By Dare Esan:
Sprint hurdler Tobiloba Amusan will spearhead Nigeria’s charge for glory as the 16th IAAF World Junior Championships on Tuesday at the Zawisza Stadium in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
Nigeria’s first trip to Bydgoszcz was nine years ago at the inaugural IAAF World Youth Championships in Athletics where quartermiler Helen Opanachi (now married to former Nigeria speed king Uche Emedolu) won a 400m silver (52.38).
The second trip was a year later for the 12th IAAF World Junior Championships and this time the country struck gold through Folasade Abugan (51.84) who became the third Nigerian after Fatima Yusuf (1990) and Bisi Afolabi (1994) to win the 400m title.
Since then Nigeria has failed to get the national anthem played as the athletes have failed to strike gold, only managing four silver medals viz three in 2010 in Moncton, Canada through the men and women’s 4x400m relay teams and Margaret Etim in the open 400m and one in Eugene, Oregon, USA where Divine Oduduru placed second in the men’s 200m.
A return to the podium as world champions however looks a real possiblity this time around and Amusan, the reigning All Africa Games 100m hurdles queen who took the American collegiate circuit by storm this year in only her first year at the University of Texas in El Paso is the odds on favourite to win.
The Nigerian leads the 2016 world U-20 list with her altitude-aided 12.83 seconds run in April at the UTEP invitational in Texas and backed it up with a wind-aided 12.79 seconds to finish second at the National Collegiate of Athletics Association (NCAA) championships.
Amusan’s greatest obstacle to gold will come from her country of residence, USA, in the shape of 15-year-old Tia Jones who ran a sensational 12.84 in the heats of the US Junior Championships, recording the fastest ever time by a youth athlete over the senior-height barriers.
While Amusan will not be in action until Friday, sprinter Aniekeme Alphonsus, who has run 11.25 and 11.34 respectively this summer will strive to become the second Nigerian after Tina Iheagwan in 1996 to win the blue ribband title.
An uphill task it will be as the Nigerian will have to contend with 18-year-old American Candace Hill who won a sprint double at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Cali, Colombia last year, setting world U-18 bests of 11.08 and 22.43 respectively before turning professional soon afterwards.
Also up the ladder on contending athletes is Trinidad and Tobago’s Khalifa St Fort who took the silver medal behind Hill in Cali last summer, British junior champion Imani Lansiquot and 18-year-old home girl Ewa Swoboda who broke Uduak Ekah of Nigeria’s U-20 60m world indoor record of 7.08m this winetr with a 7.07 seconds run.
Nigeria has won a total of 30 medals at the championships made up of 10 gold, 13 silver and seven silver with Francis Obikwelu emerging Nigeria’s best performer courtsey of the 100m and 200m gold he won in 1996 at the sixth edition of the championships.
Tina Iheagwan was the first Nigerian to win a world junior title courtesy her victory in the 100m at the inauguarl edition of the championships in Athens, Greece while the men’s 100m and the women’s 400m accounted for six of Nigeria’s 10 gold medals.