The list of 17 athletes that representing Nigeria at the World Athletics Championships starting in Beijing on Saturday (today) is no doubt highlighted by the presence of sprinter Blessing Okagbare.
This final choice of athletes is indeed a story for another day as the country now sadly finds herself in dire dearth of world beaters as used to be the case before now.
But if the truth will be told, it is very glaring that this games may not be a good one for the Nigerian team – and that is far from being pessimistic.
The reality on ground suggests that the quality of Nigerian athletes has continued to drop at an alarming rate.
Of the whole contingent, only sprints queen, Okagbare is somewhat sure of getting on any medal podium – all the others are going to get near the medal rostrum as long as bad luck befalls their more fancied opponents.
So while we are wishing ourselves the best of luck in Beijing, we are unconsciously wishing some others bad luck. If someone’s own does not get spoilt, another’s will not get better, being the operative cliché here.
We can project that, based on the performances of these athletes this athletic season, the best Nigeria will get in Beijing is one gold and two other medals – making it three in total.
Why such a dismal figure? Because athletics is a scientific endeavour – it can be planned, executed and thus measured. Stats from training and meets can actually determine how far, high or fast an athlete can go.
But before we go into proper analysis, it has to be mentioned that Nigerian male athletes are disappearing as we have only three representing the country in Beijing and the outlook for the future at this point does not look good at all.
Some commentators have advised that a team of three, led by Okagbare should be sent to Beijing, instead of the 17 that has now been settled for.
But Yomi Omogbeja, who runs athleticsafrica.com says that will be a bad decision. He believes Nigeria cannot afford not to be in Beijing with the final set of athletes chosen. “It is at meets that elite athletes are developed. This sport is not just about talent – it is about character. When you meet the best, then you are innately forced to give your best.”
Though he agreed that he was not too enthusiastic about the team winning medals – apart from Okagbare, who is also doubtful as she is slightly injured at the moment.
Falilat Ogunkoya, a former 400m track specialist, and a part of the coaching crew that is led by a former 100m champion, Maurice Green, believes in seeing the best of every situation.
Ogunkoya told PREMIUM TIMES, “It is not as bad as you make it sound.”
When prodded, she added ‘life is cyclical’. Which means there was a time that Nigeria produced lots of quality athletes but the time we are in, there has been a downturn but that the fortunes would soon turn again for the country.
“The association is trying its best to get some Nigerian athletes into the elite category and that is why Greene was brought in.
“The results cannot be immediate. We have to be patient,” as she added that it was not for want of trying that we are in this situation where we do not have any male athlete that has run under 10s this season.
For many, Nigerians would smile if Okagbare indeed comes to the party and shrugs off the fierce challenge expected in women’s 100m event.
The African Queen of the tracks is very positive even as she makes a return to Beijing; the place where she first busted to limelight by wining the Bronze Medal in the 2008 Olympics.
Okagbare does not want to be blessed with either silver or bronze this time as she says she wants the ultimate medal.
“My goal for Beijing is to win that gold medal. That’s what my profile is missing.” Okagbare stated
Aside the 100m, Okagbare is also expected to lead the Nigeria 4x100m team that includes Gloria Asunmu, Stephanie Kalu, Cecilia Francis and Deborah Odeyemi.
The team, alongside Jamaica and America, are strong contender for medals.
Nigeria 4 x400m women team of Patience Okon George, Regina George, Oluwatosin Adeloye, Rita Ossai, and Funke Oladoye are also medal favourite, but they have to contend with a strong America team of Francena McCorory, Allyson Felix, Sanya Richards-Ross, Phyllis Francis and Natasha Hastings.
The Jamaica team that finished second at the World Relays, and Russia represents another threat to Nigeria.
Britain finished third at the IAAF World Relays and three members of that team – Eilidh Child, Anyika Onuora and Seren Bundy-Davies – are also among favourite with the inclusion of Christine Ohuruogu.
Outside the relays, Doreen Amata in the high jump, Miles Ukoma and Tosin Oke have a chance of making the finals.
Weyinmi Lindsay (100m hurdles), Amaka Ogoegbunam (400m hurdles), Tega Odele (200m), and Uhunoma Osazuwa are contending with a very strong field, but the unpredictability of athletics is one its strongest attraction. They cannot be counted out.
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