By Ben Efe
Certainly it is not a tea party at the U.J Eseune Stadium Calabar this morning as the Cross-River All Nigeria athletics championships begin with all intensity. And as the best Nigeria’s has to offer in track and field, move back and forth searching for acclaim, it promises to be a spectacle even as records are waiting to be broken.
Looking through the list of athletes that have arrived in this environmental friendly City, there is going to be an abundance of rivalry and so Nigerian athletics buffs cannot be seen as been over expectant, if they demand for good performances.
“We are looking forward to an explosive trials. This is because we have athletes who are in top form and are ready to give all their best,” said Athletics Federation of Nigeria president, Solomon Ogba.
He had the men and women 100m in mind when he made that remark. And of course everybody in athletics know that two women stand out in this contest.
They are African champion at the Nairobi 2010 African Championships, Blessing Okagbare and All African Games 2007 double champion, Damola Osayomi. The duo are the star attraction of this year’s trials and it remained to be seen who would be at the wrong end of the rainbow. Perhaps the biggest causality will be Gloria Alozie’s 1999 10.90 seconds national record.
Osayomi in May became the first Nigerian woman to go under 11 seconds since Alozie did that time. Osayomi ran 10.99 seconds, while Okagbare is still holding on to her 11.08 season best she did June 4 in Eugene, Oregon. She argued on arrival that she was not here for a supremacy fight with Osayomi, but just to qualify for the world championships and All Africa Games.
“I don’t see anything spectacular about this because Damola has won it before, I am now the champion and I will not kill myself over it. It is not going to be a do or die affair, my target is to do well in the World Championships in Korea in August.”
However, there are other women in the field capable of causing upsets. These include Gloria Asumnu making her debut appearance in Nigeria track and field. She has a season’s best of 11.19 seconds and by all standard she is a candidate for the title, which Okagbare won back to back in 2009 and 2010. Others like Endurance Abinuwa with 11.32 and Agnes Osazuwa cannot be ignored their contributions will no doubt pour fuel into the fire.
The men’s race for sure will not be devoid of rivalry. Peter Emelieze with a 10.18 season best is the top man to beat in Calabar. This is not to write off the challenge from Ogho-Oghene Egwero and Obinna Metu, there is also new comer Stanley Azie. Egwero raced to a 10.26 season’s best at the AFN Golden League, Metu warmed up with a 10.27 effort and Azie a University of Illinois undergrad has 10.20 to his credit this season.
Nigeria have for long surrendered its 400m stronghold. And current quarter-milers have not lived up to the billings they have Innocent Egunike’s 1987 44.17 seconds gaping at them. Performances by Nigerian athletes this season do not suggest the country would reclaim its lost glory. Abiola Onokoya’s 45.89 seconds is the leading time. He has Segun Ogunkole with 45.91, Tobi Ogunmola, Noah Akwu and others to contend with.
Endurance Abinuwa is the woman to beat in that category. With a season’s best of 52.28 she has the likes of Bukola Abogunloko and Chizoba Okodogbe to grapple with.
Another interesting race to watch would be the women 100m hurdles where 2007 All African Games silver medalist, Jessica Ohanaja will square up with Seun Adigun the African champion at Nairobi 2010. But clearly Adigu holds the ace, she has done 13.12 this season, while Ohanaja is still warming for a good performance.