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Okagbare seeks another slice of history in London

*As 16th IAAF World Championships begins in London

*Gusau charges athletes to stay clear of drugs

Reigning Commonwealth queen of the track Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor will be hoping for another slice of history when the 16th edition of the IAAF flagship event, the world championships, gets underway at the Olympic stadium in London this evening.

Okagbare, silver (long) and bronze (200m) bronze medal winner at the championships’ 14th edition four years ago in Moscow, Russia where she made history as the first Nigerian to win two medals at the same championships will be hoping to become the first Nigerian to win a blue ribband medal.

Olusoji Fasuba: The closest Nigeria came was Olusoji Fasuba’s fourth place finish in 2007 at the Naggai stadium in Osaka, Japan but Okagbare will relish her chances of surpassing that feat following her late return to form.

The six-time Nigerian 100m champion ran her first sub-11 seconds 100m race (10.99 seconds) last month at the IAAF Diamond League meeting at the Olympic stadium in London, venue of the championships. It was the first time since September 2015 she would break 11 seconds in the event and she will be confident she has got the momentum going for her.

Okagbare will also be banking on the fast track at the Olympic stadium which has proved to be a good ground for her as it was at the same track in 2013 that she became the first Nigerian nay African woman to run a sub-10.80 seconds (10.79 seconds) in the 100m.

So, can Nigerians and indeed Africans start counting their chickens? Can she achieve what the great Mary Onyali who ran in three consecutive 100m finals at the championships between 1991 and 1995 failed to achieve?

Onyali prays for Okagbare: Speaking on the feat, Mary Onyali, who is physically present in London said, “I would be so fulfilled if Blessing can surpass my feat. She can achieve these in both the long jump and the short sprint. My prayers has been with her given also that she has been in good shape in recent weeks.”

On the surface it looks a very herculean task as she will not only have to think about the duo of Elaine Thompson, the Jamaican who won the world title two years ago and added the Olympic crown just last year in Rio and the flying Dutch woman, Dafne Schippers, who won the silver medal behind Thompson two years ago in Beijing but also add the two Ivorians, Muriel Ahoure who broke her African record by one hundreth of a second (10.78 seconds) last year and the more impressive Marie-Jose Ta Lou.

Okagbare and a full house: Okagbare will also have to spare some thoughts for the dark but talented American, Torie Bowie, who won a surprise bronze medal in Beijing.

If the track gets congested for the Nigerian, she could seek redemption in the long jump where she will only require one long leap to achieve another slice of history: become the first Nigerian to be crowned a world champion.

Innocent Egbunike: Only three athletes have come closest to making the mark. Innocent Egbunike was the odds-on-favourite to win the 400m title in 1987 after his impressive, pre-championships performance in the circuit and came to the event in Rome as the fastest man in the world in the event. When the chips came down, he settled for a silver medal.

Fast forward to 1999. Two athletes, Francis Obikwelu in the men’s 200m and Glory Alozie in the women’s 100m hurdles looked sure bets to be crowned world champions.

While Alozie’s pre-championships’ feats made her look one of the sure favourites alongside Devers Olga, Shishigina and the Swede, Ludmila Enquist, Obikwelu’s 19.84 seconds run in the semi-final of the event got the reigning 100m king, Maurice Green, who was gunning or a sprints double scared.

Both Nigerians failed to fulfil expectations. While Alozie (12.44 seconds) raced to a silver medal finish behind Gail Devers (12.37 seconds), Obikwelu settled for a bronze medal behind Green (19.90 seconds) and Brazil’s Claudinei da Silva (20.20 seconds).

Interestingly, Obikwelu’s 19.84 seconds run was the fastest time in the world that year.

For Okagbare, the task may look less herculean unlike in the 100m but she will have to leap farther than the 6.77m personal season’s best she jumped last month in Hungary or even the 6.99m that fetched her the silver medal behind Britney Reese four years ago in Moscow where she lost the gold by 2cm.

Tobiloba Amusan: While all attention will be on Okagbare, petite sprint hurdler, Tobiloba Amusan could prove to be the joker in the pack of the 18 athletes that will dorn Nigeria’s green and white colours at the championships.

Amusan, the University of Texas in El Paso (UTEP) undergraduate student is the hottest sprint hurdler in Africa this year and one of the seven fastest in the world following the 12.57 seconds she ran last June to win the American collegiate title.

She is also the second fastest African of all time in the event after compatriot Glory Alozie and looks a good bet for a place in the final in her first trip to the championships.

The gold may be far from her reach unless reigning world record holder (12.20 seconds) in the event Kendra Harrison hits the hurdle and crashes, she can make the podium if she runs faster than her personal best of 12.57 seconds.

Chukwuebuka Enekwechi
Chukwuebuka Enekwechi

Chukwuebuka Enekwechi: While podium appearances by Okagbare and Amusan may not come much as a surprise to Nigerians, shot putter Chukwuebuka Enekwechi’s will need a miracle to throw his way to the podium.

The best the USA-based Nigerian who changed his allegiance to represent his parents’ country just before the championships should be hoping for a great outing should he throw farther than the 21.07m that secured his qualification for the event and see if it could land him in the final.

A place in the final will be historic for Enekwechi as no Nigerian shot putter had made it that far.

The women’s 4x400m relay team will also be hoping to emulate the feat performed by the Sunday Bada-led male team in 1995 in Gothenburg, Sweden where the team finished third after a spirited anchor-leg run by the late Bada.

Two years ago the team, led by Patience Okon-George ran an impressive 3:23:27 seconds in the semi-finals but failed to make it count in the final before Tosin Adeloye’s positive dope test rendered their fourth place finish and second fastest time in the Nigerian nay African all-time list illegal.

Hon Ibrahim Gusau...stay off drugs, more championships from next year
Hon Ibrahim Gusau…stay off drugs, more championships from next year

Ibrahim Gusau bring great hope: Meanwhile, Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) President, Hon. Ibrahim Gusau has charged the athletes to stay clear of performance enhancing drugs while assuring them the federation under his leadership will ensure their welfare comes first at all times.

Gusau who bankrolled the team’s trip to the championships is optimistic the future is bright for track and field in Nigeria.

“I am delighted to be attending my first world championships as AFN president and I want to assure you that we shall ensure there is competition at home for athletes to enable them improve on their performances and have the chance to compete against the very best in the world,’ he said.

Gusau is confident the programmes the federation under his watch will roll out for next season will make positive impacts in the lives of the athletes.

‘We have plan for training programmes for our coaches and as we improve their capacity they in turn will produce athletes that can be reckoned with in continental and global athletics.’

Team Nigeria’s London 2017 IAAF Worlds Warriors

MEN

SAMSON OGHENEWEGBA NATHANIEL

DOB: 29 AUG 1997

Event: 400m

PB: 45.23

SB: 45.23

Nigeria’s best position at the championships remains Innocent Egbunike’s silver medal finish in Rome in 1987.

Tosin Henry Oke

TOSIN OKE

DOB: 01 OCT 1980

Event: Triple Jump

PB: 17.23M

SB: 16.70m

Nigeria’s best position at the championships was Ajayi Agbebaku’s bronze medal finish in Helsinki in 1983.

CHUKWUEBUKA ENEKWECHI

Chukwuebuka Enekwechi

DOB: 28 JAN 1993

Event: Shot Put

PB: 21.07m

SB: 21.07m

Nigeria has not gone beyond the qualifying stage at the championships.

 

WOMEN

JENNIFER MADU

DOB: 23 SEP 1994

Event: 100m, 4x100m

PB: 11.16

SB: 11.31

Nigeria’s best record here remains the fifth place finish by Mary Onyali in 1993 and Blessing Okagbare in 2011.

 

Blessing Okagbare
Blessing Okagbare

BLESSING OKAGBARE

DOB: 09 OCT 1988

Event: 100m, Long Jump, 4x100m

PB: 10.79, 7.00M

SB: 10.99, 6.77M

Nigeria’s best record in the 100m remains the fifth place finish by Mary Onyali in 1993 and Blessing Okagbare in 2011 while in the long jump, Okagbare’s silver medal win in Moscow, Russia in 2013

 

MARGARET BAMGBOSE

Margaret Bamgbose

DOB: 19 OCT 1993

Event: 400m, 4x400m

PB: 51.11

SB: 51.57

Nigeria’s best position is Falilat Ogunkoya’s fourth place finish in Seville, Spain in 1999

 

PATIENCE OKON GEORGE

Patience Okon George
Patience Okon George

DOB: 25 NOV 1991

Event: 400m, 4x400m

PB: 50.71

SB: 51.03

Nigeria’s best position is Falilat Ogunkoya’s fourth place finish in Seville, Spain in 1999

 

YINKA AJAYI

DOB: 11 AUG 1997

Event: 400m

PB: 51.30

SB: 51.30

Nigeria’s best position is Falilat Ogunkoya’s fourth place finish in Seville, Spain in 1999

 

Tobiloba Amusan
Tobiloba Amusan

OLUWATOBILOBA AMUSAN

DOB: 23 APR 1997

Event: 100m Hurdles

PB: 12.57

SB: 12.57

Glory Alozie’s silver medal win in 199 in Sevile, Spain is Nigeria’s best performance in the event

 

LINDSAY LINDLEY

DOB: 10 JUN 1989

Event: 100m Hurdles

PB: 12.90

SB: 12.90

Glory Alozie’s silver medal win in 199 in Sevile, Spain is Nigeria’s best performance in the event

 

GLORY ONOME NATHANIEL

DOB: 23 JAN 1996

Event: 400m Hurdles

PB: 55.90

SB: 55.90

Omolade Akinremi in 1995 and Ajoke Odumosu’s semi-final finishes in 2009 and 2011 represent Nigeria’s best performance in the championships

 

ESE BRUME

DOB: 20 JAN 1996

Event: Long Jump

PB: 6.83m

SB: 6.64m

Blessing Okagbare’a silver medal win in Moscow, Russia in 2013 remains Nigeria’s best performance in the championships

 

4x100m Women Relay

PB: 42.39

SB: 43.84

The Nigerian relay squad Aniekeme Alphonsus ETIM, Wisdom ISOKEN, Lindsay LINDLEY, Jennifer MADU, Blessing OKAGBARE, Maria Thompson OMOKWE will aim for a podium finish as that is the only way the fourth place finishes achieved by the quartet of Beatrice Utondu, Rufina Ubah, Christy Opara-Thompson and Mary Onyali in

1991 in Tokyo (42.77) and the 2001 team to Edmonton, Canada made up of Chioma Ajunwa, Endurance Ojokolo, Mercy Nku, and Mary Onyali (42.52).

 

4x400m Women Relay

PB: 3:21.04

SB: 3:31.97

The team of Yinka AJAYI,Margaret BAMGBOSE, Abike Funmilola EGBENIYI, Patience Okon GEORGE and Glory Onome NATHANIEL will attempt to go a step further than fifth place, the highest position Nigeria has attained in the race at the championships on four occasions viz 1991 by the quartet of Fatima Yusuf, Mary Onyali, Airat Bakare and Charity Opara (3:24.45); 2009 by Endurance Abinuwa, Muizat Ajoke Odumosu, Josephine Ehigie and Folasade Abugan (3:28.55), 2013 by the quartet of Omolara Omotoso, Patience Okon George, Bukola Abogunloko and Regina George (3:27.57) and in 2015 by the team (Regina George, Funke Oladoye, Tosin Adeloye and Patience Okon George (3:25.11).

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