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Echoes From Barcelona ’92 Olympics as athletes storm Ado Ekiti for AFN classics

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Ekiti State Governor Olukayode Fayemi (left) welcomes President of Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) Olamide George to Ado Ekiti ahead of the AFN Clasics

Former sprinter Oluyemi Kayode, on whose memory the Ado Ekiti stadium was named in 1994, led Nigeria’s 4x100m relay team to a silver medal at Barcelona Olympic Games in Spain.

Nigeria won a total of four medals (three silver and one bronze) at Barcelona ’92 Olympics with Kayode leading the 4×100m relay quartet that also had Olapade Adeniken, Davidson Ezinwa and Chidi Imoh.

Two silver medals came from boxing through David Izonritei in the heavyweight category and Richard Igbineghu in the super heavyweight. The ‘golden bronze’ came from the quartet of Beatrice Utondo, Faith Idenhen, Mary Onyali and Christy Opara-Thompson in the 4x100m relay. Over the years, their faces have become the Olympic symbol following the way Onyali and ‘the gang’ celebrated their bronze, the first medal won by any Nigerian woman at the Olympics.

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Kayode, an indigene of Ekiti State, also placed seventh in the 200m final at the same Barcelona ’92 Olympics. He was so good as a sprinter that some Nigerians tipped him for gold at the next Olympics.

However, his dream of flying Nigeria’s flag at Atlanta ’96 Olympics was cut short two years later, when he died in a car crash in Arizona in the United States. That was in October 1994.

The news of Kayode’s death in USA sent shock waves round the country, particularly states in the southwest. To honour him for his contribution to Nigerian athletics and the footprint he left in southwest track and field, the government and people of Ekiti State decided to name Ado Ekiti Stadium after Oluyemi Kayode that same year.

Although, the complex had hosted many sporting activities over the years, what might be the largest gathering of athletes, coaches and sports administrators will be witnessed at the venue today, as AFN’s train towards Tokyo 2020 Olympics hits Ado Ekiti.

The present governor of Ekiti State, Olukayode Fayemi, an athletics lover, was among young Nigerian sports enthusiasts, who celebrated the track success of the late Oluyemi Kayode at Barcelona ’92 Olympics.

Governor Fayemi has promised to be on ground to cheer the current class of athletes in the AFN Classics, which holds today and tomorrow. Some top politicians and friends of Ekiti State are also expected at the venue to motivate the athletes.

Two weeks ago, the AFN board led by Olamide George began its journey to Tokyo 2020 Olympics with the All-Comers event at the Federal University of Technology (FUTA) in Akure, Ondo State.

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The event in Akure still remains the talking point for many athletics analysts going by the performance of the athletes, a majority of who set personal best records in the first competition of the year. The analysts believe the performance in Akure was a positive sign of what to come if the athletes were given the motivation and competition they require before hostility begins in Tokyo in August.

Beatrice Utondo, Faith Idenhen, Christy Opara-Thompson and Mary Onyali celebrate their ‘golden bronze’ in the 4x100m relay at Barcelona ’92 Olympics

The tartan track at the Oluyemi Kayode stadium in Ado Ekiti is an old one like the track in FUTA, Akure, where the AFN All Comers event took place two weeks ago. Many athletics analysts believe that many records could also fall today, if the AFN Classics was well managed. They are of the opinion that athletes, who train hard, could run faster times.

Coaches Tony Osheku, Brown Ebewele, Buka Tiger, Gabriel Okon and athletics statistics guru Samuel Fatunla extolled the competitive spirit among the athletes and conclude that Nigeria’s track and field could blossom this year if the tempo of competition was sustained.

Seasoned athletes like Emmanuel Arowolo, Orukpe, Enoch Adegoke, Praise Idamadudu and Isah Salihu believe today’s event in Ado Ekiti will afford them the opportunity to open their account. Unlike the AFN All-Comers in Akure, where monetary cash was not given to the athletes, there will be cash flow in today’s event in Ado Ekiti.

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Rave of the moment and the crowd delight, Ifeanyi Ojeli of the Making of Champions (MoC) Track Club ran 20.94 seconds in the 200m, the first ever sub 21 seconds of his young career in Akure two weeks ago.

The performance shot him to the roof of the list of Nigerian best performances released by the AFN last week, and the fifth fastest in the world so far this year.

The young quarter miler was modest in his optimism when he said: “I just want to get the job done and hopefully in Ado Ekiti, I will try to improve on this.”

Ojeli has continued from where he stopped last year, when he ran 45.91 seconds in the 400m, his first quarter mile race inside 46 seconds. About a year earlier, he was struggling with a 46.9 seconds.

Another athlete, who ran a new personal best in Akure was Favour Ofili, an undergraduate student of the University of Port Harcourt. She improved her time in the 200m from 23.24 seconds achieved in 2019 to 23.07 seconds in only her first race in 2020.

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Ofili is now the fastest Nigerian 200m athlete so far this year, and the second fastest in the world. She looks on course to becoming the eighth Nigerian woman to run a sub-51 seconds over the 400m in the Nigerian all-time list.

Currently ranked 16th in the 400m, Ofili ran a new 51.51 seconds personal best at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar to top the Nigerian list last year.

With Ofili and a couple of other athletes, who opened their campaign this season with 54 seconds runs, some athletics analysts believe it could get them to improve to a sub 52,51 seconds before the African Championships in Algeria in June and get the qualifying time to qualify for the Olympics in the 4x400m.

In the women’s 100m, Nzubechi Grace Nwokocha ran an 11.52 seconds lifetime best to race to the top of the Nigerian list, though her 11.37 seconds performance in the final was aided by a massive 7.6mps trail wind. Glory Patrick won the 400m in a new 54.50 personal best, beating her previous time of 54.88 seconds set in 2017.

She is confident that more personal and world leading performances will be achieved in Ado Ekiti this weekend.

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