Ofili, Nwokocha, others are enjoying impact of High Performance Centre — Anugweje
In 2012, World Athletics and the Confederation of Africa Athletics (CAA) established the High Performance Centre at the University of Port Harcourt for Nigerian athletes and their counterparts in some neighbouring African countries to sharpen their skills.
The Centre in Port Harcourt is one of the seven established in Africa by WA and CAA. The others are in Cairo, Dakar, Lusaka, Lome, Mauritius and Nairobi.
Two years after the establishment of the Centre in Port Harcourt, the Federal Government keyed into it by signing an agreement in Casablanca, Morocco. Since then the nation’s athletics has recorded tremendous improvement, particularly in the short sprints.
To the Director of the High Performance Centre in Port Harcourt, Prof. Ken Anugweje, the early season form of some Nigerian athletes, mostly the student athletes participating in collegiate competitions in the United States of America, and a few others based at home, is as a result of the sold foundation they went through at the Centre before they travelled abroad.
Favour Ofili, who made big headline in USA last Saturday by smashing Blessing Okagbare’s 200m National Record, used the High Performance Centre in Port Harcourt to perfect her skills between 2015 and 2016.
“It is a thing of joy for us at High Performance Centre in Port Harcourt to see the likes of Favour Ofili, Rosemary Chukwuma, Grace Nwokocha, Ezekiel Nathaniel, Raymond Ekevwo and Praise Ofoku to flourish in their athletics career,” Prof. Anugweje told The Guardian in a telephone chat yesterday.
The performance by Ofili, Ofoku, Nwokocha and others have given the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) great hope, particularly in the build up to the African Senior Athletics Championship in Mauritius, the World Championship in Eugene, Oregon and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England.
Ofili ran a new national record of 21.96s in the 200m to win the Tom Jones Memorial Classic 2022, becoming the first Nigerian woman and collegiate athlete ever to run sub 22 seconds over the distance.
The 19-year old is the top ranked athlete in the event in the world so far this year, and the only one to run inside 22 seconds.
Indoors, Ofili is also the only Nigerian woman ever to run a sub 23 seconds over the 200m distance. She is also ranked the eighth fastest woman so far in the world over the 100m distance after improving her personal best to 11.00 seconds a forth night ago.
On her part, Rosemary Chukwuma has a personal best of 11.05 seconds, while Grace Nwokocha has a season’s best of 11.13 seconds in the 100 metres.
Another product of the Port Harcourt High Performance Centre, Raymond Ekevro, who is the reigning African Games 100m champion, is returning to reckoning after an injury in 2021. The 23-year-old ran 10.11 seconds in the event last weekend at Walnut, California.
In the 400m hurdles, Ezekiel Nathaniel, is looking to become the first Nigerian in seven years and the fourth in the history of the event to run a sub 49 seconds after posting an impressive 49.11 seconds towards the end of last month.
According to Prof. Anugweje, the three coaches, who train the athletes at the High Performance Centre in Port Harcourt, Seigha Porbeni (Head Coach), George Obiano and Mavuah Esabunor are among the best in the world.
“Some of athletes trained under coach Mavuah Esabunor at our Ughelli Centre because of their school, while others were in Port Harcourt, where they perfected the skill of combining endurance, speed and energy in overpowering their opponents on the track. That is was what Nigerian athletics is reaping from at the moment,” Anugweje stated.