Until 1985, no sprinter retained the men’s 100 metres gold of the World Students Games otherwise known as Universiade. Chidi Imoh broke that in Kobe, Japan. The Nigerian was competing in his Second Universiade as a student of University of Missouri. He won gold at the last edition which took place in Edmonton, Canada.
After the Edmonton gold, Chidi Imoh did not look back. At the inaugural World Athletics Championships, Helsinki ’83, he got to the quarter –finals .by 1984, the speed demon became continental champion at the African Championships in Rabat, Morocco. That put him in contention for a place in the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics. The young man was unable to make it to the semis.
It was 1985 that yielded the Universiade record. The year also saw Imoh retaining the African title in Cairo, Egypt. At the World Athletics Cup,he won silver representing Africa. So moving to Kobe, the world knew something was going to happen. And it did.
Chidi Imoh pounced on the 100 metres and was rewarded with the gold medal thus emerging as the first to retain the title since 1924 when the World Students Games began in Warsaw, Poland. Three other athletes defended their title successfully: Poland’s Ryszard Ostrowski in the 800 metres, High Jumper, Igor Paklin , of the Soviet Union and Luis M. Delis of Cuba in the Discus Throw.
By 1986, Imoh was moving faster emerging tops in the Grand Prix and setting an African record of 10.00secs in Berlin, Germany, August 15.He also finished second in the Goodwill Games behind Ben Johnson of Canada. In the third position was America’s Carl Lewis.
At the Nairobi ’87 All Africa Games, Imoh won gold but could not go beyond the Semi-finals of the World Athletics Championships, Roma ’87. It was a disappointing outing for Nigeria as 400 metres favourite, Innocent Egbunike, could not win the gold.
The Grand Prix of 1988 was good for Imoh who emerged tops. He also set another African record, this time in the 200 metres in 20.31 seconds in Bern. The sprinter was ranked Number Three in the World and was favoured to win a first Olympic medal. That did not happen as a muscle injury stopped him in the quarter-finals at Seoul’ 88.
According to the IAAF/ Mobil Grand Prix Rankings, Chidi Imoh was fourth in 1990 with 43 points. Compatriot Olapade Adeniken placed fifth with 40 points. Overall leading scorer, Leroy Burrell, of the United States had 63 points. Before 1991 petered out, the Nigerian picked a silver medal in the 60 metres at the Sevilla World Indoor Championships.
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Olympic medal did come at last. The Nigerian men’s 4×100 metres relay team of Kayode Oluyemi, Imoh, Adeniken and the Ezinwa brothers, Davidson and Osmond, won the silver medal at Barcelona ’92. The gold went to the United States, powered by the quartet of Michael Marsh, Burrell, Denis Mitchel and Lewis. Cote D’Ivoire placed eighth.
Nigerians were excited. All powerful Great Britain failed to win a medal as the quartet of Marcus Adam, Tony Jarrett, John Regis and Linford Christie ended up in the fourth position.
It was Africa’s first 4×100 relay medal. Nigeria had tried at Moscow ’80 through Hameed Adio, Kayode Elegbede,Samson Oyeledun and Peter Okodogbe but finished last in the final.
Barcelona ’92 was the first time Nigerian sprinters made the 100 metres final. Adeniken and Ezinwa finished sixth and eighth respectively in a race won by Christie. Namibia’s Frankie Fredericks beat Mitchel to the silver.
The women’s 4×100 team of Beatrice Utondu, Faith Idehen, Christy Opara-Thompson and Mary Onyali bagged bronze. Gold went to the Americans[ Evelyn Ashford, Esther Jones, Carlette Guidry and Gwen Torrence]. Russia won silver. Onyali also got to the final of the 100m but finished seventh. Gail Devers of the US, Juliet Cuthbert of Jamaica and Russia’s Irina Privalova went away with the medals.
Chidi Imoh started as a footballer as a pupil in Owo, Ondo State but was converted in his Aba secondary school. In 1981, he went to the Bendel ’81 National Sports Festival as ajunior for Imo State but won a medal beating the seniors.
Born on August 27, 1963, Chidi Imoh was happy setting African records in his month of birth even if away from home. He did it in the 100m in Berlin in 1986 and in the 200 metres in Bern in 1988.