By Dare Esan In Beijing:
The USA, Jamaica and Britain’s 1600 relay teams are obstacles the Patience Okon-George led Nigeria’s 4x400m relay team will have to overcome to make history Sunday night and ensure the contingent leaves Beijing with a medal.
The team, made up of Regina George, Foluke Oladoye, Tosin Adeloye and Okon-George ran 3:23.27 to win the first semi-final and qualify for Sunday’s final.
The time is the fastest time run by a Nigerian 1600 relay team since the championships’ inaugural edition in 1983 and has catapaulted the team to number three in the 2015 IAAF top list of performnaces behind USA (3:19.39 and Jamaica 3:22.39.
In Sunday’s final however, the team needs to run faster than the season’s best run in the semi-final and get as close to the 3:21.04 national record set by Falilat Ogunkoya and company at the Atlanta Olympics.
The USA, from every conceivable angle, will run away with the gold. The team was without open 400m champion, Allyson Felix, in the semi-final and will surely add the multiple world champion who holds the world lead in the open 400m at 49.26 seconds.
In fact team USA’s main rival will be the world lead of 3:19.39 that fetched them the gold medal at the IAAF World Relays last May in the Bahamas.
Jamaica was second behind USA in Bahamas and will likely repeat as second best again if they fortify the team that ran in the semi-final with Novelene Williams-Mills who came sixth in the open 400m final as well as the quartermile barrier running duo, Kaliese Spencer and Janviere Russell, who both ran in the final of their event here in Beijing.
That leaves the bronze medal the only available medal Nigeria can aspire to get. But they also have a formidable obstacle in the British team.
Both Britain and Nigeria ran their personal season’s best at the Beijing 2015 IAAF Worlds with the British running 3:23.90 to place second behind USA in the second semi-final.
The British team however has the opportunity to call on Nigeria-born former world champion in the open 400m, Christine Ohuruogu, to call on.
Ohuruogu was absent in the semi-finals and, barring injury, will certainly come back in Sunday’s final to make the British fancy their chances of beating Nigeria to the bronze.
The Nigerians will be relying on their surprise element which was on display in the semi-finals and the good form of their anchor-leg runner, Okon-George, who has been the revelation of the year in Nigerian athletics, running inside 51 seconds twice at the championships, equalling her 50.76 seconds personal best in the process.
She is the fifth fastest Nigerian in the all-time list and one of only six Nigerians to have broken 51 seconds in the 400m.
She will however be ready to run a 49.4 split if Nigeria dreams of pipping Britain to the bronze medal.
Meanwhile the Athletic Federation of Nigeria has paid all their athletes their allowances and this could serve as a morale booster to the largely home-based team.