. Amongst other achievements in the outgoing year, many recalls that Team Nigeria made the biggest impact at the Commonwealth Taekwondo Championships where Nigeria won 10 medals with only 15 athletes a success rate better than teams with much larger numbers. The team was ranked in top 5 at the events, while also wining the “Best Referee” award via Ms Margaret Binga (NTF Vice President).