By Dare Esan:
Little known 20-year-old Cecilia Francis defied fatigue and stage fright to race to the top of Nigeria's 60m top list at the Meeting Elite en salle de Metz, France on Sunday.7
Francis ran 7.40 seconds to supplant two-time IAAF World Indoor Championship 60m finalist, Gloria Asumnu (7.44 seconds) as Nigeria's fastest woman so far this indoor season
Coached by Tony Osheku, the man who piloted Falilat Ogunkoya to a 400m silver medal finish at the 1999 IAAF World Indoor Championship in Maebashi, Japan, Francis, making her indoor debut, arrived in Metz barely 24 hours after leaving Nigeria and raced to a 7.50 seconds finish in the heats before bringing it down to 7.40 seconds in final B of the event.
A delighted Osheku told Complete Sports of his shock at Cecilia's run considering the fact that she was performing at that stage for the very first time.
"I almost discouraged her from going when she had a visa problem but her manager was able to convince the German Embassy of her genuine intention coupled with the fact that she was the only Lagos State athlete in the Nigerian team to last year's senior IAAF World Championships in Beijing," said Osheku who has coached many athletes to international stardom.
He (Osheku) thanked Ayodeji Tinubu, Chairman of Lagos State Sports Commission for his support in making Cecilia's dream a reality.
Osheku revealed that Francis will still compete in at least two more races and will not be surprised if the petite athlete races past the 7.32 seconds entry standard set by the IAAF for next month's IAAF World Indoors in Portland, USA.
"Not many Nigerian athletes have made the standard so far this year. Only Stephen Mozia in the Shot Put, Adekunle Rilwan Fasasi in the men's 400m and high jumper Doreen Amata who could qualify as one of the best 12 in the world going to the championships albeit she is yet to meet the 1.97m entry standard.
"In fact only two athletes, Airiné Palsyte of Lithuania and Kamila Licwinko of Poland, have cleared 1.97m so far this season," he said and explained that the high jump event will be held as a straight final in Portland.
"The high jump event will be held as straight Finals with twelve athletes starting in each event. Entries will be determined by a combination of entry standards and ranking."