After conquering Africa at the just concluded 18th African Senior Athletics Championships held in Porto Novo, Benin Republic, Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) this week unveiled 31 athletes of 13 men and 18 women that will fly Nigeria’s flag in the athletics event during the forthcoming London 2012 Olympic Games. In this report Salifu Usman examines Team Nigeria’s chances.
Nigeria penultimate weekend returned to the summit of African athletics by winning the 18th edition of the African Senior Athletics Championship held in Porto Novo, Benin Republic.
The team won 10 gold, six silver and five bronze medals to beat close rival and defending champion, Kenya in a grand style on the final day of the championship after the two were tied on nine gold medals each before the grand finale of the men 4x400m relay event which Nigeria won to top the medals table.
Kenya won 9 gold, nine silver and 8 bronze medals while South Africa had 6 gold, 9 silver and 10 bronze medals to finish third.
The onus is now on Team Nigeria to fly the continent’s flag high at the global arena in the forthcoming London 2012 Olympics games.
Addressing a world press conference to end the biannual championship, president Confederation of the African Athletics (CAA), Hamad Kalkaba Malboum said he is expecting African contingents to do well at the London games than they did four years ago in Beijing. He particularly singled out Nigerian athletes and Botswana’s queen of the track, Amantle Monthsho to do the continent proud during the Olympics.
“Africa is growing higher in athletics. We have compared the performance of our athletes with that of their counterparts from Europe, and the record is that our athletes are doing well. The performance by Amantle Monthsho of Botswana in 400m and the400m hurdle won by Ameachi Morton of Nigeria show that they can compete for medals at the Olympics. So, I am expecting Nigeria and other countries to do well.
“At the last Olympics, we won 29 medals from athletics. This time we are expecting more than that going by our athletes’ performance preceding the games,” he said.
AFN president, Solomon Ogba, aware of the added responsibility going into the London Games as African champions, stuck to his earlier pronouncement that only athletes with IAAF grade ‘A’ standard will represent Nigeria at the games. He assured that Team Nigeria’s track & field squad will surpass the country’s achievement at the last Olympic Games in Beijing.
“There are some athletes I felt would not make it but it was at Porto Novo that they were able to convince me that they are capable. With what the team did at the African meet, I can say I am proud of the team and I believe they have the ability of making it to the semi-final of the Olympics. I am also sure that we will surpass our achievements in Beijing 2008 at this London 2012 Olympics.”
Top on the list of Nigerian ambassadors to the London Olympic Games is the former Commonwealth champion, Vivian Chukwuemeka, who erased her previous African record of 18.41m to push it to a new 18.86m at the Porto Novo meet.
The sprinters comprise of: Blessing Okagbare, Gloria Asumnu and Lawretta Ozoh. In the 200m women sprint, Christy Udoh, Gloria Asumnu and Lawretta will fly the country’s colour while Beijing Olympics bronze medalist, Okagbare is the country’s sole flag bearer in the women’s long jump event.
Doreen Amata, who had a terrible outing in Porto Novo, got a second chance to prove herself in women’s high jump. She could not match her previous personal best of 1.95m in African meet. USA based Regina George and Omolara Omotosho are the only women quarter milers picked while Muizat Ajoke Odumosu who won her 400m hurdles in style in Porto Novo is also heading for London.
Blessing Okagbare, Gloria Asumnu, Lawretta Ozoh, Damola Osayomi, Wisdom Isoken and Christy Udoh were the AFN choice for the women 4x100m relay while George, Omotosho, Bukola Abogunloko, Endurance Abinuwa, Idara Otu and Margaret Etim competes the list for the country in the women’s 1600 relay.
Other female athletes that will be in Team Nigeria’s train to London are Uhunoma Naomi Osazuwa (hepthatlon) and Seun Adigun (100m hurdles). Esther Obiekwe is the only Nigerian woman going to London to compete in the Marathon event.
In men’s categories, Obinna Metu, Ogho Oghene Egwero and Peter Emelieze are listed for the 100m while Nurudeen Selim (110m) and Stanley Gbagbeke are for long jump.
Team Nigeria’s captain, Saul Weigopwa is leading the 4x400m squad even as they eagerly await to know if they will make the final cut of best 16 teams for the London 1600 relay. Nigeria’s brightest chance for medal appears to be in Amaechi Morton, who will compete in 400m hurdles. He won gold at the African meet in Porto Novo.
Another prospect is Tosin Oke, who will feel at home in London to compete in triple jump. He is a former British junior champion who won the African title back-to-back.
At the last edition of the quadrennial world sporting event in Beijing, the Chinese capital, Team Nigeria won two bronze medals from efforts put up by Blessing Okagbare and patriotic display of the women 4x400 relay team led by Oludamola Osayomi. But from all indication, the stage will be different in London with more Nigerian athletes at the top of their various events leading to the 2012 Olympic Games.
With 31 athletes, led by Vivian Chukwuemeka, Blessing Okagbare, Amaechi Morton and Tosin Oke, a change in fortune looks very likely. The determining factor for Nigeria will be the performance of the quartet and the country’s women relay team.
The presence of Amaechi, Vivian and Tosin Oke in the team has increased Nigeria’s chances of winning through athletics.
USA-based Amaechi Morton, who has grown from a starry-eyed kid of three years ago to become one of the best quarter-mile hurdlers in the world this year, is favourite to join the list of few Nigerian athletes who has Olympics medal in their cupboard.
Vivian, who won the 2002 Commonwealth Games title and also had under her belt three consecutive All Africa Games titles (1999, 2003 and 2007), erased her previous African record of 18.41m to push it to a new 18.86m at the Porto Novo meet after she has a personal season’s best of 17.00 metres achieved last month in Walnut, California, at the Mount San Anthonio track and field meet.