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Awake Nigeria, Africa’s sleeping sprint giant

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By Yemi Olus

It is no longer news that the 21st edition of the African Senior Athletics Championships is currently being staged in Asaba, Delta State. The 100m is usually one of the major highlights of any Athletics competition, and it was no different at the ongoing championship. The men and women’s 100m finals were decided on Thursday at the Stephen Keshi Stadium.

Akani Simbine and Henricho Bruintjies
Akani Simbine and Henricho Bruintjies

Most of the spoils from both races went to South Africa and Cote d’Ivoire respectively. Two medals went to South Africa, the other two were claimed by Cote d’ Ivoire, one went to Ghana while the last one came to Nigeria, the host country. South Africa’s Akani Simbine won the Gold medal in the men’s 100m in a time of 10.25secs, while his teammate Simon Magakwe, the first ever South African to clock a sub-10s, won Bronze in the same race.

Worthy of mention is the fact that Simbine, who is South Africa’s National Record holder in the 100m, had also inspired a 1-2 for his country at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast earlier this year where he won Gold while teammate Henricho Bruintjies took Silver.

The Silver medal in Asaba was taken by Cote d’ Ivoire’s Arthur Cisse. The women’s 100m was won by pre-tournament favourite, Marie Josee Ta Lou, also of Cote d’Ivoire, who is the fastest woman in the world this year with her Season’s Best of 10.85s set in May, and has remained unbeaten in the 100m all season. Janet Amponsah of Ghana won Silver, while Nigeria’s Joy Udo-Gabriel took the Bronze medal.

Ironically, the last time a Nigerian male sprinter won the 100m at the African Championships was exactly a decade ago in Addis Ababa where Olusoji Fasuba made history by becoming the first man in the history of the championships to win three titles in the 100m, which he did consecutively. Incidentally, Fasuba, who still holds the African Record in the event, was in Asaba to witness the African Championships. In what appeared to be a symbolic gesture, he even offered his best wishes to Simbine ahead of the 100m event.

Of the five African Championships that have followed the Fasuba era, three of the men’s 100m titles have been won by Ivoirians and two by South Africans, Asaba 2018 inclusive. Cote d’Ivoire’s Ben Youssef Meite who was crowned the fastest man in Africa in 2010, reclaimed the title two years ago in Durban, and narrowly missed a place on the podium in Asaba, finishing 4th in 10.36s in his final outing at the African Championships.

However, his teammate, the much younger Arthur Cisse took Silver, and is now in a position to continue from where Meite stopped. In fact, the 21-year old Cisse has already broken Meite’s National Record of 9.96secs, replacing it with a superior time of 9.94s set in June. That already shows that there will be no vacuum left should Meite decide to retire today.

For South Africa, there is even a bigger pool of athletes to select from. Magakwe who won Bronze in Asaba, was the 100m champion at the 2012 African Championships. He was away from the Athletics scene for about three years and only returned to full action this season, yet he was able to snatch the Bronze medal. Asides Simbine, Bruintjies and Magakwe, there is a younger pool of athletes already being groomed to take over from the current champions.

South Africa has topped the medals table in three of the past five editions of the African Championships, and they look set to retain their position. The team enjoyed a spectacular afternoon session on Day 2 of the ongoing championships, wining eight medals in one day – three Gold, three Silver and two Bronze medals. They secured a 1-3 in the men’s 100m, a 1-2 in the men’s Long Jump, another 1-2 in the men’s Discus throw, a Silver medal in the 100m Hurdles and Bronze in the men’s Shot put.

While speaking with Fasuba on the current state of the sprints in Nigeria, as well as the fact that his Nigerian and African Record is still standing 12 years after, and if the record was likely to be erased in Asaba, this is what he had to say:

“Looking at the progress, I know that the South African (Simbine) is close now, but it depends on the winds and the right conditions, you never know when these records go. My greater joy would be for it to be a Nigerian for continuity, but at the moment it doesn’t seem it’s going to happen, but we can only hope that at some point it’s going to be a Nigerian holding it if it does go. We still have this culture of “We’ve got a great star now, that’s all we’ve got”. By the time we move from that mentality, we will get better.

“We need to remember that the younger ones are our future. We give the accolades to those that are at the top right now, but we also have to develop the younger ones because if you do not do that, the chain is going to breakdown at some point; that is what has happened to our men. I stopped running in 2011 but because of no continuity, no programme and no plan, that is why we are where we are today.”

The likes of South Africa, Cote d’Ivoire and even Botswana have gone far ahead of us. Who will wake Africa’s sleeping giant up?



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