By Dare Esan:
–Commonwealth Games sprints queen seeks first sub-11 seconds run in 2016
–Okon-George, Oke, Mozia favoured to repeat as champions; Injury knocks out Amata
Double Commonwealth sprint champion Blessing Okagbare will on Thursday attempt to reclaim the national 100m title she relinquished to Gloria Asumnu without a fight last year as the All Nigeria Track and Field Championships begin in Sapele, Delta State.
The Nigerian record holder in the event at 10.79 seconds lost the opportunity last year to stroll into history books as the first Nigerian woman in recent memory to win the 100m gold seven times consecutively.
Two years ago in Calabar, Okagbare equalled the record of six consecutive wins held by former African queen of the track, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi.
Okagbare’s main challenger in Sapele will be defending champion Asumnu whose mouse played freely last year on the worn-out track in Warri in the absence of the undisputed Nigerian sprints queen.
Asumnu holds the second fastest time by a Nigerian so far this year (11.24) behind Okagbare whose 11.09 seconds run late last month in Madrid,Spain is a personal season’s best.
Okagbare’s real challenge however will be to see if she could become the first Nigerian woman to break 11 seconds at the championship and beat her 11.06 seconds championship record first set in 2010 to win her second title.
A run inside 11 seconds will give Okagbare who last month lost her African title and record to Cote D’Ivoire’s Muriel Ahoure renewed hope she could still be among the favourites for a podium appearance come next month in Rio De Janeiro,Brazil at the Olympic Gmes.
By this time last year Okagbare has ran inside 11 seconds three times (10.98 on May 17,10.87 on May 30 and 10.80 seconds on July 4) and the Sapele native will be fervently hoping to break the duck in front of her own people.
While there will be no contest in the women’s 100m,a similar scenario could play out in the 400m where Patience Okon-George is the favourite to retain her 400m title.
Okon-George holds the fastest time by a Nigerian (51.06) so far this season and has been carrying Nigeria’s hopes of regaining the number one slot in Africa since last year when she ran as far as the semi-finals of the IAAF World Championships in Beijing,China.
Nigeria used to be the dominant force in this event in Africa in the 1990s.
In fact Nigeria was ranked the first and second best in the event in the world in 1998 when Falilat Ogunkoya (now a board member of the Athletic Federation of Nigeria) and Charity Opara reigned supreme with the former ending the year as the third best athlete in the women’s overall ranking.
Okon-George’s main challengers will be Margaret Bamgbose who holds the second fastest time (52.11) by a Nigerian this year;home girl Yinka Ajayi (52.27), former champion Regina George (52.35),Sade Abugan and returning Omolara Omotosho who took time off last year for marriage and procreation.
The 100m hurdles will be another interesting event to watchout for as rave of the moment Tobi Amusan (if she comes for the championships) is favoured to win.The University of Texas in El Paso (UTEP) sprint hurdler shook the world in April when she ran 12.83 seconds,the fastest ever time by a junior in the world.The IAAF however failed to recognise the time as a world junior record because authorities at UTEP failed to carry out doping control which is a compulsory requirement for a ratification of a world record.
Comebacking mother of one Toyin August (13.25 personal season’s best) and ‘Jesus Loving’ hurdler,American import Lindsay Lindley whose fastest time so far this year is the wind-aided 13.18 she ran late last month will provide Amusan the stiffest of tests.
It will however be a straight fight between Amaka Ogoegbunam and American import Tameka Jameson in the 400m hurdles.
Ogoegbunam has been the undisputed queen of the quartermile barrier run since national record holder Ajoke Odumosu went to become a mother soon after the 2013 IAAF Worlds in Moscow,Russia.
A former drugs cheat,Ogoegbunam however seems to be maturing with age as she looks set to retain her title albeit Tameka,the fastest 400m hurdler in Nigeria so far this year at 56.44 seconds will want to rewrite the record books.Ogoegbunam is second fastest at 56.65 which she achieved June 26 in Maia,Greece.
There will be little to cheer in the vertical (high) jump as national record holder Doreen Amata will not be participating due to injury while in the horizotal (long) jump there will be plenty of drama if Okagbare decides to compete.
For the first time in seven years Okagbare is coming home not as the national leader in the event.That honour belongs to reigning Commonwealth and African champion Ese Brume whose 6.83m leap in Akure last month is the longest jump by a Nigerian so far this year.Okagbare holds a personal season’s best of 6.73m which she achieved in May.
In the men’s 100m,sprinter,Ogho-Oghene Egwero will,like Okagbare attempt to reclaim the title he lost to Seye Ogunlewe last year in Warri.
Egwero has been the number one sprinter in Nigeria since Olusoji Fasuba hung his spikes six years ago but got the shock he didn’t prepare for as Ogunlewe coasted home first.
Today in Sapele the surprise element will not be there as the Delta state born athlete attempts to rewrite the Nigerian 100m story.He is coming to the championships as the fastest man in the land courtsey the 10.15 he incidentally ran on the same track last month.Coming on his heels is Ogunlewe whose 10.18 seconds run in Madrid late last month is the second fastest by a Nigerian so far this year.
Veteran sprinter and former champion Obinna Metu has an outside chance of upsetting the apple cart.
In the triple jump it will be a straight fight between former Commonwealth Games champion and reigning African king Tosin Oke (if he comes home for the championships) and Olu Olamigoke.
Last year both finished first and second respectively and the same scenario is expected to be recreated in Sapele.Oke holds the best mark by a Nigerian nay African in the event (17.13m) so far this year.The mark is his longest jump since he jumped 17.23m to win the national title in Calabar in 2012.Olamigoke holds a personal season’s best of 16.53m.
It’s also going to be a straight fight between two people in the 400m hurdles where Miles Ukaoma takes on another America-based athlete,Cris Amaechi Morton.
Last year in Warri Ukaoma ran an incredible 48.84 seconds,the fastest time in the history of the championships in his All Nigeria debut to win the title and he is favoured to retain his title this time in Sapele.
He holds the fastest time (49.60) by a Nigerian so far this year while Amaechi is second with his 49.77 seconds run in the Bahamas last April.
Stephen Mozia who set a 20.73m national record in the Shot Put this year is expected to successfully defend his title while American import Tyron Akins is favoured to win the 110m hurdles thereby repeating as champions.
It will however be a titanic battle for the title in the 400m where Chidi Okezie who won bronze at the 20th African Championships in Durban,South Africa late last month will be gunning for his first title in his debut at the championships following his switch of allegiance this year from his country of residence,USA to his father’s country Nigeria.
Okezie holds the second fastest time (45.76) by a Nigerian so far this year and will contest for the gold with Adekunle Rilwan Fasasi,the University of Florida star whose move to USA has led to an improvement in his performance.His 45.43 performance last May is the fastest by a Nigerian so far this year.
Like Okezie,Fasasi will also be gunning for his first 400m title at the championships.Both will however have to spare some thought for Orukpe Erayokan who ran an incredible 44.95 seconds at the All Africa Games last year.
Although he has failed to prove his perfomance in Congo Brazaville was not by happenstance,he cannot be discounted as an also ran.