Team Nigeria’s contingent to the 15th IAAF World Championships in Beijing returned home to over 160 million Nigerians empty-handed.
The team, led by double Commonwealth sprint champion, Blessing Okagbare, promised to make it a back-to-back podium showing in Beijing after she ended a 14-year (six consecutive championships) wait for a medal by winning a long jump silver and 200m bronze in Moscow, Russia.
But Okagbare faltered in the 100m just two days into the nine-day championships and Nigeria’s hopes faltered with her.
Today, completesportsnigeria.com’ DARE ESAN, who covered the championship in Beijing reviews the performance of each member of the team, including the relay teams…
AMAKA OGOEGBUNAM (400M HURDLES):
Amaka’s second appearance in athletics biggest stage was not as disastrous as her debut.The 400m barrier runner made it all the way to the semi-final in her debut but it was later discovered she was chemically enhanced to accomplish that and got a four-year ban for that.
She made a return in Beijing and a clean Amaka could not go past the first round, running 58.16 to place seventh in heat 5 of the first round. She came to the championships with a personal season’s best of 55.77 seconds which could have guaranteed her a place in the semis.
MILES UKAOMA (400M HURDLES): Much was expected from this debutant following his historic and incredible 48.84 seconds title-winning run at the All Nigeria Open Athletics Championships last month in Warri.
The 2014 NCCA champion however failed to fulfill expectations, crashing out at the very first hurdle with a 49.38 seconds, fifth-placing run in heat three of the first round.
TOSIN OKE (TRIPLE JUMP): Labelled a spent force by some officials of the Athletic Federation of Nigeria and not given a flight ticket for the national trials on account of that, Oke came to Warri to shame his critics by picking the Beijing 2015 IAAF Worlds ticket with his 16.98m jump.
In Beijing, he attempted to become the third Nigerian to make it to the final of the event after Ajayi Agbebaku who actually won Nigeria’s first medal at the championships in 1983 and Joseph Taiwo, who alongside Agbebaku made it to the final two years later in Rome, Italy.
Wishes became horses for the former British international as he made it to his first final after three competitive appearances in his fourth trip to the IAAF Worlds.
He jumped 16.74m in the qualifying round to make it to the final where he ended up as the number eight triple jumper in the world. His hop, step and jump of 16.81m ensured he also finished the competition as the best of three Africans in the final.
TEGA ODELE (200M): Like a bolt out of the blue, Tega ran a decent 20.47 seconds at the All Nigeria Open in Warri to win his first national title (in the 200m).
A rookie at the IAAF Worlds, not much was expected from him and he did not disappoint as he bade farewell to the championships in the first round. He however left with his head high as he managed to confirm that the time he ran in Warri, the fastest by a Nigerian since Uche Emedolu ran 20.39 seconds in 2004, was not by happenstance as he ran 20.49 seconds at athletics’ biggest stage. The time placed him sixth in heat two of the first round.
LINDSAY LINDLEY (100M HURDLES): Self-styled “Jesus loving hurdler” Lindsay was not expected to ruffle any feathers in Beijing in her IAAF Worlds debut after switching allegiance to Nigeria in controversial circumstances.
And she didn’t exceed that expectation as she crashed out in the first round running a rather mediocre 13.30 seconds, the time Glory Alozie ran to win a silver medal at the IAAF World Junior Championships in 1996 in Sydney, Australia.
DOREEN AMATA (HIGH JUMP): With no landing foams to train with at home, Doreen braved all the odds stacked against her to appear in her second high jump final in only her third trip to the IAAF Worlds.
The two-time All Africa Games champion cleared all four heights (1.80,1.85,1.89 and 1.92m) on first attempt in the qualifying round to sail into her second final, four years after making history as the first Nigerian high jumper to soar as high as making it to the flagship of IAAF competitions.
In the final however, she could not replicate her form of three days earlier, clearing 1.88m on second attempt before getting stuck at 1.92m, a height she cleared easily and on first attempt in the qualifying round. She thus ended up as the 12th best in the world.
BLESSING OKAGBARE (100M,200M):This, surely, will be a championship she will want to forget as quickly as possible as her cookies crumbled after raising so much hope.The reigning Commonwealth double sprint queen was touted as a sure banker for a podium appearance in the 100m following her impressive runs in the IAAF Diamond League circuit. Her personal season’s best of 10.80 seconds was the third fastest by any woman coming to the championships. She was on course, as it were, to making history as the first Nigerian, man or woman, to win a blue ribband medal at the world.
Wishes for her, and for Nigerians, refused to be horses and her beggar rode last in 11.02 seconds in the 100m final at the championships.
She failed to recover from a slow movement out of the blocks like she always does and watched as Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (10.76) raced to her third consecutive 100m title.
Okagbare began her now fruitless campaign with an 11.07 clocking to win her first round heat ahead of Jamaica’s Natasha Morrison (11.08). She improved to 10.89 seconds in the semi-final, coming from behind (as usual) to place second behind the defending champion.
In the 200m, she failed to come out for the first round and the AFN said she copped a hamstring injury during her warm-up for the race. She was thus a big doubt for the 4x100m relay.
PATIENCE OKON GEORGE (400M): The reigning Nigeria 400m queen made an impressive start to her first open 400m run at the championships. She ran 50.87 to place third in heat six of the first round to qualify for the semi-final.
She gave the semis her best shot, repeating her 50.76 seconds personal best which she first ran last month in Switzerland. But a repeat performance in Beijing proved not good enough to earn her a place in the final and in the process become the third Nigerian after Fatimah Yusuf (1995) and Falilat Ogunkoya (1995,1997,1999 and 2001) to race to the final.
REGINA GEORGE (400M): University of Arkansas graduate Regina’s form continued to be a cause for concern since the unfortunate incident at the 2014 IAAF World Indoors in Sopot, Poland, where AFN officials messed up her season.
After failing for the second consecutive time to regain her national title in Warri last month, she also failed to repeat as a semi-finalist in Beijing two years after she ran 50.84 seconds to make it to the penultimate round.
She crashed at the first hurdle in Beijing, running 51.74 seconds.
TOSIN ADELOYE (400M): Ekiti-born Adeloye made her IAAF worlds debut in Beijing and, as expected, crashed out in the first round. She came into the championships with a 51.92 seconds personal season’s best and a repeat of that would still have sent her on the plane back home.
Running from lane nine, she ran 52.42 seconds to place fifth in heat three of the first round.
4X400M WOMEN’S RELAY TEAM: The team, comprising of Regina George, Funke Oladoye, Tosin Adeloye and Patience Okon-George, failed to become the first Nigerian women relay team to win a medal in the history of the championships, despite running the fastest time ever by any Nigerian team since 1991 when the first Nigerian 4x400m relay team participated in the championship.
The team ran 3:23.27 to win their semi-final heat, thereby raising hopes of a possible podium finish.The time also catapulted them to the third position in the IAAF top list of performances behind Jamaica and USA.
In the final, and with no fresh legs to re-invigorate the team, they ran 3:25:11 to finish fifth and equal Nigeria’s best placing in the final first achieved by the team to the third edition of the championships in Tokyo, Japan, in 1991.
NAOMI UHUNOMA OSAZUWA (HEPTATHLON): How do you expect an athlete who works full time as a pharmacist and only steals time for training to challenge athletes whose only pre-occupation is track and field, for podium appearances in a taxing event as the seven-event heptathlon and at athletics biggest stage, the IAAF Worlds?
That was the lot of Naomi in Beijing. Injured since she made her debut at the Olympics in 2012, Naomi came back strongly in 2015 to improve her national record to 6,106 points on the eve of the Beijing championships. That mark could only get her a placing below the top 10 in a major championship.
In Beijing, she amassed a total of 5,951 points to finish 18th in the overall classification. She was unable to deliver in three of her strongest events, the 100m hurdles, running a disappointing 13.75 seconds; the long jump where she leapt 6.21m, and the Javelin throw where she could only haul a throw of 36.88m. A repeat of her 13.28 personal best in the 100m hurdles, 6.52m leap in the long jump and 41.23m in the javelin would have moved her closer to the podium.
She however managed to set a personal best of 2:21.36 seconds in the 800m, the final event of the two-day competition.
4X100M RELAY (WOMEN): The quartet of Gloria Asumnu, Stephanie Kalu, Deborah Odeyemi and Cecilia Francis failed to race beyond the first round (semi-final) in Nigeria’s 11th appearance in the event since the country first participated in 1987 in Rome, Italy, at the second edition of the championships.The 2015 team placed last in the first semi-final, running a mind-boggling 43.89 seconds, the second worst time ever returned by a Nigerian 400m relay team since the quartet of Beatrice Utondu,Tina Iheagwam, Mary Onyali and Falilat Ogunkoya ran 43.95 seconds in 1987 in Rome.