We fall in love with athletes because of how they keep us entertained with the exploits they do on the field, in the court, on the table, on water, even indoors. What’s even more exciting, is when these athletes are just prodigies – young athletes with exceptional talents.
On this year’s Children Day, Jidechi Chidiezie highlights 5 YOUNG (AND EXCITING) NIGERIAN ATHLETES YOU SHOULD LOOK OUT FOR…
MARIAM ARUNA (Table Tennis Prodigy, 8-years-old)
8-year-old Mariam Aruna took Social Media by storm in April 2021 after a video posted on Twitter, showed her throwing several forearms turns at once with her father, the 27th ranked best Table Tennis player in World, Aruna Quadri.
Asides from showing exceptional skills in training, many sports commentators already predict this youngster to be the “next big thing in table tennis” considering Mariam is the daughter of Nigeria’s greatest table tennis player – Aruna, and Ganiyat Quadri, a retired female table tennis star who was in her days, ranked in Nigeria’s top 10.
A project under the pipeline in a bid to follow in her dad’s footsteps, Mariam’s baby steps could eventually pan out to be something huge in the future considering Aruna Quadri had at age 7, began playing at indoor table tennis competitions in Oyo town, thanks to a neighbourhood mentor, Oluwole Abolarin.
Already, Mariam is a mentor to her younger brother, Aruna Quadri junior who has also started his own table tennis lessons with their dad.
STEPHANIE OGECHUKWU ONUSIRIUKA (Medal Winning Gymnast, 10-years-old)
While Anambra could boast of a long list of celebrated Nigerian athletes such as Innocent Egbunike, Mary Onyali, John Mikel Obi, etc, a new name could be joining the Anambra legend in no distant future. Stephanie Ogechukwu Onusiriuka.
In the just-concluded National Sports Festival held in Benin, Edo State, 10-year-old Stephanie Onusiriuka, shocked the Nigerian sports fraternity by defeating record holders, Olympians and Tokyo 2020 Olympics-qualified athletes, grabbing 1 Gold, 2 Silvers and 1 Bronze medal.
The youngster who is now considered the best gymnast in Nigeria, says her aim is to compete with world athletes at the Olympics and win several gold medals. With her zeal, strength and skills, Stephanie could be one of Nigeria’s medal hopefuls at the 2024 Olympic games.
TANITOLUWA ADEWUMI (Chess Master, 10-years-old)
In 2019, Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi rose to national prominence after New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof shared the story of his sporadic rise from a homeless youth living in a shelter in the US after fleeing Nigeria with his family due to the Boko Haram menace, to winning the New York State K-3 Championship at only eight years old.
The now 10-year-old who most recently won all four of his matches at the Fairfield County Chess Club Championship tournament in Connecticut, USA, on May 1, made him the 28th youngest person to become a chess master after increasing his chess rating to 2223. His latest accomplishment comes after only playing chess for three years.
Tanitoluwa, who revealed he practices every day for as long as 10 to 11 hours, could in no distant future, become the youngest ever chess grandmaster – an ambition he says he would love to accomplish.
A biography on his life, “My Name Is Tani”, was published on 14 April 2020, while three film companies competed for the rights to his story; Paramount Pictures won.
IYENEOBONG ESSIEN (Pro-Golfer, 14-years-old)
Just 14-years of age, Iyeneobong Essien is one of the Nigerians who can boast of winning themselves 17 medals since they started playing golf. Essien, who is currently enjoying the fame that comes with being exceptional in the game of golf, has at her young age, already played in three continents.
In 2019, she came 10th when she participated in Nigeria Ladies Golf Open Championship – the only teenager among the 177 golfers. She finished as 10th. Iyeneobong once revealed she started playing golf after her father asked if she wanted to play because he saw the interest with which she watched the son of a tourist, play at the IBB International Golf and Country Club in Abuja. She also revealed she got her first medal at the age of five.
As someone that looks forward to the 2022 Summer Youth Olympics, Iyeneobong might just bring to life her hopes of grabbing Nigeria’s first gold medal for golf.
OYINLOMO BARAKAT QUADRE (Tennis Queen, 18-years-old)
Oyinlomo Barakat Quadre who recently clocked 18, is currently the highest-ranked Nigerian in the Women’s Tennis Association single category. In March 2018 WTA rankings, she was ranked number one female tennis player in Nigeria, 9th in Africa and 945 in the world women’s singles category.
Starting her tennis-playing career at age 4, and being inspired by the Williams sisters, Oyinlomo has established herself as one of Africa’s best junior tennis players and secured a scholarship to the High-Performance Center in Morocco where she currently stays.
With a foresight to become the first female Nigeria to win a Grand Slam, Quadre can be quoted as once saying: “My goal in tennis is to be a tennis player with the most Grand Slam titles and I think I can achieve it someday.”