Nigeria’s teen sprint sensation Favour Ofili set to impress at 2022 Athletics Worlds: 'I am going there to win'

The 19-year-old, who became the first collegiate athlete to break 22 seconds, is the fifth fastest 200m runner this season. She spoke exclusively to Olympics.com about her hopes to become one of the best female sprinters in the world and how Olympic champions Allyson Felix and Elaine Thompson-Herah are inspiring her.

By Evelyn Watta
Picture by Luke Dubee / LSU Athletics

Nigeria's up-and-coming sprint star Favour Ofili is fearless, fast and aware of her potential.

“We (African sprinters) now believe in ourselves. We now believe that anything is possible," she told Olympics.com ahead of the 2022 World Athletics Championships.

The 19-year-old broke the U.S. collegiate record in the 200m on 15 April, running to a 21.96, a Nigerian record and the second-fastest ever by an African. That record lasted just short of two months before Abby Steiner set a new collegiate record clocking 21.80 seconds on 6 June at the NCAA Athletics Championships in Eugene.

In the 100m the Nigerian sprinter also recorded two sub-11-second times in one week - a wind-aided 10.90 and a personal best of 10.93 in April 2022 - moving her to third on the all-time list of her country.

It's been a quick turnaround for the new ‘Star Girl’ of Nigerian athletics. Her best distance was the 400m until 2021, when she dropped down to the 100m and 200m.

On the back of her recent results, Ofili now returns to the Hayward Field in Oregon as one of the favourites for team Nigeria at the 2022 World Athletics Championships.

“My mandate is to go there and win regardless of what happens. Run each heat, semi-finals fast and advance. Once you get to the finals anything can happen. I am going there to win."

Favour Ofili's switch from 400m

When Favour Ofili felt she could make a name for herself on track, she settled on the 400m.

Her breakout gold-medal performances at the 2018 African Youth Games and the 2018 Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games reflected her belief that she was capable of being among the best one-lappers in the West African nation.

She then anchored Nigeria to gold in the 4x400m relay after taking the 400m silver medal at the 2019 African Games in Rabat.

Earning a scholarship at Louisiana State University in the U.S and qualifying for Tokyo 2020 Olympics, although she was forced to skip the Games, changed her energy and motivation.

“I've really improved a lot because back home I was just doing 400m. But when I came here my coach checked and said, 'I think you would be good in 100m as you were already good in 200m',” she said of her move to the U.S.

“If you told me I was going to run 10.00 in 100m last year, I would have told you it’s not possible. Not possible.”

Read more: Meet Nigeria’s ‘Star Girl’ Favour Ofili who's just getting started but already breaking sprint records

Bouncing back from Olympics miss

Her Olympic dreams were dashed after some of Team Nigeria's track and field athletes were excluded from the Games at Tokyo 2020 in 2021.

Nigeria athletics officials had failed to meet the minimum anti-doping testing requirements in the months leading up to the Olympics.

“Not competing at the Olympics and having to face that kind of trauma really demoralised me. But I was able to tell myself that that might have been a disappointment and I just had to pull myself together.”

As the young runner from Delta state in southern Nigeria, hovered over the next steps, she grudgingly accepted competing at the 2021 World U20 Championships in Kenya last August instead.

She made the podium in each of her three events - clinching two bronze medals in the 200m and 4x100m relay, and anchoring team Nigeria to gold in the 4x400m.

“The U20 was miraculous for me, I just went there to have fun because I didn’t practice before that competition. I was always crying because I didn't compete at the Olympics. I didn't put in work for the U20, it was a miracle just like last year was a miracle year for me.”

Favour Ofili of Nigeria after finishing third in the 200m at the 2021 World U20 Championships in Nairobi behind Namibia's Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi.
Picture by Sila Kiplaggat

Favour Ofili: I am going to Eugene to win

Africa's continental indoor record holder is self-assured after building on her form and speed sensibly.

The effervescent Ofili is easily bearing the weight of expectation at Hayward Field and is full of hope that a final is achievable in Oregon – an important stepping stone for her young sprinting career.

“I am excited to go back to Eugene (after the NCAA finals). I have run there already but I feel that I still have to do something there. Running with the best people will be a great privilege,” she said, outlining her Championship goals.

“My mandate is to go there and win regardless of what happens. Run each heat, semi-finals fast and advance. Once you get to the finals anything can happen. I am going there to win.”

The track phenom hopes to soon join the list of the world's best sprinters and is particularly excited to be among the new crop of Africans bursting with speed.

“We (African sprinters) now believe in ourselves. We now believe that anything is possible. We believe that if they can do that, I can also do better. (Others saying,) ‘Oh, she's from Nigeria? Africa? I can do better than her! Oh, Kenya? He ran that time?’ That is the motivation that triggers us.”

She’s now listed amongst the top five fastest Africans ever in the 200m, a list headed by Olympic silver medallist Christine Mboma, who will miss the Worlds injured.

The others are compatriots Blessing Okagbare and Mary Onyali, as well as three-time world medallist - and six-time African champ - Marie-Josee Ta Lou of Ivory Coast, who will join her in Eugene.

But her eyes will be on five-time Olympic champion Thompson-Herah, one of a number of Ofili's idols. “I like Shaunae Miller-Uibo; she runs effortlessly, and she made love the 400m. And Allyson Felix is the one who made me fall in love with track and field.

"But I am now a big admirer of Elaine Thompson, the way she runs… so good, her form, everything is just perfect. She inspires me a lot. I can’t wait to tell her how much she inspires me!

“If I win, I will tell her, ‘You made me and you are part of the people who inspired me to be here’. But if she wins, I’ll be like, ‘Next year I am coming!’”

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