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When Nigeria qualified for the women's football World Cup in 1991 it had been an extremely proud moment for the team and the country at large. However, for Chioma Ajunwa it was also a frustrating experience, as she spent most of the tournament sitting on the substitutes' bench. Afterwards, she decided that if she wasn't going to make her mark as a footballer, she would do so in another discipline.
Ajunwa had already demonstrated her prowess as a good track and field athlete, specialising in both the 100m and the long jump. After the World Cup, she channelled all of her energies into these two events and her progress was exponential.
She went on to represent Nigeria in both, but it was the 100m that, she felt, offered her best prospects of a medal at the 1996 Games. In fact, she didn’t even know that she had been entered into the long jump until she arrived in Atlanta!
In the 100m, she made the semi-finals but further progress was halted by the narrowest of margins, as she placed fifth following a photo-finish, despite running the same time as the athlete who came fourth.
Ajunwa went into the long jump with little expectation. Yet in the qualifying round she proved to be a revelation, jumping 6.81m to place second and storm into the following evening’s final.
It was as if she had absolutely no nerves. Her first leap in the final saw Ajunwa soar 7.12m to set an intimidating benchmark for everyone else to chase. It was the biggest jump of her career – a distance she would never again match. And in the course of the next six rounds in Atlanta no other athlete could match it either.
Ajunwa became Nigeria's first Olympic champion ever and the first African to win a field event. After retiring from competition she went on to become a prominent campaigner against doping in sport.