New Telegraph

Athletics: Revival of Relay Teams Reopens Call For Better Sprints Results

It is always good to see the country’s athletes do well at the global stage. It is a thing of joy to see the green and white colours of the country being hoisted at world events. A number of times, I wrote about our athletes making in to the final event in their respective disciplines of the World Championships and the Olympic Games in the past but this is now a thing of the past except for a few on the tracks.

We have two world-class athletes in long jumper Ese Brume and Tobi Amusan in the 100m hurdles. They have been consistent in the past three years and remain among the best in their respective events. At the African Games in Ghana, Team Nigeria were impressive in the relays which were prosecuted by little-known athletes in Accra. But only during the week, the same athletes were also glorious at the World Relays which took place in Bahamas. Five relay teams took part in the event which was a qualifier for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games and four of the teams qualified. Nigeria was the best team on the continent.

South Africa paraded three teams and qualified for two while Ghana qualified for one relay event. Kenya with four teams failed to pick one relay ticket to the Games. Team Nigeria’s women’s 4x400m team pulled out as one of the athletes sustained an injury late and it was glorious that the country booked a ticket to the Games in the other four events. Not many saw that coming. For the mixed 4x400m, Nigeria was up against reigning world champions USA, Bahrain, and South Africa. Against all expectations, Samuel Ogazi, Ella Onojuvwevwo, Chidi Okezie and Esther Joseph won the ticket as the representatives of the country.

For the women’s 4x100m, Justina Eyakpobeyan, Favour Ofili, Olayinka Olajide and Tima Godbless were the ticket winners just as the quartet of Dubem Nwachukwu, Dubem Amene, Sikiru Adeyemi and Chidi Okezie achieved similar feat in the men’s 4x400m. Seye Ogunlewe was anchor in the 4x100m which also had Udodi Onwuzurike, Emmanuel Consider and Alaba Akintola. Even though Nigeria did not win a medal, it was exciting that the country was in the final of the mixed relay and men’s 4x400m. The task of winning the Olympic tickets even without most of our key athletes was achieved. Coaches Gabriel Okon and Deji Aliu deserve huge commendation for the feat achieved.

The instructive thing about the relay teams is the fact that they carried on from where they stopped at the African Games. To inject other athletes into each of these teams will be tough. They have a synergy already and to inject other athletes, there must be enough time for them to blend because relays require huge understanding. I am particularly happy that the issue of experiencing dropped batons did not arise.

And so, I expect these athletes to be retained for the Games just as any injections should be made with caution. Preparation for the Olympics should be intense to enable them to be in the form good enough to win medals.

The turnaround the country’s relay teams are experiencing should be extended to the sprints events. That is the country’s area of strength on the tracks but somehow this is no longer the case even in Africa. At the global stage, Nigeria was so good in the past such that two of the country’s sprinters would be in the final of the World Championships and the Olympic Games. Currently, Nigeria is playing second fiddle in the male and female events of the 100m and the 200m.

The good times in the sprints should be back. One of the coaches, Aliu, spoke on the prospects of having better results in sprints soon. “Our relay teams for now are still work in progress. We do not have the entire team yet but we are happy to be getting the results gradually and we are also working on other areas especially sprints.

We have the talents and I believe our athletes will come good,” Aliu said. Countries like The Gamba, Senegal, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire now beat Nigeria to the medals in sprints and this was not happening in the past. The efforts to revive Team Nigeria’s fortunes in sprints must be deliberate and we need to see the work at the continental and global stage just as it is being experienced in the relays. Olympic Games require the very best preparation and the Athletics Federation and the ministry of sports must come up with a big plan to boost the chances of the athletes at the Games.

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