By Ben Efe
In another 48 hours, the best of African athletes will lace up their running shoes and hit the track for the 21st African Athletics Championships billed for August 1-5 at the newly commissioned Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, Delta State.Being an IAAF World Cup in Athletics year, elite African athletes who have never had the penchant of shying away from the championships, are expected in Asaba to earn the right to represent Africa at the inter-continental event scheduled to hold September in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
Apart from the hustle for the African team spot; top athletics nations in the continent are eager to reaffirm their dominance in their respective strong holds.
Nigeria being the host country, is also holding on to hope and believe that they cannot be ruled out of reckoning, even as officials are counting the country’s medal potentials on one finger. Gone are the days, when Nigeria sent shivers down the spines of other African countries, as the country seemed to be omnipresent in every area of contest.
Based on current form, it will take a miracle for any Nigerian athlete to strike gold in the short and long sprints, a division the green- white- green dominated the podium back in history. In the 100m/200m men and women, it’s a Cote d’ Ivoire and South African contest, while Botswana and Kenya will decide, which way the water will flow in the 400m.
The middle and long distances will see Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa slugging it out. However, other nations in that region will put up a sprinkle of performances to also stake a claim for the medals.
South Africa have strong points in the field events. But this is not ruling out Nigeria, she has got a good team of throwers and jumpers who are determined to break into limelight.
Speaking on Nigeria’s chances, former Athletics Federation of Nigeria president, Toni Urhobo who is also a seasoned coach, submitted that Nigeria would have to be contented putting up a good show of hosting the championships, as according to him, Nigerian athletes are the least prepared amongst the nations coming for the Championships.
“For patriotism sake we must refrain from casting negative aspersions. But every one knows that our team did not prepare well for the championships.
“This is due to the uncertainty at the AFN. However, let us hope that some of our medal prospects will show up and give a good performance,” said coach Urhobo.
Perhaps, a member of the AFN who requested anonymity drives home the point: “How many medals can we win? I can only stick out my neck and name Tobi Amusan in the 100m hurdles, Chukwuebuka Enekwechi in the shut put and maybe our women relay teams.
“We have to make do with what we have and hope for the best in the future.”