–CRS,AFN assure of hitch free championships
By Dare Esan:
Blessing Okagbare will be the cynosure of all eyes tomorrow (Thursday) on the new tartan track of the U.J Esuene Stadium in Calabar as she attempts to become the second woman in the recent history of the All Nigeria Athletics Championships to win the women’s 100m title six times consecutively.
The 2013 Moscow IAAF World Championships silver and bronze medallist will be aiming to equal the record former African sprints queen, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi set in the 1980s.
Okagbare’s journey to the championships’ Hall of Fame as it were began in 2009 at the Abuja National Stadium tartan track where she ran 11.16 seconds to dethrone then reigning queen, Oludamola Osayomi.
Since that maiden win,the 2008 Beijing Olympics long jump bronze medal winner has gone on to become the undisputed queen of the track in Nigeria.She is favoured to equal Onyali-Omagbemi’s record win by annexing her sixth sraight blue ribband title win this evening in Calabar.
She holds the pre-championships fastest time (11.18) and looks set to join the elite cast of athletes who have gone under 11.10 seconds at the championships.Only two women,Onyali-
Omagbemi (11.09) and Osayomi (11.08) have legally ducked under the 11.10 mark.
Like Okagbare,triple jumper,Tosin Oke will also be aiming for a record seventh straight win in the hop,step and jump event.
Since he switched his allegiance from Britain to Nigeria in 2008,Oke has dominated the triple jump scene like no one else.
Unlike in previous years when he literally strolled to the title,Oke will find in USA-based Olumide Olamigoke,a hard nut to crack in his attempt to extend his domination.
Although Oke outjumped Olamigoke last week at the Warri Relays/CAA Grand Prix,it is the Indiana Univesity,USA graduate who holds the pre-championships best mark of 16.73m.Oke’s best this year is 16.60m which he achieved three weeks ago at the CAA Grand Prix event in Marakech,Morocco.
Also aiming to remain the undisputed queen of the quartermile is former American junior international,Regina George who will be seeking her third straight 400m title in Calabar.
Like Oke,George has been the dominant figure in the women’s 400m and has even been touted as the next Falilat Ogunkoya after becoming only the fifth Nigerian woman to break 51 seconds in the event two years ago.
George will however find in the duo of home girl,Patience Okon George and Folasade Abugan the stiffest opposition she has ever encountered since she switched allegiance to Nigeria in 2012 from her country of birth and residence,USA.
Both Okon George and Abugan hold the best two pre-championships’ fastest time,51.29 and 51.32 seconds respectively against George’s 51.39.
In the men’s 100m,Ogho-Oghene Egwero seems to have hit form at the right time and looks highly favoured to return as the fastest man in Nigeria for the second consecutive time. He ran 10.18 seconds last week at the Warri Relays/CAA Grand Prix to serve notice of his desire to outrun all comers in Calabar tomorrow.Among the all-comers are four-time champions,Obinna Metu who also ran a new personal season’s best (10.28) in Warri and silver medallist last year at the championships,Seye Ogunlewe,son of a former Minister Of Works who holds the second pre-championships best time (10.23).
In the women’s high jump,Doreen Amata looks unstoppable as she attempts to soar above her adversaries to retain her title.
Amata’s only opposition will be her desire to hit the 1.90m mark and above as she gradually rediscovers the form that gave her the 1.95m national record she first set in 2008 in Abuja and the eighth place finish at the 13th IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Daegu,South Korea in 2011.
In the women’s Shot Put,Louisiville University,USA graduate,Chinwe Okoro will hope to reclaim the title she lost without a fight last year.
The reigning African shot put queen has become the biggest name in Nigeria and the African continent following the unceremonios exit of 2002 Commonwealth Games champion,Vivian Chukwuemeka.
Okoro holds the pre-championships best mark at 16.38m and is favoured to win in the event.She is also the number one choice in the women’s discus throw event where she also holds the pre-championships’ best mark of 57.83m.
In the men’s shot put and discus throw,Cornel University,USA junior student,Stephen Mozia holds the favourite tag following his remarkable progression this year in the events,especially the shot put where he holds the national records both indoor and outdoor.
Mozia will be making his debut in the championships after switching allegaince only three months ago from his country of birth and residence,USA whom he represented two years ago at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Bracelona,Spain.
He set a new 20.79m national and school indoor record on March 1,2014 in Hannover and followed it up in Eugene,Oregon at the National Collegaite of Athletics Championships finals last week with a new 20.46m national outdoor record to win the silver medal at the event.
In the discus throw event he holds a personal best of 62.80m which he achieved this year. Both outdoor marks in the shot put and discus throw are the best by a Nigerian so far this year and these have made him the athlete to beat in the two events in Calabar.
It however won’t be a one-way traffic in the men’s 400m hurdles where 2012 champions,USA-based Amaechi Morton will be aiming to reclaim his title.In another USA-based athlete,Rilwan Alowonle,Morton is expected to have his hands full.Although he (Morton) holds the pre-championships best time (49.39),Alowonle has been in good form this season and can ruffle Amaechi’s feather in Calabar.
In the 100m hurdles,it will be a straight battle for supremacy between two USA-based athletes, Nicole Denby who recently pledged her allegiance to Nigeria and last year’s winner, Ngonna Ndu.
Both athletes finished first (13.63) and second (13.74) respectively last week at the Warri Relays/CAA Grand Prix.
Meanwhile the Cross River state government and the Athletic Federation of Nigeria have assured of another world class event this year.
Solomon Ogba, president of the AFN and Patrick Ugbe,Commissioner for Sports in Cross River state told the media at a pre-championships press conference Wednesday in Calabar that the facilites for a hitch free competition are all in place why the number quality of athletes competing this year have doubled.
The 68th All Nigeria Athletics Championships will be used to pick Nigeria’s team to next month’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow,Scotland and the 19th African Championships in Marakech, Morocco in August.