With the 2016 Rio Olympic Games less than three months away, athletes all over the world are battling in various competitions and events in the ongoing athletics season as they work hard to meet the International Association of Athletics Federations’ entry standards for their various events.
The IAAF in April 2015 released the standards for qualification for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil and since then athletes all over the world have been struggling to meet them.
Nigerian athletes – both home- based and overseas-based – are not left out of the race to meet these standards as they also compete in various meets all over the world. Overseas-based athletes like Blessing Okagbare, Tosin Oke, Stephen Mozia and recently, Tobi Amusan, and Margaret Bamgbose have met the standards in their various disciplines.
Okagbare has met the 11.32secs standard for women 100m since 2015 and also the 20.50secs standard for the 200m. Oke also has met the 16.90m for the men’s triple jump while Amusan ran 12.83secs at a recent event to meet the 13.47secs for the 100m triple jump and Bamgbose ran a personal best of 51.11secs at the Atlantic Coast Conference Outdoor Championships last week to meet the 52.00secs entry standard for the women’s 400m. For Mozia, the 20.45m in shot put has been met in January.
Other overseas-based athletes like Gloria Asumnu, who ran a season best of 11.34secs in Texas recently, Claire Uke, who threw 15.83m in shot put and 45.73m in discus recently, and Ngozi Onwumere, who ran 23.22secs at the Mt Sacs Relays in April, are working harder towards meeting the standards. In the heptathlon, Uhunoma Osazuwa, also continues to work towards meeting the standard of 6200 points while Peter Moreno does the same to meet the 8100 points required for the decathlon. Doreen Amata also has a 1.94m to meet in the high jump to make Rio 2016 – her season best is 1.88m, which was achieved at the Georgia Tech Invitational Meet, USA, in April.
In the relays, the two women relay teams – 4×100 and 4×400 – have qualified for the 2016 Olympics along with Brazil, France, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Poland and the United States of America, by virtue of their top eight placement at the 2014 IAAF World Relays in The Bahamas. The athletes who achieved the feat for the country were overseas-based.
The men’s relay teams have yet to meet theirs and the country’s outing at the 2016 Penn Relays in Philadelphia, USA, ended badly. The men 4x400m team – consisting Chidi Okezie (46.6sesc), Miles Ukaoma (46.4secs), Noah Akwu (46.54secs) and Orukpe Erayokan (47.27secs) ran 3:06.81sec while the women’s team, which had Patience Okon (52.3secs), Regina George (53.1secs), Rita Ossai (53.02secs) and Folashade Abugan (53.96secs), ran 3:32.37secs. The team was made up predominantly of home-based athletes.
The 4×100 team which had Marquis Fraizer, Obinna Metu, Odele Tega, Nicholas Imhoaperamhe finished fourth with a time of 40.40secs, which was not enough to meet the standard.
Despite the seeming readiness of the country’s athletes for the Olympics, most of Nigeria’s home-based have yet to meet the standards as the clock ticks away towards Rio 2016. The home-based athletes have been in limbo since the start of the year having had no event to take part in.
They are however, in a race against time to meet the standards as the Athletic Federation of Nigeria threw the season open early this month with the All Comers at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos which was followed by the first of the four Golden League Meets in Abuja last week.
The AFN Golden Leagues will hold in May and June. The Abuja leg held on May 14 while the Port Harcourt leg will hold on May 21 and the Ilorin leg will come up on May 28.The finals will hold in Akure, Ondo State on June 4.
The federation, thereafter, will select the team which will represent the country at the 2016 Confederation of African Senior Athletics Championships, which is the 20th edition. The event will take place from June 22 to 26 in Durban, South Africa. Nigeria finished as runners-up behind South Africa at the last edition in Morocco and would be hoping to put up a more formidable challenge this term.
In addition, the athletes are to meet the standards for the Olympics before July 12, when the IAAF would publish the list of all qualified athletes for the Olympics.
But the results from All Comers Meet and the Abuja Golden Leagues have shown that the home-based athletes have a tough task ahead of them as they compete with their overseas-based counterparts in the race for spots in the Nigerian Olympic team in 2016.
In the men’s 100m, the IAAF entry standard is 10.16secs but Divine Oduduru began the season with a 10.36secs finish at the All Comers in Lagos before finishing with 10.48secs at the Abuja Golden League. Egwero Ogho-Oghene ran 10.24secs in Abuja while Imhoaperamhe Nicholas ran 10.52secs. Tega Odele, ran 10.85secs while former national champion, Obinna Metu ran 10.36secs in Abuja.
For the women’s 100m, Agnes Osazuwa ran 11.51secs at the All Comers but finished in 11.54secs in Abuja. Peace Uko, who also had ran 11.54secs in Lagos, finished in 11.52secs in Abuja. Mercy Ntiabong finished in11.65secs. The standard for the event is 11.32secs.
For the men’s 200m, which standard is 20.52secs, Oduduru ran 20.64secs in Abuja, Odele ran 21.11secs, Metu ran 20.65secs while Imhoaperamhe ran 21.39.
In the women’s 200m, which standard is 23.20secs, Praise Idamadudu ran 23.76secs in Abuja, Ntiabong finished in 23.83secs while Justina Sule ran 24.53secs and Francis Ruth finished in 24.78secs.
The standard for the men and women’s 400m is 45.40secs and 2015 All Africa Games gold medallist, Orukpe Erayokan, could only manage a season best of 46.41secs but Isah Salihu ran 47.62secs while in the women’s 400m, which has a 52.00secs standard, Patience George, who is a 2015 AAG silver medallist in the event, ran 52.11secs in Abuja and Idamadudu ran 53.54secs.
In the long jump, 2014 Commonwealth Games champion, Ese Brume, has a standard of 6.70m to meet. Her best at the Abuja Golden League was a 6.54m ahead of Ruth Usoro (5.99m) and Abire Mercy (5.96m). Brume had started the season with a 55.53secs finish in the 400m in Lagos.
Also, 2015 AAG women’s javelin champion, Kelechi Nwanaga, has a standard of 61.00m to meet. Her two outings of 50.98m in Lagos and 51.85m in Abuja leaves a lot of deficit in the race to Rio. Her best of 52.70m in 2015 has also yet to meet the standard.
Nwanaga believes she can meet the standard before the date of the lists publication.
“I’m expecting to hit the Olympic standard in my subsequent competitions. The first outings of the season are usually not too good but as the season progresses I will improve,” she said.
With the Nigerian team’s performance at the London 2012 Games, where the country had no medal despite qualifying for some of these events, athletics coach, Tobias Igwe, said the home-based athletes have to go the extra-mile to prove themselves worthy of a place in Rio.
“There is still a little more time for them to work on their times to meet the standard,” he told our correspondent during the week.
“Some of them are on course because they also want to be at the Olympics. They know what it takes to be there. The Olympics is a good thing for the career of any athlete. The likes of Divine Oduduru is improving with the work being done on him. He can run the 100m in under 10 seconds.
“There are good athletes on the home scene, what they need is regular competition and not being left to wither away after competitions and their discovery. I believe more than one of them will do well and even at the African Championships.”
Former African 400m champion, Falilat Ogunkoya, supports Igwe’s view.
The Olympic medallist said, “The standards have been there for a while and they serve as a guide or target for athletes to work towards. The athletes still have some more time to prepare for the Olympics and they can still meet up with the standard, especially in the sprints and relays. It will only take a lot of things from them, but they can still meet up with it and get qualification for the Olympics.
“The athletes need hard work to achieve the task of meeting up. The few months ahead would be busy for them as they compete at events. The Olympic qualification is itself a motivation enough to spur them to work harder but the federation can also work with some of them as they embark on their trainings to monitor their progress. The pride of wearing the national colours is still there and also enough to motivate them to get it done if the right support is given to them.”
But athletics enthusiast, Prince Rashid, believes it will take a miracle for the athletes to meet these standards.
He said, “The AFN Golden League is scheduled for May/June and the African Championship is also in June. To qualify for the Olympics, the athletes have to meet their required times before July 12 so that it can be listed on that date. The AFN scheduling the Golden League for the purpose of Rio 2016 is not well planned. Essentially, they believe all athletes must perform a miracle in the month of June alone to meet IAAF standard by July 12, which I think is not possible.”
Also, Igwe, who is popularly called Toblow said, “There is really not much the athletes can do to meet the standard besides dedication and commitment. But to improve athletics in Nigeria, the grassroots must be watched for talented athletes, especially from primary or secondary schools. We should begin preparations for the next Olympics immediately after this one.”