By Yemi Olus
The Commonwealth Games may be over, and even though Nigeria did not win as many medals as expected in Track and Field, the performance of our athletes in Gold Coast can be used to forge a path for success ahead of the African Senior Athletics Championships to be held in Asaba, Delta State, from August 1 to 5.
Back in the day, Nigeria used to be Athletic powerhouse on the continent, but recent developments have since suggested that South Africa now holds that coveted position, going by the giant strides they have made in the sport.
And so for Nigeria to challenge for the top spot on the medals table at the forthcoming African Championships, we cannot afford to be without a game-plan. We would need to be strategic and maximize our areas of strengths if we are to hold our own, especially as Nigeria will be hosting the competition.
Considering that Delta State is hosting the entire continent, there is a huge possibility that Blessing Okagbare will be in action even though she didn’t compete at the last edition of the championships held in Durban two years ago. As the state’s biggest Track and Field ambassador, her presence alone guarantees at least a couple of medals, depending on the event(s) she decides to compete in.
Okagbare has demonstrated that she still has a lot to offer, having clocked a blistering wind-aided time of 10.72s earlier this season in the 100m, and an African Record of 22.04s in the 200m. Of course she will face some opposition from familiar foes, Cote d’Ivoire’s Murielle Ahoure and Marie Josee Ta Lou, not forgetting South Africa’s Carina Horn (11.03s) who is currently ranked No.2 in the world, but Okagbare is bound to receive the backing of the home crowd, which should spur her on.
The men’s 100m is a more difficult nut to crack, seeing that South Africa produced a 1-2 finish at the Commonwealth Games. Akani Simbine, Roscoe Engel and Simon Magakwe have clocked Season’s Bests (SB) of 10.03s, 10.06s and 10.07s respectively. It is not clear if defending champion, Ben Youssef Meite of Cote d’Ivoire will make the trip as he may probably just want to focus on the IAAF Diamond League.
Both Enoch Adegoke and Seye Ogunlewe clocked Season’s Bests of 10.19s at the Games, with Ogunlewe narrowly missing out on Bronze after clocking the same time with Jamaica’s Yohan Blake who was eventually awarded 3rd place. The Nigerian pair still have some time to improve and lower their times before the championships, so it will be great to see them challenge the South Africans come August.
That notwithstanding, Nigeria’s Divine Oduduru, another indigene of Delta State, recently clocked a Personal Best (PB) of 10.10s, and will be one to watch out for at the championships.Commitments at his school in the US stopped him from making the Commonwealth Games, but it is hoped that the in-form sprinter would be able to make it for the championships and help Nigeria’s medal prospects at Asaba 2018.
Oduduru ended the 2018 indoor season with the second and third fastest times in the world, clocking 20.18s and 20.21s respectively. South Africa’s Clarence Munyai posted a scorching 19.69s earlier this season, and it remains to be seen if he can replicate the same feat in Asaba. His teammates Ncincihli Titi (20.00s), Luxolo Adams (20.01s) and Anaso Jobowana (20.07s) will be aiming to stop Oduduru who has the added motivation of competing before his home crowd.
Three-time African Champion and newly-crowned Commonwealth Games Gold medallist in the women’s 400m, Amantle Montsho of Botswana tops the African standings at the moment with her time of 50.15s. Her teammate Christine Botlogetswe who finished 4th in Gold Coast, is 2nd on the continent with 51.17s. Nigeria’s Yinka Ajayi is 3rd in Africa, while Patience Okon-George is 6th, but who says the standings have to remain the same going into the African Championships? With the right support, we can get at least two medals in the women’s 400m.
Glory Nathaniel who was 6th in the women’s 400m Hurdles at the Commonwealth Games, is currently ranked 2nd in Africa, with South Africa’s Wenda Nel as No.1. This is another event Nigeria can capitalize on for a medal, as well as the men’s 400m Hurdles where US-based Rilwan Alowonle has shown great promise.
In his debut outing for Nigeria, Alowonle went on to finish 5th in Gold Coast, and even crossed the line ahead of former World Champion and Africa’s No.1, Nicholas Bett of Kenya. Nothing stops the talented young hurdler from upsetting the apple-cart if the right investment is made in him.
Tobi Amusan has been the continent’s best sprint hurdler in recent yearsand confirmedher statusby winning the Commonwealth Games title. This is one Gold medal Nigeria cannot afford to miss.
Chukwuebuka Enekwechi won Silver in the men’s Shot put at Gold Coast 2018, and currently tops the 2018 standings on the continent with his Personal Best of 21.14m. It means alongside Stephen Mozia who has a PB of 21.76m, and Josh Awotunde who has a Season’s Best of 19.87m with room for improvement before the African Championships , Nigeria can fight for a clean sweep of medals in this event.
Queen Obisesan may not have lived up to expectation in the women’s Hammer throw in Australia but she tops the African standings at the moment. We still have three months to tie loose ends before the African Championships is upon us; we must not be caught napping!