By Dare Esan:
Is the big shoulder of shot putter Stephen Mozia strong enough to carry Nigeria’s genuine and final hope for a medal in track and field at the on-going Olympic Games in Rio?
This is the big question that will be answered on Thursday as the Shot Put event takes centre stage at the Olympic Stadium in Rio.
Mozia, the Cornel University, USA Engineering graduate, has broken all known Nigerian records in the event since he switched allegiance from his country of birth USA to his parents’ country Nigeria in 2014 and he will be looking to go two steps further than Chima Ugwu who twice failed (1996 in Atlanta and 2000 in Sydney) to qualify for the final of the event.
The Nigerian record holder indoors and out will hope to become not only the first to qualify for the final of the event, but also the first to heave himself into the medal zone.
Mozia has been drawn in Group A qualifying heat and will only need to throw 20.65m or be among the best 12 from the two groups to qualify for the final.
Ranked the third best in the world coming to the Games following his 21.76m national record-setting throw at Ústí nad Labem in the Czech Republic, Mozia only needs to overcome the phobia he seems to have developed for the big stage and fulfil his potential.
Only two men have thrown farther than the Nigerian outdoors this season.The first, USA’s Joe Kovacs (22.13m), is in his qualifying group while the second is another American Ryan CROUSER (22.11m).
New Zealand’s Tomas Walsh has also thrown farther than the Nigerian but his 21.78m effort was achieved when he won the IAAF World Indoor Championships gold last March at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Oregon, USA.
Interestingly, Mozia, who only in January became the first and so far ONLY Nigerian man to hit 21m and above (21.11m) in the event indoors could only place 12th (19.84m) at the Championships.
Meanwhile, sprinter Blessing Okagbare will hope to make amends for her disappointing performance here at the Games when she leads out the 400 relay team in the second semi-final of the event on Thursday.
Nigeria with a season’s best of 44.24 seconds and drawn in lane eight of the heat will however hope to grab one of the three automatic slots on offer or at least be among the two fastest losers.
With USA (42.61), Germany (41.62), Trinidad and Tobago (43.06) and France (42.84) in the heat, only a miracle can see Nigeria through to the final.
Also needing a miracle to make her first final after two futile attempts is high jumper Doreen Amata.
The Nigerian record holder (1.95m) has had an indifferent season prior to the Rio Olympics caused majorly by injury and can only bank on luck to scale the 1.94m qualification mark set by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) or finish among the 12 best jumpers that will qualify for Friday’s final.
In her debut at the Games in 2008 in Beijing, Amata finished 16th (1.89m). Four years later in London she went a step lower to 17th (1.90m).