Team Nigeria in medals chase as Commonwealth Games in Glasgow take off!!!

22 Jul

Four years ago, the duo of Tosin Oke in the triple jump and Ajoke Odumosu in the 400m hurdles stood out as the country’s shining beacons in track and field as they struck gold in their respective events to ensure that the Nigerian anthem was played at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India. As the world turns its attention to the 2014 edition which kicks off on Wednesday, the burning question on the minds of many is how Nigeria will fare this time around. Leading Team Nigeria’s conquest for medals is none other than sprinter/jumper, Blessing Okagbare, who is making her debut at the quadrennial championship, and who, almost solely, bears the burden of salvaging the country’s pride at the event holding from July 23rd to August 3rd.

Okagbare, the African record holder over 100m, is expected to take part in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and probably the long jump (though the gruelling schedule may not allow her to make an attempt for 4 medals in the space of one week). The 25 year old has particularly been active in the Diamond League this season where she featured majorly in the sprints, while only competing in the long jump in Shanghai, where she set a Meeting Record (MR) with a leap of 6.86m. Blessing faces the daunting task of securing her first Commonwealth Games title in the 100m in a field that has an intimidating line-up comprising of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the in-form Veronica Campbell-Brown, and Trinidad and Tobago’s Michelle-Lee Ahye, who comes to the competition with the fastest time of 10.85s. 

Okagbare went against the Jamaican duo only last week at the Diamond League in Monaco, where Campbell-Brown placed second (10.96s) behind USA’s Tori Bowie, who blew the rest of the field away with a World Lead (WL) of 10.80s. Even though Blessing raced to a Season’s Best (SB) of 10.97s, she finished in 4th, just behind Cote d’Ivoire’s Murielle Ahouré who was given the same time. 200m Olympic Champion, Allyson Felix, and World sprint double champion, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce placed 5th & 6th respectively, both with SBs of 11.01s.

The Delta State athlete however seems to stand a better chance of winning GOLD in the 200m, which has been her focus for the better part of this season. Okagbare currently tops the 200m standings in the Diamond League and looks the favourite to clinch the Commonwealth title ahead of Fraser-Pryce, who is still yet to hit optimum fitness this year. And though it is not certain if the Beijing 2008 bronze medallist will compete in the long jump, the event seems like a sure medal prospect for Nigeria if she participates, considering that the Americans, led by Triple World Champion Brittney Reese and World Lead this season, Tianna Bartoletta, are not part of the Commonwealth Games. 

Defending champion in the men’s triple jump, Tosin Oke may need to jump beyond 17 metres to retain the title he won in Delhi. He finished fourth at his last outing at the Glasgow Diamond League two weeks ago with a leap of 16.51m, though behind 3 Americans, who again will play no part at the Games, so that may bode well for his chances of defending his title. Oke’s PB of 17.23m was set at the national trials in Calabar in 2012 in the run-up to the London Olympics. 

Nigeria will also have an outside chance of a medal in the women’s 400m, though it is certain that defending champion, Amantle Montsho of Botswana will not give up her title without a fight – the African champion has an SB of 50.37s. The likes of Novlene Williams-Mills (50.05s) and Stephanie Ann MacPherson (50.40s) of Jamaica have all posted fastest times than Team Nigeria’s Regina George in the Diamond League. George comes to the games with an SB of 51.39s and placed sixth in Glasgow (51.82s) a fortnight ago. She would also have to contend with compatriots, Folashade Abugan, Omolara Omotosho and Patience Okon George who all denied her a medal at the national trials, as she relinquished her Nigerian crown from 2012 and 2013 with a fourth place finish.

The quartet of George, Abugan, Omotosho and Okon George should win at least Silver in the 4x400m at these games, if they can replicate the kind of form that saw them win a brilliant bronze medal at the inaugural IAAF World Relays in the Bahamas in May, in the 3rd fastest time ever run by a Nigerian female quartet in the 4x400m! Team GB could also pose a threat, if Christine Ohuruogu can find the kind of form that has so far eluded her this season, but don’t bet against Team Nigeria running Jamaica very close for the GOLD! 

An interesting twist to this year’s Commonwealth Games outing is the inclusion of at least five American athletes who recently secured the Nigerian passport and were selected to compete at the games. They include Dominique Duncan (100m), Mark Jelks (100m), Monzavous Edwards (100m), Nichole Denby (100m Hurdles) and Tyrone Akins (110 Hurdles). 

Jelks and Edwards placed first and second in the 100m at the national trials in Calabar last month in 10.23s and 10.39s respectively, and face a Herculean task as far as reaching the podium in Scotland is concerned. Trinidad and Tobago’s Richard Thompson ran 9.82s (a WL at the time) in June while Jamaica’s Nickel Ashmeade (9.97s) and Nesta Carter (9.98s) have also run under 10 seconds, a feat which is still yet to be achieved by a Nigerian sprinter since 2006! Will Nigeria’s American recruits break the nation’s 8-year duck when it comes to sub-10 second sprinting? They would almost certainly have to, to have any realistic hope of coming away with a medal at the Glasgow games!  

Watch out for Making of Champion’s in-depth analyses of Nigeria’s chances in the coming days, and updates of all of Team Nigeria’s performances in Athletics next week, LIVE and DIRECT from the Glasgow Commonwealth Games!

Nigeria’s Commonwealth Games Team

 

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