Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor will be the cynosure of all eyes when she files out on the track of the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba for the 100m heats today as the 21st African Athletics Championship begins.
In this concluding part of a two-part preview, Complete Sports’ DARE ESAN looks at the chances of the tall, beautiful and charming figure of the lady who has become Nigeria’s greatest sprinter of all time…
(Marie-Josée TA LOU,CIV)AL:10.85 (Marie-Josée
TA LOU, CIV) CR:10.99 (Murielle
All eyes will be on this event as home-girl Blessing Okagbare-Ighteguonor will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of one of Nigeria’s most decorated sprinters, MaryOnyali who successfully completed a sprints double when Nigeria first hosted the championships in 1989 in Lagos.
A repeat of that feat will make her the third Nigerian to win gold in the100/200m at the same
championship and the seventh African in the history of the competition.
But the big question agitating the minds of athletics followers,most especially Nigerians is: Can Blessing overcome the Marie-Jose Ta Lou hurdle?
This is probably the toughest hurdle she has faced since she became an
international class sprinter in 2010.
Ta Lou is the undisputed queen of the event worldwide so far this year
with the 10.85 seconds she ran to win the opening leg of the IAAF Diamond League meetings in Doha, Qatarin May. She has remained unbeaten over the distance so far this year and won in all three races she competed against
Okagbare-Ighoteguonor in the Diamond Leaguecircuit. The Nigerian’s form has dipped since early May when she futiley chased Ta Lou to the line in Doha, coming in second in 10.90 seconds.She dropped to 11.07 seconds at the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League meeting in Eugene in late May, 11.12 seconds in early June at the Bislett Games in Oslo,Norway and 11.29 seconds a few days later in Stockholm, Sweden.
She ended her pre-championship campaign with a further dip in form,running 11.32 seconds to come in last at the Herculis Zepter in Monaco a forthnight ago,a race in which
Ta Lou won with 10.89 seconds, the third fastest time in the world this year
following her 10.85 in Doha and 10.88 seconds in Eugene.
While Okagbare-Ighoteguonor, with the home fans behind her at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba will strive to make it a hat-trick of 100m titles following her championship record-setting wins in Nairobi, Kenya in 2010 and Marrakech, Morocco in 2014, Ta Lou will be hoping to upgrade her pair of bronze medals to gold this time around. With the other Ivorian, Murielle Ahoure ruled out because of injury, South Africa’s Carina Horn,one of the three athletes in this championship who has broken 11 seconds over the distance this year will also fancy her chances. Afterall she raced home first ahead of Okagbare-Ighoteguonor in Monaco only last month!
When Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor shocked the athletics world in late
March with an incredible 22.04 seconds run in the half lap, not many thought the beautiful and charming Nigerian would run outside 23 seconds this season.the pleasant shock of march soon metarmophosed into incredulity when
she clocked 23.03 seconds very early in June at the Fanny Blankers-Koen’s Games in Hnegelo, the Netherlands.
She dipped further in form to 23.42 to finish seventh at the Rabat Diamond League meeting last month to set tongues wagging.Can she race into history book by equlling the feats of her compatriots,Rufinah Ubah and Mary
Onyali who successfully completed a 100/200m double at the championships? Like in the 100m,her greatest hurdle is Marie-Josee Ta Lou!. The Ivorian has been consistent running inside 23 seconds in the circuit and on form looks the real deal to make
history as the first woman from Ivory Coast to complete a sprints double.The closest Ta Lou has come in the
championships is her second place finish in 2014,an upgrade on her bronze medal finish two years earlier in Port Novo, BeninRepublic.
WOMEN 400m—-WL:48.97 (Shaunae
When the cats are away, the mice will
play, goes the saying. Will the cats in the form of Patience Okon-George, Yinka Ajayi and Emerald Egwin play in the absence of three-time champions and championship record holder, Amantle Monthso of Botswana?
The litle mouse, Christine Bottlgetswe of Botswana, one of only three athletes who has broken 51 seconds so far this
year will be hoping to have a say.
Bottlgetswe will think she has finally come of age after running inside 51
seconds for the first time in her career this season and will now feel confident she can finally break out of her most illustrious compatriot, Monthso’s shadow. Also in with a chance for a surprise is Niger Republic’s Aminatou Seyni who improved from a 52.17 seconds runner in 2017 to 51.17 seconds this season. Like Bottlgetswe, she has also been consistent in the circuit,running a couple of 51.1,51.2 races.
The Nigerian trio can however bank on a huge on support which propelled Falilat Ogunkoya to win 29 years ago when Nigeria first hosted the championships in Lagos.
WOMEN 100m Hurdles-WL:12.36 (Kendra HARRISON,USA)AL:12.68 (Tobi AMUSAN,NGR) CR:12.77 (Glory
This is an event Nigeria completely
dominated in the early years of the championship until lately when the country consistently failed to scale the hurdles.
The last time Nigeria mounted the podium as African champion was in
2010 in Nairobi,Kenya where Seun Adigun became the seventh Nigerian winner of the event.Nigerians can however look forward to a return to the good old days when Maria Usifo won three times back-to-backv(1984,1985
& 1986) and Glory Alozie repeated the feat (1996,1998 & 2000) as the African leader in the event,Tobiloba Amusan is the overwhelming favourite to win Nigeria’s 11th gold medal!.
Amusan is the undisputed queen of the
event this year, running 10 times faster than her closest and probably only
competitor, South Africa’s Rikenette STEENKAMP.
WOMEN Long Jump———WL:7.05m (Lorraine UGEN,GBR)AL:6.82m (Ese
29 years ago at the National
Stadium, Surulere in Lagos, Chioma Ajunwa led a Nigerian clean
sweep of the long jump medals. Can
Ese Brume lead another? The answer is probably a no, but what will likely be a yes is that Brume will make it
a hat-trick of titles in the event to become the first athlete in the championships to win the long jump gold three times consecutively and the
second Nigerian after Ajunwa (1989 on home soil, 1990 & 1998).v
Brume is Africa’s best in the event so far this year at 6.82m with her nearest competitor,South Africa’s Lynique Beneke a further 33cm back at 6.49m.
(Nigeria, NGR) CR:43.21
Nigeria has technically won this
event only six times.The seventh would have been six years ago when Lawretta Ozoh led the team to a first place finish and a 43.21 seconds championship record.In CAA’s books that remains the
But the CAA seems not to be a keen follower of its events as Ozoh failed a doping test at the trials and has served out her ban.This automatically means the gold is forfeited and Kenya will also replace Nigeria as the overall winners of the championships following its superior silver medal wins.
Can the Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor quartet equal what their compatriots did on home sol in 1989
at the National Stadium in Lagos? The answer looks to be a possible
yes, especially with the Ivorians losing reigning African record holder in the
100m, Muriel Ahoure to injury.
South Africa looks likely to pose a possible threat with two of their team under 11.34 and Carina Horn who has broken11 seconds this year.
(Nigeria, NGR) CR:3:28.49 (South
One thing looks almost a cast iron
certainty here and it is that there will be a new championship record in this race. But who will be the winner? On paper, it looks like Nigeria who has won the title 10 times in the past.
With Botswana’s Amantle Montsho
also out of the team,the Nigerians can be hopeful.vReally? The South African threat is real here.Two years ago with Caster Semenya,one of only three athletes who has broken 51 seconds this year and 400m hurdles queen, Wenda Nel, the South Africans storm to gold in a new championship record time (3:28.49). If the 800m queen decides to help out again and Nel also willing to add the race to her speciality, then Nigerians surely have a lot of permutations to do.
WOMEN Hammer Throw—WL:79.59m (Anita WŁODARCZYK, POL) AL:66.86m (Queen OBISESAN, NGR) CR:68.35m (Amy Sène,SEN)
If there is one event Nigerians,especially the non-athletics inclined will not
follow keenly,it is the women’s hammer
throw and the reason is not far-fetched. The country has never mounted the podium as African champions in this event since 1998 when it was included among the events to be competed for at the championship.The closest Nigeria got was a silver medal finish by
Blessing Egwu (51.77m) in 2006.
Olufunke Adeoye won a bronze medal two years later and Nigeria has continued to search for the way to the podium with Queen Obisesan improving
from an eighth placed finish in 2010 to fourth four years later in Marrakech, Morocco.
This year, Obisesan is flying and holds the best two marks in the continent.She
will be challenged for the ultimate medal by Congo’s Jennifer Batu who was sixth two years ago at the Kings Park Stadium in Durban,South Africa
and has thrown 49cm (65.37m)less than the Nigerian’s African leading mark of 66.86m and 2014 winners and silver medallist two years ago, Burkina
Faso’s Laetitia Bambara.
The crystal ball sees a historic medal for the wife of one of Nigeria’s celebrated field event coaches,Lateef