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Sports minister confident Nigeria will win track and field medal at Tokyo Olympics

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The Nigerian bronze medal team of Franca Idoko, Gloria Kemasuode, Halimat Ismaila and Oludamola Osayomi pose on the podium during the medal ceremony for the women’s 4x100m relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP.

Nigeria’s Youth and Sports Development Minister Sunday Dare is confident the country’s 13-year wait for a track and field medal at the Olympics will end this year at the Tokyo Games.

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Track and field events have accounted for 13 of the 25 medals Team Nigeria have won at the Olympic Games.

The sport has also delivered two of the three gold medals won by Team Nigeria with a first-ever individual gold by Chioma Ajunwa coming in the women’s long jump in 1996, the same year Team Nigeria won a historic Olympic football gold.

Nigeria last won a track and field medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 when Blessing Okagbare, in the women’s long jump, and the quartet of Gloria Kemasuode, Halimat Ismaila, Franca Idoko and Damola Osayomi in the women’s 4x100m event, won medals.

However, Team Nigeria have struggled at the Olympic Games in recent times, sending 77 athletes to Rio 2016 but only claiming a bronze medal in the men’s football competition.

Four years earlier, they did not earn a single medal at the London 2012 Games, but the country’s sports minister is confident track and field will start delivering the medals just like it did at the 1996 Atlanta Games

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“The performances of our athletes so far this year have given us renewed hopes that Nigerian track and field athletes can better their performance at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta where they won four medals (three individual and one team medal) at the Tokyo Games this summer,” said the sports minister who believes his adopt-an-athlete initiative has started yielding the desired results.

“The fastest girl in Nigeria today, Grace Nwokocha Nzubechi, is one of the athletes on the programme and we can see the progress she has made since she was adopted, running a world-class 11.09 seconds to secure qualification for the Olympics right here in Nigeria.

“Others on the programme are also delivering new personal bests and I am sure one or two more can secure the qualification time or mark for the Games at the ongoing 20th National Sports Festival,” he added.

Dare is also thrilled with the performance of Ruth Usoro who only on Saturday broke the Nigeria triple jump record (14.50m) in the USA.

“Ruth is also an athlete we are monitoring. She has proved to be a real talent that can shake the world very soon,” he said.

Dare is pleased with the performance of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria who have provided athletes with three competitions before the Festival and commended efforts of others who have provided competitions on the road for the athletes.

“The girl who won the Ogbomosho 10km road race, Mary Oyinkansola Ajayi, has won the women’s 3000m steeplechase title at the Festival in Benin while one of the athletes who also competed at the Ogbomosho race, Raimot Abike Jimoh, won the 5000m event at the AFN All-Comers and Classics in Akure last month and came in third in the steeplechase event here at the National Sports Festival,” he added, even as he promised that the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development will continue to provide the enabling environment for sports to develop in Nigeria.

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