The amazing quartet of Christy Opara-Thompson, Faith Idehen, Beatrice Utondu, and Mary Onyali has always been regarded as the greatest women’s 4x100m relay team to have ever come out of Africa.
For 30 years, the 42.39 seconds they ran in the heats on their way to a bronze medal finish at that year’s Olympic Games stood as the Nigerian and African record.
That is no longer the case after Joy Udo-Gabriel, Favour Ofili, Rosemary Chukwuma, and Grace Nwokocha set a new mark of 42.22s at the World Championships in Oregon, USA.
Sadly, though, for the Nigerian team, they missed out on a podium spot as their amazing run was only good enough for a fourth-place finish as the United States shredded the form book and expert predictions by beating Jamaica to the gold medal with a world lead 41.14s.
The Jamaicans came in second with a season’s best 41.18s, while Germany placed third with a season’s best 42.03s.
On paper, Jamaica’s women’s 4x100m team looked unbeatable. Jamaica not only fielded the three world and Olympic medallists in the 100m, but in Elaine Thompson-Herah, they had the fastest woman alive in the 100m. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is the five-time and reigning world champion in the 100m and Shericka Jackson is the fastest woman alive in the 200m. Kemba Nelson, the leadoff leg, was also the 60m champion for the University of Oregon in 2021 and running on her home track.
But the US team – made up of Melissa Jefferson, Abby Steiner, Jenna Prandini, and Twanisha Terry – shredded those predictions, using better teamwork to win the gold medal.
To highlight the gulf in individual class, Jefferson was eighth in the 100m, Steiner placed fifth in the 200m, Prandini did not reach the 200m final, and Terry did not make the 100m final.
But the Americans had experience from the preliminary round, with Steiner replacing Aleia Hobbs as the only difference in team composition. For Jamaica, Nelson was the only one who ran in the preliminary round.
But the bigger story was the Nigerians who despite not finishing with a medal, smashed a record that had stood for three decades and will undoubtedly be favourites for a medal at the Commonwealth Games which gets underway this week in Birmingham, England.
It would have been a different story though as Nigeria had initially lost out on competing in the relay at the World championships.
New doping violations established against the banned Blessing Okagbare knocked Nigeria off the last qualification spot they were occupying on the eve of the closure for qualifying entries for Oregon 2022.
Okagbare and three others ran a time of 42.97s in Lagos and that had kept them in the last qualification spot up until the sad development.
However, France, one of the 16 teams that had qualified ahead of Nigeria, pulled out to make way for Nigeria.
And the result is a new Nigerian and African record that may likely not last as long as the 30 years that the previous mark lasted before it was obliterated by these amazing Nigerians with still so much potential to run even faster than they did in Eugene, Oregon.