Nigerian Athletes Dare Track ‘Lions’ In Bahamas
• As Race To Rio 2016 Olympics Begins
Today will go down in history as one of the memorable weekends for sports lovers across the globe.
While boxing fans’ searchlight will be beamed on Las Vegas, USA, venue of the Floyd Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao big fight, athletics followers will focus their attention on the Caribbean Island country of Bahamas, venue of the 2015 IAAF World Relays, which serves as qualification for the Rio 2016 Olympics Games.
Apart from the Olympics tickets at stake, Nigerian athletes, spearheaded by the reigning African track queen, Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor, will be aiming to pocket part of the $1.4 million prize money on offer.
Also, the Nigerian 4x100m and 4x400m men team are chasing qualification for the IAAF World Championships, which will hold in Beijing, China, in August.
One other athlete, who will attract attention of the fans in the Bahamas 2015 IAAF World Relays, is Nigeria’s junior star, Divine Oduduru.
Team Nigeria is parading 25 athletes, made up of 11 male and 14 female runners in the Second IAAF World Relays, which will end tomorrow.
To make the championship glamorous, the IAAF has set aside $1.4 million as prize money for the men and women’s races. The winner of any of the events will pocket $50,000; while the second position will go home with ($30,000). Third position will get $20,000, fourth ($12,000), fifth position ($10,000), sixth position ($8,000), seventh position ($6,000) and eight position $4,000.
In addition, the IAAF has put aside $50,000 bonus for any team that breaks a world record in the Bahamas.
The list of 25 athletes and four coaches made available to The Guardian by AFN Technical Director, Navy Commodore Omatseye Nesiama, shows that Oduduru will play a dual role for the country.
He is in the 4x100m and 4x200m teams that will challenge World fastest man, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, as well as American ‘lions’ for the IAAF jackpot.
Listed in Nigeria’s 4x100m male team are Mark Jelks, Ogho-Oghene Egwero, Divine Oduduru, Oghenetega Odele and Nicholas Imhoaperamhe.
Oduduru is also in the 4x200m team alongside Jelks, Robert Simmons, Oghenetega Odele and Abiola Onakoya.
Oduduru was part of Nigeria’s junior team that conquered Africa two months ago in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the African Junior Athletics Championship. He won gold in the 100m, 200m and was part of the 4x100m relay.
The men’s 4x400m team in Bahamas has Robert Simmons, Orukpe Eraiyokan, Fasasi Rilwan, Miles Ukaoma and Amaechi Morton.
Reigning African track queen, Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor, is in the 4x100m team alongside Gloria Asumnu, Lindsay Weyinmi Lindley, Peace Uko and Nkeiruka Florence Uwakwe.
Okagbare is also in the 4x200m team alongside Dominique Duncan, Regina George, Christy Udoh, Patience Okon and Ngozi Onwumere.
The women’s 4x400m team comprises Patience Okon, Regina George, Rita Ossai, Tosin Adeloye, Nkeiruka Florence Uwakwe and Margaret Bamgbose.
AFN President, Solomon Ogba, told The Guardian on telephone shortly before the team relocated from its camp in Philadelphia to Bahamas in the early hours of Thursday that Team Nigeria would do everything possible to qualify for the final in all the eight relays so as to make it to Rio 2016 Olympics Games.
He said: “We have moved the athletes and four officials from Philadelphia to Bahamas. The camp in Philadelphia really helped our athletes and I am optimistic we will qualify for the final in all the eight relays to grab our Olympics ticket because the top eight teams will automatically qualify for Rio 2016.
“It is going to be a very tough battle this time because everybody wants to be at the Olympics Games next year. Our athletes are in high spirit and ready to go,” Ogba stated.
The four Nigerian coaches in Bahamas are Eric Campbell, Gabriel Okon, Maurice Greene and Daniel Etsebiminor.
Even in the absence of some key athletes, including Okagbare and Egwero, Team Nigeria had relatively good performances at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, which served as preparation for the trip to Bahamas.
The women 4x100m squad finished third in Philadelphia with 44.22 seconds behind Jamaica and the United States.
The men featuring Oduduru, Nicholas Imhoaperamhe, Urukpe Eriyoka and Robert Simmons placed 4th in the 4x200m with 1.24.43 seconds. Top sprinter, Ogho-Oghene Egwero, joined them Thursday before their trip from Philadelphia to Bahamas.
Okagbare said on arrival in Team Nigeria’s camp in Bahamas yesterday that it is a great privileged for her to fly Nigeria’s flag once again.
At the 2014 World relays, Nigeria’s women 4x400m got a bronze medal. They placed fifth in Philadelphia few days ago, a situation one of the officials blamed on slow start by one of the athletes, Omolara Omotosho. She was sent packing from the camp before they left Philadelphia to Bahamas.
Last year, Okagbare captained Team Nigeria to Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, where she had a soaring performance.
Her performance in the 100 metres women’s event remains one of the best moments in the history of the Commonwealth Games. Okagbare broke the 100m records, winning gold in 10.85 seconds.
She also won gold in the 200m race, thereby becoming the first Nigerian to win double gold medals in the Commonwealth Games. She was the fourth woman in Commonwealth Games history to record such achievement.
Shortly after the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Okagbare led Team Nigeria to another glorious moment in Marrakech, Morocco, where the country topped the medals table at the 19th African Athletic Championships.
Okagbare won the 100m women event, setting a new championship record. She anchored the 4x100m relay team to win the gold in 43.56secs.
Okagbare said on arrival in Bahamas yesterday that she expects something great by the time competition gets under way today.
“Thankful to God for giving me another year to be part of the World Relays,” she added.