Athletics Federation of Nigeria President Tonobok Okowa says the next set of future stars to represent Nigeria at future global championships and Games will be unearthed at the World Athletics U20 Championships which begin Monday in Cali, Colombia.
“The World Athletics U20 Championships have become the breeding ground for us and most of our top stars today have always graduated from the championships to become top athletes in the world who have always competed for podium places at the World Championships, indoors and outdoors and the Olympics,” said Okowa who believes Team Nigeria is ready to unearth tomorrow’s stars in Cali.
“Last year we had an impressive outing at the U20 championships in Nairobi where we achieved an unprecedented feat. Some of the athletes have now grown to become top stars and Nigeria’s national record holders today.
“Favour Ofili has grown to become the fastest Nigerian ever in the 200m event (21.96) after winning three medals in Nairobi while Nnamdi Chinacherem Prosper is now the Nigerian record holder in the Javelin Throw (81.22m),” added Okowa who insists the aim of the federation is not geared towards winning alone.
“Last year, Nathaniel Ezekiel did not make it to the podium but he is today the Nigeria’s record holder in the 400m hurdles, breaking a 35 year old record set by Henry Amike at the 1987 World Athletics Championships in Rome, Italy.
“The exposure of the athletes is key to us. Some of the World and Olympic medallists we have produced never made it to podium at the World Athletics U20 championships, but they built on that exposure to become medallists at global championships and Games.
“Our three Olympic medallists in the long jump event never made it to the podium at the U20 championships,” Okowa revealed.
Chioma Ajunwa who won Nigeria’s first and so far only individual gold medal at the Olympics came fifth at the World Athletics U20 Championships in 1990 in the long jump final in Plovdiv, Bulgaria why Blessing Okagbare did not even make it to the long jump final at the U20 Championships in Beijing, China in 2006 but she returned two years later to the same venue to win a silver medal at the Olympics.
“Particularly interesting is Ese Brume’s case. She was ranked the 33rd best (last) in the final classification and didn’t make it near the final of the World Athletics U20
Championships in Eugene, Oregon, USA in 2014, but returned a week later to claim the Commonwealth Games gold in Glasgow, Scotland.
“Ese also returned to Eugene in 2022 to rewrite her record on that ground, jumping to a silver medal finish at the World Outdoor Championships just last month,” said Okowa.
The World Athletics U20 Championships will run from August 1 to 8 in Cali, Colombia and Team Nigeria is already on ground to not only compete for honours but also to banish the ghost of their non-appearance in 2000 when South America first hosted the championships in Chile.
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