The Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin City, Edo State, is set for non-stop athletics action from Friday all through the weekend for the 2022 Nigerian Athletics Championships.
The cream of Nigerian athletes are in town to challenge for honours, which means fans are guaranteed spectacular performances at the three-day event which will serve trials for next month’s World Championships and Commonwealth Games in August.
Speaking ahead of the three-day championship, former Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) President and Chairman of the Organizing Committee for the Nigerian Athletics Championship, Solomon Ogba, said: “We are organising a championship befitting our rising profile. I cannot remember the last time we produced three women who have gone inside 11s in the 100m in one year or produced athletes that will break records as old as the athletes themselves.”
He added: “Last year we had four National Records (NR) broken in the sprint and jumps. This year, we have had more long standing records broken.
“Ezekiel Nathaniel (48.42s) broke Henry Amike’s 35-year-old 400m Hurdles record (48.50s) while Prosper Nnamdi’s 81.08m effort last month was 1cm better than the 81.07m NR set by Pius Bazighe in 1999. Ofili also improved her 200m indoor to 22.46s and added the outdoor version. She ran 21.96s to become the first Nigerian woman to go under 22s.”
As expected, the 100m men’s race is attracting a great deal of interest as it is one of the events that could produce a newbie as champion.
Reigning African Games 100m champion, Raymond Ekevwo, and reigning World U20 Athletics Championships 200m king Udodi Onwuzurike are leading contenders for the national title.
While Onwuzirike is outrightly the fastest Nigerian male athlete this season at 10.03s, a couple of other sprinters are breathing down his neck with 10.04s this season.
Ekevwo (10.04s), Alaba Akintola (10.04s) Ashe Favour (10.04s) and Usheoritse Itsekiri (10.09s) are all contenders capable of springing surprises in Benin City.
Others to watch out for in the men’s 100m include Godson Brume (10.12s), Seye Ogunlewe (10.20s), Sunday Akintan (10.23s) and Mabilo Nicholas (10.24s) among others.
While Onwuzurike will face a fierce battle in the 100m event, he is the overwhelming favourite in the 200m with a personal best (PB) of 20.08s.
The World Junior Champion, nonetheless, have the likes of Alaba Akintola (20.26s), Chidi Okezie (20.80s), and Fakorede Adekalu (20.87s) to contend with.
With the reigning National record holder in the women’s 200m Favour Ofili out, the battle for supremacy will be between Rosemary Chukwuma and Grace Nwokocha in the sprint races.
A few weeks ago, Chukwuma and Nwokocha both clocked PBs of 10.99s and 10.97s at the NCAA Championships.
They duo also have impressive 22.33s and 22.44s times in the 200m respectively which easily puts them forward as title favourites in the absence of Ofili.
Both Chukwuma and Nwokocha were finalists at the just concluded NCAA Championships.
In the women’s 400m event, it will be a straight clash between veteran, Patience Okon and Nse Imaobong. Nse is the only Nigerian quartermiler to have hit the qualification standard for the World Championship in Oregon.
There is also a lot to look forward to in the field events where continental champions Chukwuebuka Enekwechi will lead the line in the Shot Put and Sade Olatoye in the Hammer throw.
While the duo of Princess Kara and Esther Osisike will slug it out in the Discuss, Nnamdi Chinecherem is the odds on favourite for the men’s Javelin Event.
For the women’s Triple Jump and Long Jump events, record holders Ruth Usoro and Ese Brume are the ones to beat in Benin City.
The men’s High Jump is expected to present an interesting contest between Mike Edwards who is the defending champion and Silver medallist from Mauritius (2.15m, SB), and MTSU’s Best Erhire (2.20m, SB). National Sports Festival (NSF) gold medallist David Aya (2.05m, SB) cannot be written off and he will hope to improve on his PB of 2.16m.
The highlight of Day 1 of action in the ancient city of Benin will be in the Relay events where Nigeria is still seeking qualification in most of the races.
Only the Nigerian women’s 4x100m and the mixed relay teams have qualified for Oregon 2022, while the men’s 4x100m and 4x400m relay teams are yet to qualify as well as the women’s 4x400m relay team.
Even the Nigerian women’s 4x100m and the mixed relay teams also need to improve on their current ranking to guarantee qualification, as the country is currently ranked 16th in both events, which means the nation is occupying the last qualification spot.
At least, four other African countries, Ghana, Botswana, Togo and the Benin Republic are expected to participate in the relay events alongside Nigeria.