Lawretta Ozoh (L) Chief Solomon Ogba and Gloria Asumnu
By Duro Ikhazuagbe
After conquering the continent at the just concluded 18th African Senior Athletics Championships in Port Novo, Benin Republic at the weekend, Team Nigeria Monday unveiled the list of 13 men and 18 women to represent the country at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
President of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Chief Solomon Ogba announced Nigeria’s party to the London Games at the National Stadium in Lagos, shortly on his arrival from the African Championships with the athletes.
He said that he was sure that Team Nigeria track & field squad will surpass the country’s achievement at the last Olympic Games in Beijing.
“There are some athletes I felt would not make it but it was at Porto Novo that they were able to convince me that they are capable. With what the team did at the African meet, I can say I am proud of the team and I believe they have the wherewithal to make it to the semi-final of the Olympics. I am also sure that we will surpass our achievements in Beijing 2008 at the London 2012 Olympics.”
Top on the list of athletes selected represent the country is Vivian Chukwuemeka, the swashbuckling shot putter who erased her previous African record of 18.41m to push it to a new 18.86m at the Port Novo meet.
The sprinters picked include, Blessing Okagbare, Gloria Asumnu and Lawretta Ozoh. In the longer sprint (200m), Christy Udoh was selected to join Asumnu and Ozoh while Okagbare is the country’s sole flag bearer in the women long jump event. Doreen Amata who had a clear bad outing at the African meet, also got a second chance to try to match the best in the women high jump. She could not match her previous personal best of 1.95m in Port Novo.
USA based Regina George and Omolara Omotosho are the only women quarter milers picked while Muizat Ajoke Odumosu who won her 400m hurdles with ease on Sunday is also London bound.
Others in Team Nigeria’s London bound train include, Uhunoma Naomi Osazuwa (hepthatlon) and Seun Adigun (100m hurdles).
Okagbare, Asumnu, Ozoh, Osayomi, Wisdom Isoken and Christy Udoh are the choice for the women 4x100m relay while George, Omotosho, Bukola Abogunloko, Endurance Abinuwa, Idara Otu and Margaret Etim complete the women for the 1600 relay.
The only surprise pick in the women squad is Esther Obiekwe the professional banker who has had shots at some of the big marathons events around the world. She is the only Nigeria women going to London for the Marathon event.
In the male category, Nigeria’s brightest chance for medal appears to be in the choice of Amaechi Morton who will race in the 400m hurdles. He won the gold at the African Championships. Another prospect is Tosin Oke who is going home to London to compete in the Triple jump. He is a former British junior champion who won the African title back-to-back.
Obinna Metu, Ogho Oghene Egwero and Peter Emelieze are listed for the 100m while Nurudeen Selim (110m) and Stanley Gbagbeke (long jump) are also in the team.
Team Nigeria’s captain, Saul Weigopwa is leading the 4x400m squad even as they wait eagerly to know if they will make the final cut of best 16 teams for the London 1600 relay.
Two male athletes Noah Akwu and Stanley Azie who are yet to make the Olympic ‘A’ standard are on the waiting list just the same way Jessica Ohanaja is on the queue in the 100m hurdles.
Coaches selected include: Innocent Egbunike - Head Coach, Yussuf Alli and Nat Page.
Others listed as personal coaches are; Gabriel Okon, Christopher Dumez, Garfield Ellenwood, Ken Onuaguluchi, Paul Obodochima, Daniel Etsebimor, Oluyomi Sule, Gabriel Opuana, Solomon Aliyu, Sunday Uti and Falilat Ogunkoya.
Meanwhile, the Technical Director of the AFN, Navy Capt Omatseye Nesiama has expressed his excitement with Nigeria’s winning feat at the African Meet.
“I am excited and at the same time delighted that our team not only won the African Athletics Championships but improved in our performances in many areas this year. It’s a clear sign that in spite of odds and difficulties, we can as a team always rise up to the occasion. It's a good reward to the athletes, technical crew and Board of the AFN. I particularly congratulate the AFN President for his resilience and selfless leadership style,” said the AFN board member who is due in the country any moment from his overseas military training in China.