Hopes of Nigeria returning to the zenith of African athletics fizzled out yesterday as the country’s contingent finished second on the medals table at the 17th African Athletics Championships in Nairobi, Kenya.
Team Nigeria’s haul of three more gold medals on the final day was not enough to take it to the top as host Kenya won the championships with 10 gold, seven silver and eight bronze medals while Nigeria held on to the second spot for the second successive championships with eight gold, five silver and five bronze medals.
Final gold rush
Kenya also topped the rankings table with 354.0 points while Nigeria came second with 198.0 points with South Africa and Ethiopia coming third and fourth respectively with 170.0 and 145.0 points.
Though both Nigeria and Kenya were tied on five gold medals coming to the final day of competition with South Africa staying on top of the standings, athletics watchers knew it would be a straight fight between the host and Nigeria with the hosts winning five gold medals on the final day to emerge champions.
Nigeria’s gold medallists on the final day were Damola Osayomi, who ran 23.36 personal season’s best in 200 metres to make up for her unsuccessful defence of the 100m title, and veteran Mariam Ibekwe, whose 13.67m effort was good enough for gold.
Team Nigeria also won the women’s 4x400 metres relay with the quartet of Sade Abugan, Margaret Etim, Bukola Agbokunloko while Ajoke Odumosu lost the 400m hurdles gold to Morocco’s Hayat Lambarki coming home first in 3:29.26.
The men’s quartet of Saul Weigopwa, Godday James,Tobi Ogunmola and Isah Salhu, however, failed to make their run golden save for triple jumper, Tosin Oke who picked the gold with a new personal best. The quartet placed third in 3:06.53 with Kenya (3:02.96) and Botswana (3:05.16) coming first and second respectively.
Nigeria’s star of the championships was Blessing Okagbare, who, despite running with injury equalled Mary Onyali’s three-gold medal feat in a single championships feat achieved at the championships. Okagbare won the gold in the 100m and erased Onyali’s 12-year old championships best in the process. She also won the women’s long jump although Chioma Ajunwa’s championships record of 6.78m remained intact as well as anchor the 400 relay team to gold and a new 43.45 championships record.
In all, the women won seven of the eight gold, three of the five silver and also three of the five bronze medals Nigeria won at the championships.
Athletic Federation of Nigeria president, Solomon Ogba, expressed satisfaction with the performance of the team and believes the team can only get better.
“Two years ago we came second behind South Africa with seven gold to the South Africans 12. But here we have narrowed the gap and by 2012 Nigeria should return to the top of the medals table and dominate African Athletics like we last did in 1998 when we won 10 gold, seven silver and five bronze medals’, Ogba said .
Nigeria’s best placing since then has been two second place finishes in 2008 and 2010.
The championships is serving as selection trials for the IAAF/VTB Bank Continental Cup (formerly IAAF World Cup in Athletics) holding in Split, Croatia, from September 4 to 5 this year
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