NEWS ANALYSIS: Preparing Nigerian athletes for IAAF championships
July 02, 2013 15:04
NANFeatures/Vol. 7/No. 243/2013 (July 2)
Preparing Nigerian athletes for IAAF championships
A News Analysis by Henry Adamu, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
By most accounts, the just concluded All-Nigeria/Cross River Open Athletics Championships in Calabar somewhat exposed the ability of the organisers to produce formidable teams for future sports events.
However, concerned analysts contend that there are still some areas of worry.
The main thrust of their concern is on the build-up events for qualification for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships holding in Moscow, Russia, in August.
The analysts describe the failure of most athletes in meeting the IAAF qualification requirements for the championships as a glitch in the country’s efforts to participate in international sporting events.
They argue that the open athletics championships in Calabar, held between June 19 and June 21, represented a convergence of the country’s finest athletes, drawn from both home and abroad, for the competition.
Although most athletes failed to meet the requirements, Blessing Okagbare lived up to the bookmakers’ expectations by sweeping all the honours in her categories.
The athlete made history as the first woman in modern times to win the Nigeria Open 100-metre race gold in five consecutive times.
Okagbare, who at the moment stands out as the country’s most globally recognised track athlete, coasted home with three gold medals in the three events she participated in; winning the women’s 100 metres race, 200 metres race and the Long Jump in a convincing style.
This guaranteed Okagbare’s place at the Moscow championships and gave her the opportunity to restore her pride after falling shy of an impressive performance at the last Olympic Games in London 2012.
In another sterling performance, African Championship’s bronze medalist Kenechukwu Ezeofor won two gold medals and one silver medal in the men’s shot put, javelin and discus events respectively.
U.S.-based Noah Akwu also pulled an eye-catching performance when he won a gold medal in the men’s 400 metres race in an impressive personal best of 45.61seconds to dethrone Abiola Onokoya, the winner in 2012, who finished in second position.
Besides, Akwu won gold in the men’s 4x400-metre event and also claimed the silver in the 200-metre final.
Egwero Ogho-Oghene, whose performance and acceleration rate keeps brimming over with confidence, won the men’s 100-metre race with a time of 10.18 seconds to reinforce claims that he is Nigeria’s fastest sprinter.
However, it is somewhat pertinent to note the athletes’ inability to either match or beat existing national records during the Calabar championships.
Personal best records were few and far between; a performance that has made stakeholders to express further concerns.
Enefiok Udo-Obong, a member of the 4x400-metre men’s relay gold medal-winning team at Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, said that the proper assessment of the athletes’ performance was somewhat difficult because there were some areas of concern.
``It’s easy for me to assess the championships but it’s harder to assess the performance of the athletes. It was what we expected: an indication of what to expect and what not to expect.
``We always have concerns when we feel that we are not doing averagely what it takes to win a medal at the world level.
``Its not all about winning gold, silver or bronze, it’s about the individual indices of the athletes and how an athlete has improved over time that we’re looking at,’’ Udo-Obong said.
James Godday, a bronze medalist in the 4x400-metre men’s relay at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, said that he was particularly impressed with the men’s 400-metre event but noted there was still much work to be done in other events.
``I was actually impressed with the return time of the men’s 400-metre; so far it appears to be positive; what we’re often particular about is the level of improvement in an athlete’s finishing time or distance,’’ he said.
Richard Ogunleye, a Kaduna-based athletics coach, said that it was unfortunate that many athletes failed to qualify for the world championships and noted that no national record was broken during the tournament.
``It is unfortunate that many of the athletes didn’t hit the qualification mark for the world championships or even set a personal best record for themselves; we need to see an improvement.
``It’s also disappointing that no national record was broken in any event in this year’s competition and it’s even more difficult to comprehend when you realise that some of the national records have stood for a decade and beyond,’’ Ogunleye said.
With the developments at the championships in Calabar, the current concern of sports authorities and enthusiasts is how to prepare well for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The concerns raised by the stakeholders are indications that there is need for more serious preparatory programmes for the athletes in the lead-up to the 2014 and 2016 games.
They underscore the need to make concerted efforts to restore the country’s glory in athletics.
By and large, the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) has released a provisional list of 19 athletes for the games.
The list, compiled after the national championships held in Calabar, include ``Standard A’’ and ``Standard B’’ athletes; that is, those who had met the qualification benchmark as well as those who were placed under probation.
Some athletes who failed to meet the qualification requirements but were close to the mark were given three weeks to brush up and qualify for their respective events.
Sports analysts hold the belief that with this arrangement, most of the stakeholders’ concerns about the quality of Nigerian athletes in the coming international sports competitions will be adequately addressed. (NANFeatures)
**If used, please credit the writer as well as News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)