NIGERIA RETURNS TO THE TOP OF AFRICAN ATHLETICS
Posted: Jul 03, 2012
Vivian Chukwuemeka's dominant display in the women's shot put final and the incredible 4x400m run by the men and women's relay teams headlined the last day of competition here in Port Novo at the 18th African Athletics Championships and Nigeria's bold and successful bid to return to the summit of African athletics.
Chukwuemeka, the 2002 Commonwealth Games queen, set a new African, national and championship record of 18.86m to lead a Nigerian clean sweep of the medals on offer. Chinwe Okoro who won Nigeria's first gold medal at this championships settled for silver (16.21m), while Omotayo Talabi picked the bronze with a put of 15.63m.
The women's 1600 relay however set the tone for an intriguing finish with a new championships record of 3:28.77 to beat Botswana led by individual 400m winner and reigning world champion, Amantle Montsho. This victory tied both Nigeria and Kenya on nine gold medals each with the men's 4x400m event the decider for Nigeria who needed to win the gold to be crowned African champions.
The quartet of Salihu Issah, Amaechi Morton, Abiola Onakoya and anchor-leg runner, Saul Weigopwa, ran the race of their lives and deservedly picked the gold with a new 3:02.39 seconds to push Nigeria on top of the medals table 12 years after she last enjoyed that privilege in Dakar, Senegal at the 11th edition of the championships. Then she emerged tops with 10 gold, seven silver and five bronze medals and with seven championship records to the bargain, two coming from Falilat Ogunkoya who successfully completed a 200m (22.22)/400m (50.07) double.
The last day haul of five gold, two silver and two bronze medals was thus enough for Nigeria to upstage a second string Kenya team who beat the Nigerians by just one gold medal two years ago on home soil in Nairobi.
Nigeria thus finished first with 10 gold, six silver and five bronze medals with Kenya second with nine gold,nine silver and nine bronze medals while South Africa, the 2008 champions came third with six gold,10 silver and eight bronze medals.
Earlier in the day, sprinters Gloria Asumnu and Lawretta Ozoh had made it a Nigeria 1,2 in the 200m with the former winning a photo-finish race with both athletes timed at 22.93 seconds. In the men's version, Noah Akwu made a surprise incursion into the medals arena by winning the bronze (20.83 seconds) in a race won by Cote d'Ivoire's Ben Meite Youssef (20.62 seconds) who made up for his diqualification in the 100m.
Akwu, one of the athletes under the stable of respected athletics coach, Chief Tony Osheku, before he travelled out to study in the USA told Complete Sports he ignored his coach's advice in the USA to run at the championship after undergoing surgery.
''I decided not to run in the 400m event because I just came back from a surgery and didn't want to do an event as demanding as the 400m. In fact I took a risk coming here to compete and I am happy my bravery has been rewarded with a first ever African championships individual medal,'' he said.
In the 400m hurdles, Ajoke Odumosu fulfilled expectations as she reclaimed the title she lost two years ago to Morocco's Hayat Lambarki. The reigning national champion ran a new 54.99 seconds personal season's best, her third career sub-55 seconds run to pick the gold ahead of Lambarki (55.41 seconds) with Liberia's Raasin Mckintosh winning the bronze (55.99 seconds).
Odumosu who has been enjoying her best ever season in terms of consistency and high quality performances has broken 56 seconds seven times so far this season and looks a good candidate for a place in the 400m hurdles final in London at the Olympics when the Athletics event start next month.
In the men's javelin, Kenechukwu Ezeofor won the bronze medal (69.58m) behind Kenya's Julius Yego (76.68m) and Ghana's John Ampomah (70.68m) who picked the gold and the silver medals respectively.
Nigeria set a total of three championships and one African record in the five-day competition with Chukwuemeka topping her 17.60m championships record set in Tunis in 2002,the first time she was crowned African champions in the event with an African-record setting 18.86m. Blessing Okagbare also erased Chioma Ajunwa's 6.78m record with a new 6.96m record while the women's 4x400m relay team erased the 3:29.26 record set by the quatrtet of Shade Abugan, Margaret Etim, Bukola Abogunloko and Ajoke Odumosu two years ago in Nairobi.
By Dare Esan
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