Nigeria will attempt to stage a comeback to the top of the medals table as the African Senior Athletics Championships begin in Porto Novo, Republic of Benin today. It has been 12 years since Nigeria finished as the overall winners on the continent for this event.
Nigeria had reigned as African champions following incredible, championships record-setting feats put up by the likes of Clement Chukwu, Seun Ogunkoya, Falilat Ogunkoya, Glory Alozie and Chioma Ajunwa. But just as the drop hit the game of football and many others, Nigerian athletes soon began to play second fiddle in track and field events in Africa.
Since then, the closest Nigeria came was two years ago when the country lost by just one gold to host, Kenya at the 17th edition of the championships held at the Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi.
But in Benin Republic and with 44 athletes led by Blessing Okagbare and Amechi Morton, a change in fortune looks likely. The determining factor will be the performance of the men who could only win one gold medal two years ago in Kenya.
The presence of Amaechi in the team has increased the team’s chances of topping the medals table.
Obinna Metu will spearhead Nigeria’s quest to reclaim a title its sprinters have won nine out of the 17 gold medals put on offer so far in the championships. Two years ago in Nairobi, Metu and Ogho-Oghene Egwero failed to build on the record-setting feat achieved by reigning African record holder in the event, Olusoji Fasuba. Fasuba became the first man in championships’ history to win the 100m title three times consecutively.
In Porto Novo, the Nigerian delegation would patiently wait to see if the duo and debutante, Stanley Azie, can make amends and make it gold number 10 for Nigeria in the event. Last week in Calabar at the national trials, Metu not only reclaimed the national title from Egwero, he did it in record-shattering fashion, running a new 10.11 seconds personal best to announce himself as the athlete to beat.
In the women’s category Nigeria has won 11 out of the 17 gold medals so far put on offer since the championships was flagged off in 1979 thus making Nigerian sprinters the best on the continent. Okagbare leads the Nigerian ladies in the 2012 challenge. In Nairobi she ran to a new 11.03 seconds championships record to win the gold medal. Cote d’Ivoire’s Muriel Ahoure, the current fastest woman in Africa this year (11.00 seconds) and silver medallist at the last IAAF World Indoor championships in Istanbul, Turkey looks a good bet to stop the Nigerians from running away with the title.
Also, Gabon’s petite sprinter, Ruddy Zang Milama, who holds the third fastest time in Africa this year (11.03), will be in the mix for the gold medal.
This is the continent’s last major event before the London 2012 Olympics.