Birmingham 2018, a building block for exploits

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IN less than 50 days, some of the world’s best athletes will converge in Birmingham for the 2018 World Indoor Championships, the major IAAF event of the year, and when the competition takes off from March 1, it would be exactly 10 years since Nigeria last won a medal at the biennial championship.

Even though the World Indoors is less glamorous than the World (outdoor) Championships, it is interesting to note that Nigeria has enjoyed a better performance in the former than the latter, having amassed a total of 11 medals (Two Gold, Six Silver and Three Bronze) at the World Indoors, as compared to the tally of eight medals secured at the World Championships.

File photo: Athletes

Olusoji Fasuba was Nigeria’s last medalist at the competition, a feat he achieved in 2008 in Valencia where he raced to the men’s 60m title with a then world-leading time of 6.51s, beating Great Britain’s Dwain Chambers (6.54s) and Kim Collins (6.54s) to become the continent’s first ever (and only) winner of the event. Teammate Uche Isaac who was also in that race, finished 6th. Furthermore, Damola Osayomi and Franca Idoko both competed in the women’s 60m final where they placed 6th and 7th respectively.

The country’s only other World Indoors Gold medalist is the late Sunday Bada (Nigeria’s most decorated athlete), who won the men’s 400m in 1997 in Paris, having settled for Silver in the 1993 and 1995 editions respectively.

Paul Emordi was the country’s first World Indoors medalist. The former African Champion took a Silver medal behind USA’s Larry Myricks in the men’s Long Jump in 1987, paving the way for his countrymen to follow suit. Chidi Imoh ensured that Nigeria was represented on the podium in 1991 in Seville, winning the Bronze medal in the men’s 60m, while Davidson Ezinwa did same at the 1997 edition of the championships.

In fact, Nigeria recorded her best performance at the 1997 World Indoors where Chioma Ajunwa’s Silver in the women’s Long Jump, Francis Obikwelu’s Bronze in the 200m, alongside Bada’s 400m Gold and Ezinwa’s Bronze, made it a total of four medals from a single championship. The country’s final World Indoors medalists are Falilat Ogunkoya (400m Silver) and Glory Alozie (60m Hurdles Silver), who also made the podium in 1999 in Maebashi.

Unfortunately, Fasuba’s superb performance in 2008 was followed by years of drought in Nigerian Track and Field, which the country is yet to fully recover from. Even getting to the final of an individual event has now become a tall order. Only a handful of athletes have been able to make the final of their events at the World Indoors.

One of such is former hurdler Seun Adigun, who is now the captain of the Nigerian women’s Bobsled team to the Winter Olympics. Adigun got to the final of the 2012 World Indoors in Istanbul, finishing 8th in the 60m Hurdles. Gloria Asumnu finished 6th and 7th respectively in the 60m in the 2012 and 2014 editions of the championship, much to her credit.

At the last edition of the World Indoors, Portland 2016, even though a number of Nigerian athletes made the final, most of them still ended far from the medals zone. Ogho-Oghene Egwero who was the only representative in the 60m, was unable to qualify out of the heats, while same also happened with Chidi Okezie in the men’s 400m. Ironically, no Nigerian woman competed in the 400m which was eventually won by Kemi Adekoya while running in Bahraini colours.

Stephen Mozia made the men’s Shot put final but finished a distant 12th, while National Record holder in the women’s High Jump, Doreen Amata placed 9th in her event. Tosin Oke was 6th in the men’s Triple jump final, while the men and women’s 4x400m relay teams settled for 4th and 5th place respectively.

With less than 50 days before the 2018 World Indoors, it would be unrealistic to expect a lot from the Nigerian team, with a good number of athletes currently in camp in preparation for the Commonwealth Games holding in Gold Coast, Australia in April. Considering that the season is starting earlier than usual, one wonders if the athletes would start to peak as early as March.

The prevailing sentiment though, is for the athletes to use the World Indoors as preparation for the Commonwealth Games, as that will most likely be the only international competition the team will compete in before the Games.

The World Indoors may not be as big as the World Championships, but if the opportunities it presents are maximized, the competition could serve as a launching pad to greater exploits in an athlete’s career. For instance, after scooping a Silver medal at the 1999 World Indoors in March, Alozie went on to win another Silver at the World outdoors in August of the same year, before securing another Silver medal at the Sydney Olympics the following year.

Venezuela’s Golden girl Yulimar Rojas used the 2016 World Indoors as a stepping stone to bigger things. The 22-year old won the women’s Triple Jump event in Portland and went on to finish 2nd behind veteran Caterine Ibarguen at the Olympic Games in Rio. However, she staged an upset by defeating Ibarguen at the 2017 World Championships in London to win her country’s first ever World (outdoor) Championships Gold medal and has now become the woman to beat in her event!

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