As a New Year's gift to all our readers,we take a look back at some of the top performances of Nigerian athletes in 2015 and sprinter,Blessing Okagbare (who else?) tops the list of our top performers while quarter-miler, Patience Okon-George comes a close second. Complete Sports' athletics guru, DARE ESAN writes…
Forget her misadventure to Beijing at the 2015 IAAF World Championship, Okagbare was super impressive in the circiut,running inside 11 seconds six times,two more than the four she ran in 2012.
She first ran a sub-11 seconds in the 100m (10.99) on July 14,2012 in London (Crystal Palace).
Interestingly,three out of the four sub-11 seconds she ran that year were in England.
In 2015,Okagbare moved a gear up with six great runs inside 11 seconds culminating in the 10.80 seconds she ran at the Diamond League meeting in Paris Saint-Dennis,France.That time ensured she finished the year as the third fastest woman in 2015,the second highest rank ever attained by a Nigerian in the event.
She was ranked second fastest in the world in 2013 when she ran 10.79 seconds to break the African record at the Olympic stadium in London.
PATIENCE OKON-GEORGE (400m)
Like a bolt out of the blues Okon-George announced her arrival as the best quartermiler Nigeria has ever seen since the likes of Falilat Ogunkoya,Charity Opara,Fatimah Yusuf and Bisi Afolabi left the stage over a decade ago.
Two years ago Regina George raced on to the scene as the successor to the great athletes mentioned earlier but failed to prove the following year her performances which culminated in a semi-final finish at the 2013 IAAF Worlds in Moscow and a 50.84 seconds personal best setting run were not by happenstance.
Then came Okon-George who convinced athletics buffs she could be the real deal.
She began with a 50.76 performance at the La Chaux-de-Fonds (La Charrière) athletics meeting in Switzerland.It was the fastest time ever returned by a Nigerian in the event since Falilat Ogunkoya ran 50.50 at the Commonwealth stadium in Edmonton,Canada at the 8th edition of the IAAF Worlds in 2001.
Okon-George followed up with a 50.87 performnace in the fist round of the 400m event at the Beijing 2015 IAAF Worlds before eqaulling her personal best in the semis where placed fourth in the second semi-final and crashed out of the competition.
Then in Congo Brazaville at the All Africa Games,she improved to a new 50.71 secods lifetime best to proclaim her arrival as the undisputed queen of the quartermile in Nigeria.Yes,for an athlete who a year earlier was just a 51.29 runner.
TEGA ODELE (200M)
Like Okon-George,Odele also came on to the local athletics stage with a big bang.He won the national 200m title in style,running 20.47 seconds,the fastest time ran by a Nigerian since Uche Emedolu clocked 20.39 seconds in Réthimno,Greece in 2004.
Odele was thereafter under pressure to prove that performance at the worn-out track of the Warri Township stadium was not a one-off.
Interestingly the 20 year old who failed to appear a year earlier at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Eugene,Oregon in the USA after being listed for the event had to prove he is one for the future at the biggest athletics stage in the world:the IAAF Worlds in Beijing!.
And did he disappoint? He 20.49 seconds into a -0.2mps head wind to crash out in the first round.
Not satisfied,doubting Thomasses followed him to the All Africa Games in Congo Brazaville where he ran a new personal best of 20.45 seconds to emerge the fastest athlete in the first round of the event.He however failed to break 20.50 in both the semis and the final,running 20.58 to settle for a bronze medal.
DIVINE ODUDURU (200M)
Touted as the next big thing in Nigerian athletics after running a wind-aided 20.25 seconds to win the silver medal in the 200m event at the 15th World Junior Championships in Athletics in Euguen,Oregon,USA,Divine chose the ALL Africa Gamess in Congo Brazaville to remind all he still remains the heir apparent despite the incredible runs of Tega Odele.
Divine picked the silver medal at the Games with a 20.45 lifetime best performance,his first legal sub 20.50 performance ever.He ran 20.51 seconds in the semis.
ORUKPE ERAYOKAN (400M)
The most incredible performance of 2015 was certainly Orukpe's 44.95 seconds run at the second semi-final of the 400m event at the ALL Africa Games in Congo Brazaville.His geometrical rise from a 47 seconds runner to becoming the sixth Nigerian after Innocent Egbunike (44.17),Sunday Bada (44.63),Clement Chukwu (44.65),Sunday Uti (44.83) and Godday James (44.90) to break 45 seconds in the event defies any logical explanation.
Orukpe first showed glimpses of a 'born-again' athlete in the first round of the event where he posted a new 45.84 seconds personal best.Then he smashed his own personal best with that incredible 44.95 run in the semis,raising hopes of at least a silver finish behind Botswana's Isaac Makwala who was in the world of his own.
Orukpe however seemed to have ran his best before the final as he could only run 45.73 seconds to finish sixth.
Forget about his failure to race to the podium,his marks in Congo Brazaville have made him the new king of the quartermile in Nigeria.
AMUSAN TOBILOBA (100M Hurdles)
From the disappointment of getting disqualified at the semi-final stage of the 8th IAAF World Youth Championships in Ukraine in 2013 and the no-show a year later at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Eugene,Oregon,USA,18 year old Tobiloba showed in 2015 what could have happened in 2013 and 2014.She ran 13.11 in the semi-final of the event at the All Africa Games to become the fastest bonafide Nigerian since Toyin Augustus ran 12.85 seconds in Nantes,France in June of 2009.
In the final she ran 13.15 to win the gold ahead of Lindsay Lindley (13.30) who was given a Nigerian name,Weyinmi by the Athletic Federation of Nigeria albeit she is no where Nigerian in all aspects.Lindsey ran 12.97 last year but her nationality is still in seriuos doubt if what the decision of the IAAF on the transfer of alleginace of Monzavous Edwards is anything to go by.
Monzavous,CT&FM reported late last year was told he could not represent Nigeria by the IAAF queried his date of births on both his American and Nigerian passports as well as the addition ofthe name,Jollomi.