Nigeria’s flag was hoisted high at the Kasarani Stadium on Saturday evening as Imaobong Nse Uko was crowned World Junior Champion after clinching Gold in the women’s 400m final at the U-20 Championships ongoing in Nairobi, Kenya.
The 17-year-old Nigerian quarter-miler ran a perfectly executed race to claim the win in the final with a Personal Best (PB) of 51.55s. She indeed powered to a quite strong finish in the final 50 meters as she overtook Poland’s Kornelia Lesiewicz and quickly dipped in in time. Notably, her time in the final is not only a PB but a new National U-20 Record for Nigeria.
Uko’s glorious win on Saturday also interestingly ends Nigeria’s 13-year drought of individual Gold medal at the Junior Championships. You would have to search back to the 2008 edition on Nigeria’s record books for the last time the country had a champion in an individual event – it was also in the women’s 400m and four-time African Champion Folashade Abugan was the heroine then.
Just returning from a brilliant Olympic debut in Tokyo, Uko was definitely one of the top favourites to medal in this event even before the start. She hardly broke a sweat to win her heat, finishing with a time of 52.33s which was the fastest recorded in the whole round.
On Saturday, Uko finished the job but she had to overcome a dull start. Poland’s Lesiewicz was almost starting to look comfortable in her lead going into the final 100 meters of the race, Kenya’s Sylvia Chelangat was about to catch up on the Nigerian. But it was at that point the Akwa Ibom-born starlet switched up the gear and stunningly breezed past the Polish lady for a comfortable win.
Lesiewicz had to settle for Silver medal after finishing 2nd with a PB of 51.97s. Kenya’s Chelangat got Bronze after finishing 3rd with a PB as well – 52.23s was her time.
Uko had won Gold with Nigeria’s mixed 4x400m relay team earlier in the Championships, and she will now hope to finish the competition with a three Gold medals and a 100% record as she prepares to lead Nigeria’s charge in the women’s 4x400m relay final tomorrow.