While driving with my uncle some years ago, I remembered vividly he told me “that man on sneakers, walking by the roadside is the ‘Nigerian Usain Bolt.’” Usain Bolt? That’s the king of Sprint! ‘Seun Ogunkoya is a two-time gold medalist in the 100-meter race in Africa,’ he said. Well, he looked that bit in physique, he’s a giant (he is 5ft 11 in. & 86kg in weight). Things didn’t look too good for someone in the league of Bolt. Even if he was on a fitness walk around the streets of Akure, then he shouldn’t just walk freely and unnoticed like this, I thought.
Seun Ogunkoya surely rings a bell to the followers of Tracks and Fields competitions in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. You must have heard about Haile Gebresalesie and other track and field stars who had illustrious careers and still living large after they quit; that’s not the case for Ogunkoya. The circumstances by which he bowed out of the track made him not to be recognized as it’s supposed to be. He had the potential to be a world record holder (he once stated that it is natural to be aiming for the world record) and stay at the top for long, but injuries coupled with other issues were believed to have ended his career. Here’s what you need to do to know about Africa’s former fastest man.
Seun Ogunkoya was born on the 28th of December 1977, in Akure, Ondo State. He is a cousin of another Nigerian sprinter Falilat Ogunkoya.
Early Life and Origin
Ogunkoya was born and bred in Akure. He was discovered through the inter-house sports competition while he was in Secondary School. He was in Junior Secondary School 1 when he was spotted by late coach Samuel Akinyemi and coach Adegbehingbe. He represented his school in track and field competitions, particularly in the relay races. It was at this point the coaches spoke to his parents about his talent and that they found in him a great sportsman in the future. His parents agreed for him to do sports, then the coaches picked it up from there. They guided him to the point he started representing the state and later the country.
Ogunkoya participated in the 10th National Sports Festival held in Makurdi on April 1996. He improved his personal best which was 10.43 seconds in 1995 to 10.15 seconds during the competition and then to 9.97 seconds in July 1997 in Formia. At this point, he became the youngest sprinter to have broken the 10-second barrier at 19 years, 197 days, a record later broken by Yohan Blake (at 19years, 196 days).
He competed at the 1996 Summer Olympics, representing the country. He was eliminated in the quarterfinals in the 200 meters race. He won a silver medal in the 100 meters race at the 1996 World Junior Championship the next month. He won a gold medal in the 100 meters race at the 1996 African championship in Yaounde. Ogunkoya became the Nigerian champion in 1996 and 1997.
In 1997, at the World Championship, Ogunkoya reached the quarter-finals. He also competed in the relay race at the competition, taking up the silver medal for the Nigerian team. In July 1997, he sets a personal best of 20.50 seconds in the 200 meters in Nice, France.
In 1998, he won the Weltklasse Zurich with 9.96 seconds, a new personal best in the 100 meters race. He went on to win the 1998 African Championship held in Dakar in another personal best and championship record of 9.94 seconds. In September 1998, he participated at the IAAF Grand Prix Final, finishing fourth before winning the silver medal at the 1998 world cup. It was at this point he had his lifetime best time of 9.92 seconds which was also a Nigerian record. He also won the bronze medal in the 4 x 100 meters relay with Nigeria. He also had a personal best in the 60 meters achieved in February 1998 in Budapest.
In 1999, Ogunkoya ran in 10.27 seconds as a season’s best. In July 2000, he ran in 10.23 seconds in Lagos. He was also named for the Sydney Olympics squad but fell through with an eighth-place and last place in his 100 meters heat. He, however, ran in Prague, where he recorded a 10.72-second race in June 2003. Ogunkoya retired in 2003 after the All African Games due to injury. He, however, attempted comebacks at some point which eventually became possible in 2007. He participated in the Track and Field Championship in Nigeria but failed to progress from round one. This was his last professional show on the track.
Ogunkoya’s career was said to have been brought to an end not just because of injury but not being able to pick himself up thereafter as a result of nonchalant attitudes. Ogunkoya, who was formerly an ambassador of Fila sportswear has blamed the Nigerian Government severally for his woes, he claimed to foot the bill himself while he was injured on international duty. Fellow sprinter, Enofiok Udo-Obong stated that Ogunkoya struggled after the loss of his mother, who was also his manager.
Seun Ogunkoya is now a coach for young athletes in Ondo State. This is a way by which he wants to give back to society even though he had complained of not getting support from the state government.