Nigerian jumper Ese Brume: "I want to make young girls believe all things are possible"

The Nigerian long-jump sensation has emerged as one of her country's most promising talents and its biggest hope of winning only a second-ever individual gold medal at the Olympic Games. 

Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Ese Brume grew up wanting to be a beauty queen but, instead, she traded tiaras on her head for medals around her neck.

Her stock has risen exponentially over the last two seasons, earning the silver at the Doha World Championships in 2019 before leaping to a new African record earlier in 2021.

The 25-year-old has raised hopes in Nigeria that the West African nation will once again produce an individual gold medal at the Olympic Games.

Just months after Brume was born, Chioma Ajunwa became Nigeria's first and only individual gold medallist at the Olympic Games when she unleashed a giant leap of 7.12m on her first attempt in the long jump final at Atlanta 1996.

Her African record had stood untouched all these years until Brume landed a 7.17m jump in Chula Vista, California. The distance rocketed the Nigerian to the top of the 2021 list, giving her hopes of a medal in Tokyo 2020 a significant boost.

"It's a huge achievement for me and my coach. It was a surprise for us at first and, you know, it was something that we didn't expect to happen at that moment. It just happened," Brume told Olympics.com. "And we're still trying to recover from it. And hopefully...I'm able to back this distance, and hopefully, it should get me a medal."

From beauty pageant to sandpit

When coach Kayode Yaya first met Brume, barely in her teens at the time, he had conducted an athletics clinic for some of the local children, including his young charge.

"I was talking to her about education, and I asked what she wanted to be when she grew up," Yaya recalled of his first interactions with Brume.

"She talked about beauty pageants, they had a beauty pageant in a church that week, and she was going to be part of it," the coach said. "I told her that, you know, you can be in beauty pageants in many things in life. So I encouraged her to go to school, and I encouraged her to step in training."

Brume eventually developed an interest in athletics, where she excelled in both track and field events.

Consistently stepping onto the podium in the long jump, first at state level, then at national, naturally directed Brume to specialise in the event.

To win a bronze medal at the world championships in 2019 gave me a lot of confidence.

Brume has since continued her meteoric rise, winning three consecutive African titles in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

She jumped over seven metres for the first time in the build-up to the 2019 world championships with a new personal best of 7.05m in Bursa, Turkey.

Brume highlighted her potential in Doha, where she produced the biggest result of her career, winning the bronze medal at the global showpiece finishing third behind German champion Malaika Mihambo.

"To win a bronze medal at the world championships in 2019 gave me a lot of confidence that, 'OK, so I can actually compete with the top athletes in the world'," she said. "I could actually do better still because that wasn't my best, you know, so it made me believe that I could get better. And so far, I have been working with that mindset and it's helping me, and I can see a lot of improvement."

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Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Just a local girl from Ughelli

Brume said she hoped her story would inspire other young girls in Nigeria, where she noted that sports participation among women is still at low levels.

Growing up in Ughelli, in the Delta State of Nigeria, Brume said she was surprised her parents allowed her to take part in sports due to their conservative values. "I want to make young girls believe that all things are possible," she said. "You know that they can do exactly or even better than what I'm doing right now."

"I'm not any super girl from one unique place," Brume wen on. "No, I'm a local girl from Ughelli. So if this local girl can do it, can come this far from nothing to become something, then you also can do it."

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Picture by 2014 Getty Images

Competing against herself

Brume has her mind set on winning a medal in Tokyo 2020, but when she competes in the final, she will not be looking to beat her competitors but instead improve on her personal best.

She qualified for the final on her third attempt with a leap of 6.76m for a shot of winning a medal at her second Olympics.

Rio 2016 bronze medallist Ivana Spanovic of Serbia was the only athlete to land a seven-metre jump in the qualification competition.

"Pressure is coming in from different places, from Nigeria, from my team, from Africa as a whole," Brume said. "I try as much as possible not to let that overwhelm me, take it one step at a time, not to rush. I try not to panic at any point in time and I do not see anyone as a rival.

"It's something that has helped me, and it has really brought me this far," she said. "And then the only thing to do is to surpass my personal best. I try to beat myself."

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