Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, has produced a series of world-class athletes competing in the Summer Olympics over the years. However, the country can boast just one winner of an Olympic gold individual medal with policewoman Chioma Ajunwa responsible for the historic moment.
Born on Christmas Day, 1970, Ajunwa was raised poor in a small village as the youngest of nine children. By 18, she showed an interest in sports but failed to enter university and worked as an auto mechanic, much to the chagrin of her mother. She eventually joined the Nigerian women’s national soccer team, the Super Falcons, but a doping scandal put a stop to her career in 1992.
Ajunwa, who has long maintained her innocence and even launched her own anti-doping campaign, rejoined the world stage as part of her country’s track and field squad for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Competing in the long jump event, she won the event with a winning attempt of 7.12 meters, or just over 23 feet. She became the first African woman and Nigerian to win individual gold. That same year at the Atlanta Games, the Nigerian men’s soccer team won gold as well.
What made Ajunwa’s accomplishment even more amazing is that she was not a full-time athlete. She was a member of the Nigerian police force at the time, a job she still holds today at 45 years of age.
The win made Ajunwa a national hero. In 1996, she was showered with awards and even given a chieftancy title in her home Imo State. That title bestowed upon such a young woman is rare in Nigeria.
She serves on several athletic boards and promotes sports between her day-to-day police work. Ajunwa is also the mother of triplets – two boys and a girl – born in 2012.