Ese Brume jumping to bronze in Doha (© Getty Images)
Ese Brume won Nigeria’s only medal at the World Athletics Championship Doha 2019 after jumping 6.91m in the second round to secure the bronze. It was a fitting step into the global spotlight for rising star who had already won back-to-back continental U20 titles in 2013 and 2015, three straight senior African titles in 2014, 2016 and 2018, the 2014 Commonwealth title and the All Africa Games crown last August.
A podium finish at the World Championships seemed a logical progression for the 23 year old, who, heading into Doha, trailed only world leader and eventual world champion Malaika Mihambo on the season’s list after breaking through the seven-metre barrier with a 7.05m leap in Bursa, Turkey, in the early days of August. Notably, she was just one centimetre shy of the silver medal position in Doha.
A product of an athletics family - her father and coach Kayode Noel Yaya and mother were both sprinters, her sister Oghenakaro, 19, and brother Oke, 16, are also both national level sprinters - Brume began “playing around” in athletics at a young age, beginning with the 400m before moving to the long jump.
She began training seriously after finishing sixth at the 2012 national championships. After that competition, she promised herself, “No Nigerian will beat me again.” Since then she’s suffered just one defeat at the hand of a compatriot in the long jump, Blessing Okagbare, who beat her at the national championships the next year. “I was happy,” Brume said. “She’s been my role model since day one.”
A friendship between the two began that year when Okagbare sent Brume a text message with some jumping advice. The following year her string of national and continental titles began. The only year since that she didn’t win a national title was 2015 when slowed by a knee injury, a setback that also hindered her road to the Rio Olympics.
She nonetheless qualified for Rio with a 6.83m leap at a national meeting in Akure in early June to book her ticket to the biggest stage of all. After securing her second African title, she left for Rio where was a commendable fifth jumping a near-PB 6.81m.
“The Rio Olympics taught me that you should never look down on yourself, and you should stick to what you believe in,” she said, adding with a laugh, “I told myself if I’m able to make it to the final with one leg, I should be able to make the podium on two legs.”
After her Olympic experience, she enrolled in Eastern Mediterranean University in Northern Cyprus, where her father works as a physical education teacher. A third African title followed in 2018 where she equaled her 6.83m best, along with an international circuit victory in Kingston and fourth place finishes in Lausanne, Berlin’s ISTAF and at the Continental Cup in Ostrava.
Yet despite her growing success, 2019 presented a roadblock when visa rejections kept her from competing in the bigger competitions in Europe. Those travel restrictions have especially left their mark mentally.
“Ese shouldn’t be going through this,” her father said. “It is affecting her in training and sometimes she is really down because of this.”
She nonetheless clawed her way onto the Doha podium, six years after Okagbare’s double medal-winning performance at the World Championships in Moscow.
“It means a lot for me. I’m super excited, because I have not been very strong during the season because I wasn’t able to perform at bigger competitions. I cannot be happier winning this medal.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to medal here, because I know I was coming from so far (back).”
She was also happy for Mihambo, who capped one of the finest long jump seasons ever produced with a dominating victory.
“I was so happy for her, she’s getting closer to the world record.
“When we went to the final, I looked at Malaika and thought that I want to be on the podium together, because so far we have been competing together from the Rio Olympics.”
With Tokyo on the horizon, Brume now has her own Olympic aspirations but this time looking to another compatriot for inspiration. Chioma Ajunwa struck gold at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, just six months after Brune was born. Ajunwa owns a number she’s chasing as well, the 7.12m African record that landed her the Olympic crown.
Chrystel Saneh for World Athletics