By Joseph Aigbonosumua
After the initial travel glitches that saw some teams stranded at the Lagos Airport for some days, the stage is now set for action at the 21st African Senior Athletics Championships in Asaba, Delta State.
The opening ceremony of the CAA Asaba 2018 will be taking place inside the newly-completed Stephen Keshi stadium with a record 52 African countries set to begin the battle for honours in the continent’s biggest athletics event.
This is just the second time that a Nigerian city will be hosting the African Championships; with the last coming 29 years ago in Lagos the then country’s capital city.
While Nigeria won when it hosted Africa almost three decades ago, not many are sure of the country repeating the same feat in the championships that will run from August 1-5 in Asaba.
The last time Nigeria topped the medals table at the biennial athletics championships was three editions ago, at Porto Novo in Benin in 2012, but since then South Africa have taken over; winning back-to-back titles in Marrakech (2014) and Durban (2016).
Indeed, no one would really want to bet against the South Africans completing a hat-trick of African titles in Asaba; but it might not come easy; especially with the ‘tortuous’ journey from Lagos to Asaba.
South Africa’s world and Olympic 800 meters champion Caster Semenya is on the line to represent her nation once again and it would be a major upset if she misses out on the gold in Asaba.
Also, world long jump champion, Luvo Manyonga, is in the South Africa squad that are raring to go in Asaba.
Semenya won gold medals in the 800m, 1500m and 4x400m at the last African Championships in Durban two years ago.
Will she be able to do same in Delta State in the days ahead?
Nigeria’s Seye Ogunlewe and Ogho-Oghene Egwero can also shake tables in Asaba.
The Kenyan team has been the worst hit as far as the poor travel arrangements preceding the African Championships are concerned and it now looks more difficult for them to achieve their aim of unseating South Africa at the summit.
The Kenyans finished just behind South Africa in the last African Championships and they had made known their mission to overthrow the Rainbow Nation in Asaba.
An official of the Kenya team had told PREMIUM TIMES that they are taking CAA Asaba 2018 quite seriously and that informed the quality selection at their National Trials.
He said while they hope to consolidate on their strongholds in the long-distant races, they will also be making in-roads in the sprints as well as the field events where they have a World Champion in Julius Yego in the Javelin event.
Team Nigeria prospects
For Nigeria, the medal prospects are also quite bright, as the country can look up to the likes of Chukwuebuka Enekwechi in the Shot-Put event.
Enekwechi took the silver medal behind New Zealand’s world champion Tomas Walsh at the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast in April.
He threw 21.14 metres on that occasion and has a best of 21.22, which is comfortably more than the Championship record of 21.01 held by South Africa’s Janus Robberts.
Amusan won gold in the women’s 100m hurdles event at the last Commonwealth Games and while speaking to journalists, she promised that she and her colleagues will put their best foot forward.
“We are ready and keen to make the country proud,” she said; denying that Team Nigeria athletes are under undue pressure.
Also, Ese Brume in the women’s long jump and Queen Obisesan in the women’s hammer are medal prospects.
Expectedly also, there would also be high expectations in the women’s 100m and 200m with homegirl (Delta State indigene) Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor in action.
Okagbare will be battling it out against majorly her West African rivals top of which is Ivorian, Marie Josee Ta Lou, who erased her previous African record.
The absence, through injury of Botswana’s Isaac Makwala also leaves the men’s 200m open, and home sprinter Divine Oduduru will be one of the top challengers for Gold.
Aside from the strong field of athletes in Asaba, other eminent sporting personalities are in town including the IAAF President, Lord Sebastian Coe.