By Duro Ikhazuagbe
The 1st Warri Relays fashioned after such great forebears like the American Penns and Texas relays will be the focus of track & field aficionados in the country Thursday as invited foreigners and top Nigerian stars battle for honours.
Of course, Thursday’s fiesta also incorporates the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) Grand Prix which makes it one at which Olympic qualifications can still be achieved.
At close of entries on Monday, 61 foreign athletes from over 20 countries from around the world had confirmed their participation at today’s event.
Some of the countries where these athletes are from include; USA, Jamaica, Bahamas, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Vincent, Egypt, Cameroon, Botswana, Morocco, Algeria, Senegal, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Ethiopia, Liberia and Uganda.
The setting presents a beautiful atmosphere for Nigerians to see their top athletes compete for honours before heading down to Calabar for the final Olympic selection trials.
Although the sprint may not be as competitive with the absence of world rated stars like Blessing Okagbare, Gloria Asumnu and Oludamola Osayomi, other events are going to be full of shocks and upsets.
It will be interesting to see how Olympic bound stars, fresh from the Atlanta Camp in the United States of America will compete with those who have been running the local circuit here.
The quarter mile presents one of such events.
At the last leg of the AFN/NDDC Golden League in the same Warri penultimate Wednesday, Police athlete, Olusegun Ogunkole posted a 46.17 to win the men’s 400m while Tobi Ogunmola who won the invitational category meant for Team Nigeria dipped in at 46.21. Saul Weigopwa (46.22) and Godday James (46.96) followed in that order to leave the category an open one.
But the arrival of Abiola Onakoya, the University of Texas in El Paso (UTEP) undergraduate who holds the fastest time by a Nigerian so far this year at 46.08 seconds has now changed the equal to make it more interesting. With the quartet, there is the possibility of Nigeria running a faster time here in the 4x400m to make the cut of first 16 countries to be selected for the London 1600 men’s event.
The women version presents similar scenario with the rivalry between IAAF World Junior 4x400m silver medallists, Bukola Abogunloko and Margaret Etim becoming fierce.
At last week’s meet here in Warri, Etim upstaged Abogunloko to win with a 51.67. Abogunloko has a Personal Best of 51.57 with which she won the All Nigeria/CRS Championships last year. Cache Ambrister of Bahamas and Ndeye Fatou Soumah of Senegal cannot be ruled out of coming to Warri to spring surprises.
In the women high jump, two-time All Africa Games high jump champion, Doreen Amata needs to beginning to look over her shoulder for Uhunoma Osazuwa. Osazuwa is not your regular high jumper. She is the national heptathlon record holder but last month cleared 1.84m at a meet in Canada to be in contention for podium placement here.
Ahounoawan Odile of Benin Republic and Marie Michael of St Vincent are other outsiders for the title.
Amata, who last year in Maputo, Mozambique successfully defended the high jump title she won in 2007 at the Algiers All Africa Games, has been struggling with injury since the start of the season but the mother of one insists there is no cause for alarm.
“ I am fit and battle ready'', observed the athlete who is on record as the first Nigerian woman high jumper to make it to the finals of the prestigious IAAF World Championships in Athletics last year in Daegu, South Korea.
“Things have not particularly gone as I wished it to be this season, especially after I came back from childbirth to have what is definitely my best season last year,'' continued Amata who holds the national record at 1.95m and has been dubbed Nigeria's greatest high jumper of all time.
''I will be competing first at the Warri Relays/ CAA Grand Prix. I intend to prove my fitness and battle-readiness there before heading to the Calabar championships'', she said.
Ajoke Muizat Odumosu appears to be in a world of her own in the women 400m hurdles. Her 55.03 personal season's best run and the 55.07 she clocked in Baie Mahault last month weekend is the fastest time by a Nigerian over the distance so far this year and among the top 11 fastest times in the world so far this term. Neither Liberian Kou Lougon (57.13) nor American Angela Cooper (57.65) are anywhere near Odumosu’s mark.
Meanwhile, It is going to be a fusion of sports and entertainment today at the Warri Relays as organisers have planned an elaborate entertainment package for the event. Organisers of the event who have since realise the effectiveness of sports and music have queued some of Nigeria’s new generation artistes, led by Duncan Mighty to spice up the occasion. Duncan whose hit track, The Port Harcourt First Son remains top of playing lists of several radio and television stations is likely to use the event to give a hint of what to expect from him next.
Apart from Duncan Mighty, AY, Maleke and several others have been lined up to spice up the event Thursday.