By Ben Efe
The people of Asaba, Delta State celebrated, African athletes gave in their best and organizers of the 21st African Athletics Championships will for a long time reflect on how they could have done it better, and avoid the chaotic start to an event they promised was going to be the best ever.
The delays at the airport in Lagos are well documented. Sports journalists, will not forget the moments they had to endure a long wait for their accreditation, furniture and WIFI at the media working area. These were little things that mattered, now everyone that followed the events unfold at Asaba 2018; will have their own opinion on how things worked out. Perhaps, organizers of the African youth soccer championship in 1995 will have a good laugh it seems quite sure their record has been broken.
However, the fun and thrill of Asaba 2018 far outweigh the bedlam that ushered the event. Midway, athletes were competing with all passion. Women 100m champion, Marie Josee Ta Lou who was hard-hit by the travel arrangements, and was closed to tears, was all full of smiles as numerous fans flocked around her.
The Kenyans who cried blue murder on arrival, danced to a different tone and some of their athletes, wished they had husbands that would have kept them back in Nigeria.
The atmosphere was friendlie with every passing day at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, even as a collapsing water tank far away from the stands and spectators did cause some anxious moments. There wasn’t a single day of the championships Asaba citizens didn’t turn up; they created an ambiance, that could be comparable to that of a European sports event. Fathers and mothers came with their children and young adults added flavour to atmosphere.
One good thing the Local organizing committee got so right, was perhaps the decision to bring in top notch entertainers like Phyno and African China to croon some of their hit tunes. At end of competitions it was more like a party, . Athletes and spectators alike rocked the scene. However, one afternoon, Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung made an appearance and the fans made it known to him he was not welcomed with rounds of boos, Dalung beat a quick retreat and was never seen again.
And of course worthy of note, was that at the end of the show, everyone departed in a peaceful and orderly manner. There wasn’t a single incident of violent conduct or robbery, security was tight and efficient. The only blight was that fans walked long distances before they could get transport as the main route to the Stadium was blocked to traffic.
Speaking on the hosting efforts, Delta State sports commission chairman, Tonobok Okowa admitted that organization may not have been perfect, but Asaba 2018 created a lively atmosphere for Africa and it was a memorable event that should be treasured.
“We could have done better with the arrivals. But if you ask me things went on well, we are happy Delta State hosted, and this has shown that Asaba is now a sports destination.
“Apart from that a lot of youths have been inspired by the presence of top African stars.”
Also IAAF president Seb Coe, praised the efforts of the Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa.
“If the governor had not stepped up to things, we would definitely not have held the regional championships.
“I really thank him for his efforts in putting up the facilities.”
Kenya topped the medals table with 11 gold, six silver and two bronze. South Africa Nine gold, 13 silver, and eight bronze. Nigeria nine gold, five silver and five bronze.
Ten of the more memorable performances.
Nijel Amos (Botswana)
800m champion, successfully defending his title in a dramatic showdown against world leader Emmanuel Korir.
Ese Brume (Nigeria)
Long jump champion who reached a season’s best of 6.83m to clinch her third successive title.
Winny Chebet (Kenya)
1500m champion after holding off a late-race charge by Moroccans Rabab Arrafi and Malika Akkaoui. Just 0.15 separated the top three finishers.
Beatrice Chepkoech (Kenya)
3000m steeplechase champion in 8:59.88, the ninth fastest run of all time and one of the fastest un-paced performances ever.
Chukwuebuka Enekwechi (Nigeria)
The men’s shot put champion who dominated the competition with a 21.05m effort to win by nearly two metres.
Nigeria women’s 4x100m relay
The loudest roar of the week by the enthusiastic near-capacity crowd that filled the stadium each day came during and after the victory by the Nigerian quartet of Joy Udo-Gabriel, Blessing Okagbare, Tobi Amusan and Rosemary Chukwuma.
Ruswahl Samaai (South Africa)
Long jump champion. Samaai defeated compatriot Luvo Manyonga by just two centimetres with an 8.45m season’s best leap in a competition in which the pair nearly matched each other’s jumps almost round by round.
Caster Semenya (South Africa)
400m and 800m champion; in the former she clocked 49.96, a national record.
Marie-Josee Ta Lou (Cote d’ Ivoire)
100m and 200m champion, silver medallist in the 4x100m
Edward Zakayo (Kenya)
5000m champion. Just three weeks after taking gold at the IAAF World U20 Championships, the teenager claimed his first senior title in a perfectly executed tactical race.