The athletics events of the 30th Olympiad begins Friday morning at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford here in London with Team Nigeria's hope for medal hanging on the slender shoulders of Blessing Okagbare.
It is not only the Delta girl who will begin medal hunts Friday but all Nigerians here who have been moving around in frustration of not even smelling the finals of any of the events our sportsmen and women have featured in so far, believe in the ability of Okagbare.
Yet, several hurdles are ahead of the University of Texas in El Paso graduate. At the last count, Okagbare will need more than self-belief to surmount top sprinters like World Champion, Carmelita Jeter, Olympic Champion, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Kelly-Ann Brown, Allyson Felix and Tianna Madison to make her dream come true.
Unlike four years ago when she sneaked into the long jump pit to snatch a previous bronze medal for Nigeria, the Delta girl has lost her innocence. Not any more the dark horse with the virtuoso performance she has posted this season in the IAAF Samsung Diamond League. Twice, she dusted the field to win the gold in London (Aviva) and Monaco. It was not just any field. Both world and Olympic champions, (Jeter and Fraser-Pryce) were amongst some of her victims. She also dipped under the 11seconds for the very first time to now be counted amongst the outsiders for the medals at stake here.
Technical Director of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Navy Captain Omatseye Nesiama Thursday summed up the expectations from Okagbare.
"She has prepared very well just like all the others who are starting their events today.With luck on our side, Blessing (Okagbare) should be in the final and possibly on the podium tomorrow when the final of the 100m takes place," stresssed the technical chief of the AFN.
He admitted that the spirit in camp was very high and positive. "The spirit in camp is high. Its a winning spirit and we are doing everything to maintain it at that tempo. We have prepared in every aspect to ensure that Nigeria comes out victorious in our first event of the track and field. And i believe that with her shape and performance this season, we should be prepared to celebrate her success."
What may again count in Okagbare's favour is the experience she has chalked up since joining renowned sprint coach, John Smith, for her preparations. She, Jeter and Fraser-Pryce have something in common under Smith with Nike picking the bill. Her 10.99 in Aviva heat before lowering it a week later to a PB of 10.96 with another win in Monaco are part of what Nigerians are counting on for her success.
However, pundits here are tipping Fraser-Pryce who made history when becoming the first Jamaican woman to win the 100m title four years ago, a feat which eluded Juliet Cuthbert and the legendary Merlene Ottey in their 1992 and 1996 appearances to surprise all.
"Now the reigning champion will be looking to retain her title, a feat last achieved by Gail Devers when despatching Cuthbert and Ottey to their defeats in Barcelona and then the home territory of Atlanta," observed David Martins in his assessment of the women 100m field Friday.
Fraser-Pryce has had pretty mixed fortunes since her moment of glory in Beijing when herself, Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson the joint silver medallists who with the Games first ever clean sweep in the event, gave their great American rivals a big bloody nose.
Now Fraser-Price showed when zipping to new Jamaican record and 2012 world lead of 10.70 at her Olympic Trials in June she has re-discovered the magic which saw her in 2009 also add the World Championships to her bulging trophy cabinet.
The 25-year-old, her confidence at an all-time high despite finishing last at the recent London Grand Prix in appalling conditions, is ready to lead the Caribbean nation's crusade backed by 2004 Athens bronze medallist Veronica Campbell-Brown and Stewart who clocked 10.82 and 10.94 at the trials.
Team USA will be led by the second fastest woman of all-time Carmelita Jeter whose armoury fired a blistering shot of 10.64 three years ago and another last summer of 10.70 before going on to win the World Championships crown in Daegu.
With a season's best of 10.81 she is the quickest of the US trio, Allyson Felix and former World Long Jump title holder Tianna Madison having set personal record times of 10.92 and 10.96 in their build up to the Games.
Friday 3 August
• 10:00 - 10:48 Men's Shot Put Qualification
• 10:05 - 10:30 Women's Heptathlon 100m Hurdles
• 10:25 - 11:33 Women's Triple Jump Qualification
• 10:40 - 11:02 Women's 100m Preliminaries
• 11:15 - 11:48 Men's 400m Hurdles Round 1
• 11:15 - 13:33 Women's Heptathlon High Jump
• 11:20 - 13:41 Men's Hammer Throw Qualification
• 12:00 - 12:49 Women's 400m Round 1
• 13:00 - 13:39 Men's 3000m Steeplechase Round 1
• 19:00 - 19:48 Women's Heptathlon Shot Put
• 19:05 - 19:54 Women's 100m Round 1
• 19:10 - 21:27 Women's Discus Throw Qualification
• 19:50 - 20:58 Men's Long Jump Qualification
• 20:05 - 20:29 Men's 1500m Round 1
• 20:30 - 21:40 Men's Shot Put Final Medal event
• 20:45 - 21:10 Women's Heptathlon 200m
• 21:25 - 21:55 Women's 10,000m Final