Nigeria battles Ghana, Togo, others for relay tickets in Benin
• Edo State is ready, says Shaibu • Ekevwo, Onwuzurike, Ashe, Akintola are star athletes
Four African countries, Ghana, Botswana, Togo and the Benin Republic are expected to participate in the relay events, as the national trials organised by the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) to select athletes for Oregon 2022 World Championships and the Commonwealth Games in England begins in Benin City tomorrow.
The Guardian learnt that 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.
An official hinted that 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.
According to an AFN official, the four countries, Ghana, Botswana, Togo and the Benin Republic want to use the AFN’s National Trials in Benin City to strengthen their relay squads.
“We are expecting these four countries to arrive in Lagos today (yesterday). Maybe, one or two more countries may join us on Friday,” the official stated.
Meanwhile, reigning African Games 100m champion, Raymond Ekevwo and reigning World U20 Athletics Championships 200m kings, Udodi Onwuzurike, will be among the six top ranked athletes that will seek to be in the national team for the first time at the 2022 Nigerian Athletics Championships in Benin.
Ekevwo and Onwuzurike will go head-to-head in the short sprint, with the latter on top of the Nigerian 100m list with the 10.03seconds he ran early this month.
Onwuzurike will participate in his first National Championships and will also be gunning for the 200m title, where he stands as the overwhelming favourite.
Also aiming for their first titles are sprinters Favour Ashe, Alaba Akintola and Rosemary Chukwuma.
Ashe holds a personal season’s best of 10.04s in the 100m and won a silver medal in the event at the 2022 NCAA outdoor championships early this month in Eugene, Oregon, U.S.
Akintola, the reigning National Sports Festival 200m champion, will also be bidding for his first title in the history of the Nigerian championships.
Like Ashe and Ekevwo, Akintola also holds a personal season’s best of 10.04 seconds achieved this year.
Chukwuma, the African Youth Games and African U20 double sprint champion is also seeking her first national title in the sprint event. With the confirmed absence of Favour Ofili, Chukwuma will have Tokyo Olympics semifinalist, Grace Nwokocha, compete in both the 100m and 200m events. Nwokocha is the defending champion in the half-lap race.
Also waiting to mount the podium as national champion is 400m barrier runner, Ezekiel Nathaniel, who ran 48.42 seconds last month to break Henry Amike’s 35-year-old record in the 400m hurdles. The athlete, who turned 19 on Tuesday, is waiting to be crowned Nigerian champion for the first time.
Home girl, Tima Godbless, will also be dreaming of upstaging the U.S.-based duo of Chukwuma and Nwokocha after improving from the 11.48 seconds achieved last year to 11.25 seconds in the 100m event at the 22nd African Athletics Championships in Mauritius about a week ago.
The National Trials will run from tomorrow, June 24 to 26, at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City.
Edo State Deputy Governor, Comrade Philip Shaibu, has restated the readiness and commitment of the government and people of Edo State to showcase the world-class facilities and equipment for the success of the competition.
“The government and good people of Edo State, the heartbeat of Nigeria, are profoundly delighted to welcome athletes and officials from around the globe to the Commonwealth and World Athletics Trials, being hosted by Edo State, South-South Nigeria.
“For us, this event is very historic as Edo is hosting the trials for the first time, in the history of the competition. It is heartwarming and gratifying to know that 400 athletes and 100 officials from Europe, U.S., Canada and Africa will converge on Edo for the inter-continental competition,” he stated.
On his part, the chairman of Edo Sports Commission, Yusuf Alli, told The Guardian yesterday that everything had been put in place for a successful event.