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Making a case for Athletics ahead of 2018 Commonwealth Games

The biggest Athletics showpiece for the 2018 season, the Commonwealth Games, is just four months away, and Nigeria will do well to have a game plan for the quadrennial championship, which is already upon us as it were.

Seeing that 2018 is neither an Olympics nor World Championships year, Nigeria will be looking forward to participating in three championships (at senior level): the World Indoor Championships in March (which will serve as preparation for the Commonwealth Games), the Commonwealth Games, and the African Senior Championships, which will be hosted by Nigeria in August. The biggest of these three for Nigeria is the Commonwealth Games holding in Gold Coast, Australia, from April 4 to 15.

The country has competed in 13 editions of the Commonwealth Games, starting with the 1950 Games held in Auckland, and Athletics has played a vital role in Nigeria’s medals haul at the multi-sport competition, even as the only medal won in 1950 was in Track and Field, where Josiah Majekodunmi won a Silver medal in the High Jump, making him Nigeria’s first ever medalist at an international competition across all sports.

It therefore goes without saying that Athletics as a sport ought to hold a revered position in Nigeria, and should enjoy the massive support and backing of the government, especially in terms of funding, considering that the numerous contributions of the sport can be traced to the pre-independence era of our nation.

Athletics alone accounts for 66 of the 212 medals Nigeria has won at the Commonwealth Games as a whole, which is more than a quarter of the medals amassed by the country at the Games.

Athletics has won medals in every edition of the Commonwealth Games that Nigeria has participated in, save for the 1970 edition of the Games held in Edinburgh. Consolidating on Majekodunmi’s Silver medal in 1950, the sport produced 6 medals in 1954, won only 1 medal in 1958, and then won six medals again in 1966.

At the 1974 edition of the Games in Christchurch, New Zealand, four medals came from Athletics, then one Gold medal won in the 4x100m relay in 1982. Track and Field’s biggest medal haul at the Commonwealth Games was recorded in 1990 in Auckland, following the exploits of the likes of Yussuf Alli (Long Jump), Adewale Olukoju (Discus) and Fatima Yusuf (400m) who won Gold medals in their respective events.

This tally was maintained at the 1994 edition of the Games in Victoria, Canada, where Mary Onyali stormed to a Gold medal in the 100m, Silver in the 200m, before anchoring the 4x100m team to another Gold medal. Obinna Eregbu won the Long Jump as well. The next time Nigeria came close to meeting this record was in 2006 (having won five medals in 2002) when the Track and Field team returned home with nine medals, and then won six medals at Delhi 2010.

Nigeria’s performance at the 2014 Commonwealth Games was a good one as Blessing Okagbare raced her way into the history books to become only the fourth woman in the history of the Games to win the 100m/200m. She also set a Championship Record of 10.85s in the 100m, breaking the former Games Record of 10.91s set by Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

Ese Brume also won a Gold medal in the women’s Long Jump; Tosin Oke won Silver in the men’s Triple Jump, while the women’s 4x100m and 4x400m relays teams claimed Silver in their respective events. Both Okagbare and Brume will be hoping for a successful defence of their titles come April, but one has to ask if the pair have received any support from the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) in preparation for the Games.

Brume was Nigeria’s best Athletics performer at the 2016 Rio Olympics as she was the only athlete to qualify for the final of an individual event, finishing 5th with a jump of 6.81m behind USA’s pair of Tianna Bartoletta and Brittney Reese, Ivana Spanovic of Serbia, and Germany’s Malaika Mihambo. All Top 4 finishers aren’t from Commonwealth nations, which means Brume still stands a chance of doing well in Gold Coast with the right support.

However, she would be contending with the likes of Great Britain’s Lorraine Ugen who finished 5th at the 2017 World Championships in London, Australia’s Brooke Stratton who was 6th, Canada’s Christabel Nettey who finished 3rd behind Brume in Glasgow, but now has a Personal Best (PB) of 6.99m and is ranked 5th on the 2017 world rankings, and a host of others.

Brume had an off performance at the World Championships where she was unable to qualify for the final of her event, but one wonders if anyone has bothered to find out the reason(s) for this decline in order to chart the right course ahead of the Games.

Time and time again we have witnessed government officials rushing to take credit when athletes perform well on the global stage, even in situations where little or nothing was invested in these athletes. How much is being invested in Nigerian athletes ahead of the 2018 Commonwealth Games?

Note: On last week’s piece titled ‘Minding the Gap in Nigerian Track and Field, I forgot to include Glory Alozie as one of Nigeria’s individual Olympic medalists, in the last paragraph of the story. The error is highly regretted.

 


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