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After a near historic outing in the just concluded Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, Team Nigeria heads to Morocco to defend its African Athletics Championship. Will the team redeem itself in Marrakesh, asks Olisemeka Obeche.
For the second time in less than two months, Nigeria’s quest for a major breakthrough in major sporting competition ended in a near-miss. Just as Super Eagles’ late capitulation against France robbed it a historic World Cup Quarter-Finals berth last June in Brazil, Team Nigeria was a gold-medal away from breaking its Commonwealth Games’ medal haul record in Glasgow, Scotland but fell short by one gold medal.
Team Nigeria finished the 2014 Commonwealth Games in the eighth position on the final medals table behind South Africa with 11 gold, 11 silver and 14 bronze medals amassed in the multi- sports event. Nigeria’s 12th gold medal was chalked off after the winner Miss Chika Amalaha failed a doping test. The Nigerian youngest female weightlifter was on the cusp of history after bagging the country’s first gold medal in the women’s 53kg category; but tests on samples of urine provided by the 16-year-old Amalaha shortly after her triumph later revealed traces of diuretics and masking agents culminating in her ban and stripping of the gold medal.
Had Amalaha’s gold medal not been stripped, Nigeria would have ended the tournament on a historic note, a development that could have added a gloss to the Jonathan administration’s strings of successes in the sporting sector in recent times.
Although, the result equals the previous records of Nigeria’s best Commonwealth Games outings of 11 gold medals achieved in New Delhi, India in 2010 and Victoria, Canada in 1994, sports analysts say it felt short of national expectations.
“For a country of over 160 million people, hugely talented in various kinds of sports and with enormous resources to spend on sports development, the medals obtained by Team Nigeria at the just concluded Commonwealth Games in Glasgow is below pass mark,” reckons Pastor Emeka Alex, a former athlete.
Okagbare’s excellent performance
Despite the disappointment of not reaching a new medals-haul milestone in Glasgow, Blessing Okagbare’s outstanding performance in athletes ensured Nigeria enjoyed some ravenous moments during the fiesta. Topping the list of some notable stand-out performers from Team Nigeria who made their marks in Glasgow is Okagbare who set a new Games Record in the 100m Women’ s event and another gold in 200m.
Okagbare’s blistering run and the resultant 10.85 seconds finish, ahead of Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown and Kerron Stewart, earned the Delta-born sprinter a new Commonwealth Games record. “A new season’s best and win… I am so excited,” exclaims the heroic sprinter after beating the previous 10.91 seconds set by Debie Ferguson in Manchester 2006. “I’m happy I was able to put on a show. I executed it and stayed patient like my coach said I should after 70 meters, it just felt easy,” adds the 25-year-old tracks queen who won long-jump silver and 200m bronze at the 2013 World Championships in Russia.
Sports Minister, Tamuno Danagogo was full of praises for Okagbare. “Okagbare has shown that with determination you can achieve your dream in whatever endeavour you set out for yourself. She has been consistent and has remained focused despite missing the ultimate medal in some competitions before now,” said the minister.
Apart from Okagbare, a number of athletes also proved their mettle against their competitors in different events, earning gold, silver and bronze medals respectively for the country. Also remarkable was the performance of the country’s table tennis team which claimed bronze medals after defeating India 3-1 in the men’s team event. The team made up of Segun Toriola, Ojo Onaolapo and Qadri Haruna had to shake-off a painful semi-finals loss to Singapore to beat India.
Although, critics regard the bronze medal triumph of Nigeria’s table-tennis team as poor result, some analysts commended the team for making it to the podium after a medal-less campaign in Delhi 2010 by beating a highly rated India.
African Championship defense
As Team Nigeria prepares to go to Marrakesh, Morocco for the 2014 Africa Athletics Championships after the Commonwealth Games, attention has shifted to its preparedness to defend the continental crown won two years ago(2012) in Porto Novo, Benin Republic.
Nigeria had a historic championship in Porto Novo, winning 10 gold, 6 silver and 5 bronze medals to top the table for the first time in over a decade, ahead of Kenya and South Africa respectively. And Team Nigeria is expected to defend the title against largely well-prepared opponents in Marrakesh.
However, with the championship coming fast on the heels of the Commonwealth Games where Nigeria finished just below South Africa, the country’s contingent are reportedly in high spirit and optimistic of another continental triumph and record breakthrough. “After what happened at the Commonwealth Games, all the countries participating in the African Championships will want to beat Nigeria, but we shall defend our title successfully”, boasts Team Nigeria’s Technical Coordinator, Yussuf Alli.
“I am confident that we shall dominate the four relays, the sprint events, hurdles, jumps and win enough gold medals to be adjudged the best in Africa,” he adds.
The question playing out in the minds of sports followers across the nation and beyond is: will Team Nigeria ride on the crest of huge support from the Presidency to achieve a record-breaking feat in Morocco or fall short of expectations as it did in Glasgow? Only time will tell.