AFN Trials: Platform For Future Stars

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The tartan tracks of the U.J Esuene stadium in Calabar came alive yesterday as athletes slug it out for who represents Team Nigeria at both the 13th IAAF World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea and the 10th All Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique later in September.

The Nigerian Open Tracks and Field Championship, which is the 65th edition no doubt is being used to churn out athletes, that can replicate what such veteran athletes as Mary Onyali-Omagbemi, Deji Aliyu, Sunday Bada, who is now the Technical and Performance Director of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, AFN, Falilat Ogunkoya-Omotayo Chioma Ajunwa and many others recorded in the past.

The battle for who succeeds Onyali-Omagbemi in the 100meteres event was decided yesterday as Blessing Okagbare dusted Damola Osayomi to retain her title.

With tracks already burning in Calabar, Okagbare and Osayomi are among the over 300 athletes fighting for tickets to get on board the Team Nigeria to the games.

A whopping N250m donated by the Cross River State government is the honey that has attracted five African champions from last year’s 17th African Championships in Nairobi, Kenya, two, reigning All Africa Games champions and Commonwealth Games triple jump king, Tosin Oke to the event.

Defending champion, Obinna Metu, who recently got back to the country after training with 100 meteres world record holder, Jamaica’s Ulsain Bolt, followed the footsteps of former international, Innocent Egbunike; also a product of the Nigerian Open Track and Field Championship, as he justified the training he went through under Bolt.

Metu won the title last year to become the first man in recent championships history and won the 100m title for three consecutive times. Yesterday, Metu also won the 100m title in Calabar for a record fourth time.

In the women’s race, Okagbare surpassed the heroics of Onyali-Omagbemi and the battle was a close contest with Osayomi, who tried as much as she could to deny Okagbare the title but she was late to the finishing line.

It was Okagbare, who dethroned Osayomi in 2009 and as she joined the league of Onyali-Omagbemi and Endurance Ojokolo as three times back-to-back winners. U.S-born Gloria Asunmu will thus need all the strength she could muster as her 11.19 season’s best if repeated will only guarantee her a bronze medal.

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In recent past, Nigeria has not been able to produce quarter millers since the exit of Ogunkoya-Omotayo and the likes, this year’s race promises to be fierce battle as Etim Margaret and United States of America-based Noah Akwu will fight for who succeeds Osheku-Omotayo.

Osheku-Omotayo, it would be recalled dominated the women’s 400m for a very longtime during her hey days.

Bada, who is now on the board of the AFN after setting an European Indoor record in the men’s 400m for a very longtime before his retirement would be on the look out for who takes over from him. Also tipped as a possible successor to Ogunkoya-Omoyao is Ajoke Muizat Odumosu.

Odumosu is set to maintain her dominance in the women’s 400m hurdles, but to do that she must increase her pace as her closest rival will be US-based Leslie Njoku.

Stanley Gbagbeke and Tosin Oke have no contest in the men’s long and triple jump events, as they have automatic berth in both events.

Meanwhile, to make the trials a keenly contested one, Solomon Ogba, AFN President, increased the prize money for the athletes. For premium category, the gold medal cash prize was increased from N50,000 to N100,000, silver medal increased from N30,000 to N50,000 and bronze medal was increased from N20,000 to N50,000 respectively, while the cash prizes for the classic category will be N70,000 for gold medalist, N50,000 for silver and N30,000 for bronze.

Ogba also disclosed that random doping tests are being undertaken for the first time because the Federation takes it seriously that athlete can do well without taking drugs.

Meanwhile, former sponsors, Mobil Nigeria, who have helped in the discovery of athletes for Nigeria, ended their over six decades romance with the AFN, shortly before Cross River state accepted to host this year’s edition in Calabar.