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Okagbare Leads Nigeria Into 4x100m Final As Mozia Disappoints Again

—Team runs fastest time by a Nigerian women's relay team in 15 years

By Dare Esan:

Nigeria's last hope for a track and field medal now rests squarely on the shoulders of the four women who will compete in the final of the 4x100m relay at 2.15am Saturday morning Nigerian time.

The quartet of Gloria Asumnu, Blessing Okagbare, Jennifer Madu and Agnes Osazuwa ran a 42.55 seconds season's best on Thursday to qualify for the final in second position behind Germany (42.18) while Trinidad and Tobago ran 42.62 seconds to come third.

The time was Nigeria's fastest since the quartet of Chioma Ajunwa, Endurance Ojokolo, Mercy Nku and Mary Onyali-Omagbemi ran 42.52 seconds to place fourth at the 2001 IAAF World Championships in Edmonton, Canada.

The USA team was initially disqualified for baton offences but was given another chance to make the final and will run alone in the early hours of Friday morning in a specially created heat three of the semi-final.The Americans had protested that the Brazilian team caused the baton to drop between second leg runner Allyson Felix and third leg runner English Gardener and the referee agreed that the US runner was obstructed at the second exchange.

Nigeria will now likely line up in the final with USA, Jamaica (41.79), Great Britain (41.93), UKraine, Canada, Germany and Trinidad and Tobago.

The Okagbare-led team will hope to become the third Nigerian 4x100m relay team to win an Olympic medal.

The quartet of Beatrice Utondu, Faith Idehen, Christy Opara-Thompson and Mary Onyali won a bronze medal in a 42.39 seconds Nigeria and African record time in Barcelona in 1992 while a Damola Osayomi-led team won a silver medal eight years ago in Beijing with 43.04 seconds.

In the long jump event Thursday, Ese Brume's fifth round leap of 6.81m was not enough to ensure she becomes the third Nigerian woman after Chioma Ajunwa (gold in Atlanta, USA in 1996) and Blessing Okagbare (bronze in Beijing, China in 2008) to make the podium of the event at the Olympics.

Brume, who jumped 6.83m personal season's best in Akure last June at the final of the Athletic Federation of Nigeria Golden League meeting, opened her campaign with a 6.73m leap which by the fourth round of jumps was only good for a seventh placed finish.

The Nigerian however moved two steps up with her 6.81m leap in the fifth round to jump above Estonia's Ksenija Baita whose 6.79m leap had placed her in fifth position and Australia's Brooke Stratton who was in sixth place with her fourth round leap of 6.74m before Brume improved her previous best by 10 centimetres.

Meanwhile shot putter Stephen Mozia once again lived up to billing as an athlete who chokes when the occasion is biggest as he failed to throw himself into the final of the shot put event.

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Mozia on paper was expected to make history as the first Nigerian shot putter to make the final of the event at the Olympics following his pre-Games 21.76m new national record-setting throw in the Czech Republic on the eve of the Games.

That mark shot him up as the third best shot putter in the world going into the Games but as it has become synonymous with him, Mozia failed to fulfil expectations.

Early this year Mozia raised hopes of a possible first IAAF World Indoor medal in the shot put when he made history as the first Nigerian man to hit the 21m mark courtsey his 21.11m heave on January 30 in Nashville, Tennesse, USA. He went into the championships as one of the favourites for a podium appearance but ended up in 12th place by the the event in Portland, Oregon, USA ended.

On Thursday afternoon, Mozia displayed once again that he does not have the big occasion temperament as he threw a mind-boggling 18.98m to finish 28th out of the 34 who contested for the 12 available slots for the final.

After failing twice with his first two of mandatory three throws, the Cornel University, USA Engineering graduate failed to manage the pressure that came into his last and final throw as his effort was over one and a half metres outside the 20.65m qualification mark set by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

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