Nigerian athletes dream big ahead of 11th African Junior, Youth Championships

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LAGOS – Nigeria’s upcoming sprinters have expressed high hopes to surpass the records and achievements of Blessing Okagbare who has made a name as the “Queen of Nigeria and Africa’s Track and Field’’.

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The athletes hope to participate in the Africa Junior Championships coming up on March 3 to March 7, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and in the Africa Youth Championships in Mauritius from April 23 to April 26.

Will these upcoming ones like Ese Brume, Omotayo Abolaji, Divine Oduduru preparing for the African Junior Championships be able to beat Okagbare’s records, who is barely a decade in the sport and has achieved way more than any of her contemporaries.

Those for the youth championships have yet to be selected by the Athletics Federation of Nigeria those of them training for the qualifiers also share the same aspirations.

Their hopes apparently rest on the fact that so far, they have kept pleasant records at local competitions as young athletes, with the latest coming from the annual Dr D.K. Olukoya annual Athletics Championships anchored by the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN).

They also hinged their hopes on the fact that the AFN has raise the bar for their training by arranging competitions which would often test their stamina and speed.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Okagbare has achieved records that have built the hopes and confidence of many young athletes who aim to surpass her attainment at continental and international competitions.

Okagbare has won a bronze medal at the senior stage during the 2004 National Sports Festival and appeared at the 2006 World junior championships.

She has won 8 gold, 5 silver and 3 bronze medals, appearing in two Olympics already, two Commonwealth Games and other major championships just in her first decade as an athlete.

Okagbare has also won a gold medal at the 2014 African Athletics Championships on Aug. 11 in Marrakech, Morocco. She recorded 7.14m +2.2 in the May 2013 Diamond League in Doha.

Okagbare is the current fastest woman in Africa and the fourth woman in the world to win a double in the Commonwealth, which she obviously is the first African.

Some of the young athletes told NAN that their target was far beyond continental championships, saying that with adequate consistency in exposure they would bring honour to the country.

Kwara-born Omotayo Abolaji, 17, a 100m sprinter who emerged third at the 5th Dr D.K. Olukoya U-18 and U-20 Athletics Championships with 12.42 secs, said she was eager to represent the country for the first time.

Abolaji said she wished to surpass the record of Mary Onyali-Omagbemi, Blessing Okagbare, noting that standing on the podium at international competitions was her ultimate dream.

Delta-born Ese Brume, who is the reigning African Junior Champion and whose personal best in 100m is 11.84sec +0.5 wind assisted at the 2014 AFN Golden League in Akure is +0.5, said Okagbare is an athlete she looks up to in athletics.

Brume’s personal best in the Long Jump is 6.68m by a wind assisted +1.8 at the 2014 National Trial in Calabar.

“There is nothing wrong to have foreign role models but for me Blessing is someone I respect because against all odds, she has been able to raise the country’s flag high at international meets,’’ she said.

Brume, who has also found a new love in the 100m and 200m events, said she dabbled into the sprints like her mentor to aid her jumps, noting that she would not hesitate to win medals in both categories.

Divine Oduduru, another product of the D.K. Olukoya Championships, became a silver medallist in the 200m at the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships in Oregon, U.S., said his target was to surpass the records of Jamaican-born Usain Bolt.

Oduduru, also from Delta, said his target was to be a world-class athlete, noting that the country had immense potential if given adequate support.

The athlete since his discovery has been a source of blessing to the country at international meets.

He recorded 10.62 second at the maiden African Youth Athletics Championships in 2013 in Warri, Delta.

He also came second in the 200m of the IAAF World Junior Championships in July 2014 in Eugene, Oregon in the U.S. in 20.25 second with a wind assist of +2.3.

Ruth Usoro, 17, a Lagos-State born 100m, 200m and long jump athlete, also told NAN that with hard work, commitment, exposure and adequate support, she would surpass the records of Carmeliter Jeter of the U.S. whose fastest time in the 100m is 10.64 secs.

“I see myself beyond Blessing’s achievements; it is not as if she has not done the country proud. But my dream is to always be called for winning medals for my country in all the competitions I attend.

“Blessing is so good and blessed but I want to be a better athlete,’’ she said.

Usoro, who won the 200m in 26.45secs at the 2015 Lagos State Secondary Schools Sports Festival, tagged “Ibile Games’’, said it was time Nigerian athletes came out en masse to receive medals at international stage.

Although Usoro did not make the list for the African Junior Championships, but hopefully she will make the African Youth Championships scheduled in Mauritius.

On why Usoro was not selected for the junior championships, Commodore Omatseye Nesiama, Technical Director of AFN, told NAN that AFN would provide an avenue after the African Junior Championships to allow for other athletes within the range to attend a mini-trial for the youth team final selection for the African Youth Championships.

“She and other athletes within her age range could have a chance provided they continue to train to improve on their performance at the Dr. D.K. Olukoya Championships because half of the junior athletes selected are actually still youths by age.

“However, we are going to provide a window after the African Juniors Championships to allow for other athletes within the range to attend a mini-trial for our youth team final selection for the African Youth Championships,’’ Nesiama said.

But are they undergoing the necessary training to be able to compete favourably with their counterparts from other African countries?


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