Celebrity Sports

Nigeria’s Sporting Legends: Heroes Beyond Football

Nigeria's sporting legends
Written by Omolola Akinyemi

Between the 20th and 21st Centuries, Nigeria has witnessed an emergence of stellar sportsmen and sportswomen; some of them with world-class abilities. We have an impressive list of Nigerian sports athletes – the most famous of them being football superstars. However, you may yet know very little of Nigeria’s sporting legends who are heroes beyond football. The likes of Kanu Nwankwo, Victor Osimhen, Asisat Oshoala, Teslim Balogun, Austin Okocha, Segun Odegbami,  Christian Chukwu, Mercy Akide, Rashidi Yekini, Perpetua Nkwocha are all too familiar. It is a long and impressive list that cannot be exhausted in this article.  

We will be highlighting ten outstanding Nigerian sporting legends beyond football, who have shined in local and global sports. You might not be so familiar with some of them, depending on which period in Nigeria’s history you were born. 


Wherever Nigeria’s sporting legends are mentioned, one particular name cannot be ignored – the legendary retired female police officer, Chioma Ajunwa. Chioma Ajunwa not only sacrificed her paid career to represent Nigeria in international sports. She is the first Nigerian athlete to win an Olympic Gold medal.  

Chioma Ajunwa was also a notable footballer. She was a team member in the Super Falcons squad that played in the first FIFA Women’s World Cup event in 1991. Nevertheless, Chioma chose to specialize in competitive Track and Field sports. She was skilled in 100 meters and 200 meters sprint events, as well as long jump. 

Chioma leaped across a record 7.12 meters in the finals of the Atlanta 1996 Olympics Women’s Long Jump event on her first attempt. And she claimed the Gold medal. But her achievements were far from over. Listed below are the medals she won over the years, following the Atlanta 1996 Olympics event:

  • 1989 African Athletics Championships: Gold (Long Jump event)
  • 1990 Commonwealth Games: Bronze (4X100 meters Relay)
  • 1991 All-African Games: Gold (Long Jump event)
  • 1997 World Indoor Championships: Silver (Long Jump event)


One of the most iconic athletes and heroes amongst Nigeria’s sporting legends is Innocent Egbunike. Beginning with the 1983 Summer Universiade Games, he won Gold in the 200 meters sprint event. Then he led Nigeria’s 4X400 meters Relay team to the 1984 Olympic Games, and they clinched the Bronze medal. 

Innocent Egbunike’s most stunning performance came during 1987 All-Africa Games in Kenya. The last link in the 4X400 meters relay, Innocent overtook his Kenyan competitor in spite of the 30 meters gap, and won Gold for Nigeria. 

In all, Innocent has won 2 Gold, 1 Silver, and 1 Bronze in the following events:

  • 1983 Summer Universiade Games: Gold (200m sprint)
  • 1984 Olympic Games: Bronze (4X400m relay)
  • 1987 All-Africa Games: Gold (400m)
  • 1987 World Championships: Silver (400m sprint)

He has served as a coach of the Nigeria track and field teams for the 1996, 2000, and 2008 Summer Olympics. He is currently the head coach of Pasadena City College’s track and field team.  


Richard Ihetu (nicknamed Dick Tiger) was a lieutenant in the Biafran army, and taught hand-to-hand combat to fellow soldiers during the Nigerian Civil War. He traveled to England and later to the USA to become a celebrated two-time world boxing champion in the middleweight and light-heavyweight categories.

Between 1952 and 1970, Dick Tiger achieved a total of 60 wins, 3 draws, and 19 losses in boxing competitions. He became so famous that he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991. He was also named the Fighter of the Year by The Ring magazine in 1962 and 1965. Yet again, the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) crowned him the  Fighter of the Year in 1962 and 1966. Dick Tiger was named as one of the Best boxers of the 20th Century in 1998. 

Hogan ‘Kid’ Bassey

Okon Asuquo Bassey (nicknamed Hogan ‘Kid’ Bassey) was the first-ever Nigerian to become a world boxing champion. He moved to the UK in 1951, after participating in 14 contests in Nigeria. By then, Hogan Bassey had won the Nigerian Flyweight and Bantamweight titles; as well as the West African Flyweight and Bantamweight titles.

Between 1947 and 1959, Hogan Bassey achieved 59 wins, 2 draws, and 13 losses in his career. He won the Empire Featherweight Championship (now equivalent to the Commonwealth title), and WBA World Featherweight Championship in 1957. 

Hogan received the awards of Order of the Niger (OON: Nigeria, 1973) and Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE: Britain, 1958). He died in 1998. 


Refusing to succumb to her disability, Lucy Ejike trained herself in powerlifting sports even on a wheelchair. She defied polio to compete in six successive Paralympics Games, from 2000 to 2021. In all, Lucy Ejike has won 3 Gold, 2 Silver, and 1 Bronze medals. She won her last Gold at the World Para-powerlifting Championship in Tbilisi, Georgia – where she represented Nigeria in the Women’s 67kg Para-powerlifting event. 

Additionally, Lucy won successive powerlifting world titles from 2017 to 2021, and currently holds the world record in the 61kg women’s category (amongst other records).  Lucy Ejike is now a sports administrator in Enugu state (her state of origin). 


Yet another female trailblazer amongst Nigeria’s sporting legends is Odunayo Adekuoroye, a freestyle wrestler. Odunayo has competed and won medals in several weight categories – which include 48kg, 53kg, 55kg, 57kg, and 59kg. She is the current African champion in the 59kg category. Between 2010 and 2023, she won 5 Gold, 1 Silver, and 4 Bronze medals in the following international freestyle wrestling events:

  • 2010 Commonwealth Games: Bronze (48kg)
  • 2014 Commonwealth Games: Bronze (53kg)
  • 2015 World Championships: Bronze (53kg)
  • 2017 World Championships: Silver (55kg)
  • 2018 Commonwealth Games: Gold (57kg)
  • 2019 World Championships: Bronze (57kg)
  • 2021 Islamic Solidarity Games: Gold (59kg)
  • 2022 Commonwealth Games: Gold (57kg)
  • 2022 African Championships: Gold (59kg)
  • 2023 World Championships: Bronze (57kg)


Tobi Amusan is a trailblazing track and field athlete, who specializes in 100 meters hurdles and sprint competitions. She would go down in history as Nigeria’s first-ever world record holder and champion in the 100 meters hurdles category. 

Tobi Amusan won Gold in the 100 meters hurdles event, held at the 2022 World Championships in Oregon. She also set the record of 12.12 seconds for the same event at the semi-finals. However, Tobi had already clinched several medals at previous events. 

In all, she had won 10 Gold, 2 Silver, and 1 Bronze medals in African and international championships between 2013 and 2022. Additionally, Tobi Amusan won 3 first position titles in the Diamond League competitions between 2021 and 2023.  Her medals include the following:

  • 2013 African Youth Championships: Silver (200m)
  • 2014 African Youth Games: Silver (100m hurdles)
  • 2015 African Junior Championships: Gold (100m hurdles)
  • 2018 and 2022 African Championships: 4 Gold (100m hurdles; 4X100m Relay)
  • 2015 and 2019 African Games: 2 Gold (100m hurdles)
  • 2018 & 2022 Commonwealth Games: 2 Gold & 1 Bronze (100m hurdles; 4X100m Relay)
  • 2022 World Championships: Gold (100m hurdles)


Samuel Okon Peter was ranked world No 2 in boxing in the year 2007 by The Ring magazine. He was equally named amongst the best ten heavyweight boxers from the years 2005 and 2008. He won the WBC heavyweight  title in 2008 after beating Oleg Maskaev in 6 rounds. In his entire career, Samuel Peter had 38 wins and 9 losses between 2001 and 2019. He is especially known for his outstanding punching power – as he holds a 78.9% knockout-to-win ratio.

But before then, Samuel Peter had won the Nigerian Amateur Heavyweight Championship, as well as the Africa Zone 3 Heavyweight Championship. 


Nduka ‘the Duke’ Odizor is an exceptional tennis player, one of the most outstanding of Nigeria’s sporting legends. He won a Singles title in the Taipei Grand Prix in 1983. He also won another set of 7 Doubles titles in the following events:

  • Monterrey WCT, 1983
  • Dallas open, 1983
  • WCT Tournament of Champions, Forest hills, 1984
  • Japan Open Tennis Championship, 1984
  • Sydney International, 1985
  • Brisbane International, 1990
  • Tel Aviv Open, 1990

In all, Nduka Odizor reached the highest world rankings of No 52 (Singles, 1984) and No. 20 (Doubles, 1984).


Segun Toriola was ranked the best Nigerian table tennis player from the year 1995. And from 1998 to date, he has been ranked Number 1 in Africa

Toriola has represented Nigeria in 7 Olympic Games. Furthermore, he has earned no less than 23 Gold medals (13 from African Games; 8 from African Championships; and 2 from Commonwealth Games). He has also won the following competitions:

  • 4 African Table Tennis Singles Championships (1998, 2002, 2004, 2006) and 2 Doubles Championships (1994,1992)
  • A Commonwealth Singles Championship (2002)
  • A Commonwealth Doubles Championship and Singles Bronze Medal (2006)
  • 4 All-Africa Games Singles Gold Medals (1995, 1999, 2003, 2007); 4 Doubles Gold Medals (1995, 1999, 2003, 2007); 1 Mixed Doubles Gold Medal (1999 with Bose Kaffo; and joint Silver in 2003); and 3 Team Gold Medals (1995, 1999, 2003).



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About the author

Omolola Akinyemi

A Computer Science graduate of UNILAG, I hail from Ekiti state of Nigeria. An astute teacher, learner & admin assistant of many years experience. I love technology, innovation, and Nature. A problem solving mentality is important to me. The future is only seconds away, and I believe I can define the future now. You can also.

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