Nigeria, on Sunday, regained the top spot of Africa athletics by winning the 18th African Athletics Championship which was held in Port Novo. Vivian Chukwuemeka’s dominant display in the women’s shot put final and the fantastic 4x400m run by the Nigeria’s men and women’s relay teams headlined the last day of competition and the country’s successful return to the summit of African athletics.
Chukwuemeka, the 2002 Commonwealth Games queen set a new African, national and championship record of 18.86m to lead a Nigeria top three sweep of the medals at stake in the event. Chinwe Okoro who won Nigeria’s first gold medal at this championship settled for silver (16.21m) while Omotayo Talabi picked the gold with a put of 15.63m.
The women’s 1600 relay set the tone for an intriguing finish with a new championships record of 3:28.77 to beat Botswana led by individual 400m winner and reigning world champion, Amantle Montsho. This victory tied Nigeria and Kenya on nine gold medals each with the men’s 4x400m event the decider for Nigeria who needed to win the gold to be crowned African champions.
The quartet of Salihu Issah,Amaechi Morton,Abiola Onakoya and anchor-leg runner, Saul Weigopwa ran superbly and deservedly picked the gold with a new 3:02.39 seconds record to put Nigeria on top of the medals table 12 years after it last enjoyed that privilege in Dakar, Senegal.
The last day haul of five gold, two silver and two bronze medals was thus enough for Nigeria to push aside Kenya who beat the Nigerians by just one gold medal two years ago on home soil in Nairobi. Nigeria thus finished first with 10 gold, six silver and five bronze medals with Kenya second with nine gold, nine silver and nine bronze medals. South Africa, the 2008 champions came third with six gold, 10 silver and eight bronze medals.
Earlier on Sunday, sprinters Gloria Asumnu and Lawretta Ozoh had won the gold and silver medals in the 200m with the former winning a photo-finish race with both athletes timed at 22.93 seconds. In the men’s version, Noah Akwu made a surprise incursion into the medals arena by winning the bronze (20.83 seconds) in a race won by Cote d’Ivoire’s Ben Meite Youssef (20.62 seconds) who made up for his disqualification in the 100m..
Nigeria set a total of three championships and one African record in the five-day competition with Chukwuemeka topping her 17.60m championships record set in Tunis in 2002,the first time she was crowned African champions in the event with an African-record setting 18.86m.Blessing Okagbare also erased Chioma Ajunwa’s 6.78m record with a new 6.96m record while the women’s 4x400m relay team erased the 3:29.26 record set by the quartet of Shade Abugan, Margaret Etim, Bukola Abogunloko and Ajoke Odumosu two years ago in Nairobi.