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The battle for Tokyo 2020 starts now

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Track and events

By Yemi Olus

The World Athletics Championships held in Doha, Qatar, from September 27 to October 6 officially signaled the end of the 2019 Athletics season, and of course the athletes must be relieved to finally get some respite, but then the Tokyo 2020 Olympics already beckons, so preparation towards the Olympics has already commenced for a lot of countries.

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Take for instance the Caribbean nation of Jamaica that has witnessed a sort of lull in the sprints since the retirement of their No.1 sprinter Usain Bolt. However, they bounced back at the World Championships with a 3rd place finish on the medals table, just behind USA and Kenya.

Asides winning individual events like the women’s 100m and men’s Long Jump, Jamaica secured medals in four of the five relay events staged in Doha. They won the women’s 4x100m ahead of USA with a world leading time of 41.44sec. They also claimed Silver in the mixed 4x400m and men’s 4x400m, and a Bronze medal in the women’s 4x400m.

The only relay event that Jamaica was unable to secure a medal in was the men’s 4x100m where they finished a shocking 5th in their heat and failed to make the final.

And because of the ‘mixed’ results of the relay teams in Doha, the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) has resolved to get their 4x100m relay teams into as many competitions as possible before the Olympics.

The Top 8 teams in each relay event from the World Championships in Doha automatically qualify for the Olympics, which means Jamaica has qualified for four of five relay events. That notwithstanding, they are looking at strengthening their squads ahead of Tokyo 2020.

JAAA President Warren Blake said, “What we’re planning to do is to see what opportunities we can get apart from having them train together, but also in terms of competition, there are some opportunities that are available for them to have competitive experience going into the Olympics.

“You have Penn Relays, where we usually send a team, where we are going to see if we can get some of the men who might make the team, get them to run that relay, so they will get practice doing baton changes and competition.

“We have been invited in the past and we are going to see if we can activate those invitations for this year, especially the Muller Diamond League in London, and I think the Zurich one usually has a relay, so we’re going to try and get our teams in those.”

As it stands, no Nigerian relay team has qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and we would have to jostle with several countries for one of the remaining eight slots per event, since each relay event comprises 16 countries.

Nigeria had a catastrophic performance in the relays at the World Championships, with both our men’s 4x100m and women’s 4x400m teams finishing 8th in their respective heats. The men’s team was eventually disqualified. Our women’s 4x100m placed 7th in their own heat. We didn’t qualify for the men’s 4x400m and mixed relay events, and it doesn’t take much to understand why we are in this absurd position. It’s simply due to our lack of foresight as a nation.

Our men’s 4x100m team narrowly made the cut to Doha due to the pulling out of some countries that qualified ahead of us, and with our male sprinters running faster than we have seen in recent years, this was our opportunity to at least make the final of the World Championships to secure a slot for the Olympics.

Instead, it was South Africa that went on to break the African Record of 37.94sec set by Nigeria’s quartet of Osmond Ezinwa, Olapade Adeniken, Francis Obikwelu and Davidson Ezinwa in 1997, replacing it with a new time of 37.65sec. They also finished 5th in the final.

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Some pertinent questions to ask about each of our relay squads, is how much time did the members spend together practicing as a team? How many competitions were they exposed to before the World Championships? How much synergy did they have as a team? Why is Nigeria yet to field a mixed 4x400m team since the introduction of the event at the World Championships and Olympics? Why are we not moving with the times?

It was disheartening to hear that up till an hour before their race in Doha, members of the men’s 4x100m did not know the specific athletes that were going to run. Are we then surprised by the woeful results churned out in Doha?

The relays account for eight of Nigeria’s 13 medals won in Athletics at the Olympics, and it will be a travesty to return home empty-handed from Tokyo after not winning medals at London 2012 and Rio 2016. We need to be intentional about the kind of results we want to achieve, and these things do not happen by chance. There’s no better time than the present to kick off our preparation for Tokyo 2020.

Vanguard

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