Habibat Ogunbanwo is Nigeria’s sole representative in swimming, the 17-year-old Russia-based swimmer will compete in the women’s 100-meter freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics.
She represented Nigeria in two events at the 2018 FINA World Swimming Championships held in Hangzhou, China, and at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships held in Gwangju, South Korea.
Habibat lived in Canberra, Australia before moving to Kazan after earning a Fina scholarship.
She revealed that many people felt she wouldn’t do well at swimming because of her religious background:
“When I actually started swimming a lot of Muslim people would come up to my dad and say ‘Oh, I don’t think she should swim, it doesn’t really align with our faith that much.”
“So that’s definitely something that I had to overcome throughout the years and take the leap.
“That’s the biggest obstacle I faced, in terms of the backlash, in terms of competitive swimming, and how that aligns with modesty in Islam.”
As regards her style, she said her coach advised her not to specialize in any style yet even though she confessed that she can do everything:
“I’m still very young and my coach has told me not to specialize yet, so that’s why the Nigerian Federation was drawn towards me, ‘cos I can do everything.”
Habibat Ogunbawo said she is inspired by two black athletes in the sport: African American gold medalist Simone Manuel and Jamaican Olympian Alia Atkinson.
Manuel is the African American woman to win an individual Olympic medal in swimming, tying for gold in the 100-meter freestyle at the 2016 Rio Olympics while Atkinson is the first black woman to win a world swimming title at the Short Course World Championships in Doha in 2014.
She confessed that she already had an interaction with Manuel and she was inspired by her talk and work ethics.
“I’ve actually had a few conversations with her, and she’s just so inspiring. She works so hard.”
The 16-year-old started swimming at the age of 11 and she will be one of the youngest Olympians at the Tokyo Olympics.