From the underwhelming crowd to a surprise 100m Winner: Five things we learned from the Nigerian National Championships
The 2023 Nigerian Championships have come and gone with minimal buzz. Not that it wasn’t expected, but there were whispers a few days into the event that something might change. Nothing did. In fact, it was a balk. The juicy part of the Championships got wrapped up in a day and a half, and very few fans were interested in watching the Heptathlon and Decathlon.
Largely, a few athletes in the distance races got in new Personal Best under their belt while a large size of the home-based athletes were just happy to get into a competition. Perhaps the only shining light from the event was that Tobi Amusan graced it.
Here, we look at some of the talking points from this trial, and Nigerians wait with bated breath to select a pool of athletes that will represent the country at the World Championships in Budapest.
The underwhelming crowd on the home return of Tobi Amusan
This was Nigeria’s biggest athletics competition in a year, and it didn’t get the flavor of the fans. The country prides itself as one of the top sprinting nations in the world, as it has the third highest number of sub-10 male runners in history behind the United States and Jamaica. After the Renaissance, there was a renewed buzz around the sport that saw Tobi Amusan breaking the world record in the women’s 100m Hurdles last summer.
Against that backdrop, the Nigerian Championships, which was supposed to witness the home return of Amusan, didn’t live up to the hype. Barely 2000 people filled the over 30,000-capacity Samuel Ogbemudia stadium that hosted the event. As expected, Amusan won her race to add a third national title to the collection, but she was less than impressed with the fans that churned out to support her.
Tobi Amusan warming up in Benin, Nigeria with the Nigerian Athletics Championships, photo by Deji Ogeyingbo.
Two reasons might have mitigated this outcome. Firstly, the federation didn’t do enough publicity of the event from a media and marketing angle, and secondly, the removal of fuel subsidy that which has tripled the price of premium motor spirit has made most Nigerians become calculative before leaving their houses. It wasn’t worth it. Still, that was what broadcasting the event from a media perspective would have solved. They did neither.
The men’s 100m gets a surprise winner.
All through the first sixth month of the year, Nigerians were agog with the new-found form of Godson Oghenebrume, Udodi Onwuzurike, and Favour Ashe. All three had reached the final of the NCAA Championships and dipped in ten seconds. Cue in the National Championships, and only Ashe came around to Benin.
Favor Ashe, 100m, 2022 Nigerian Champs, photo by Deji Ogeyingbo
Meanwhile, a certain Usheoritse Itsekiri was gradually getting the job done in Canada. He had run 10.02, 10.03, and 10.05 before coming for the Nigerian Championships. And in Benin, he proved that he’s the most consistent 100m runner on the grid as he won the National title for the second time in his career after he won it for the first time in 2019.
If Nigeria can qualify its men’s 4x100m team (they currently sit 21st on the world ranking), they will have a very strong squad for the relays.
Prosper Ekporere is the real deal.
“Trust God’s timing” was what Liberty University Freshman Prosper Ekporere let out when he emerged winner of the men’s 110m Hurdles. He clocked a time of 13.66 to capture the title, eclipsing his own record Personal Best of 13.67, set at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet on May 24 in Jacksonville.
For an athlete that was struggling with injury when he got to the United States for school, this was a landmark win for the 20-year-old sprint Hurdler. The time moves him up to number 9 on the Nigerian all-time top list and number 35 in Africa. With potentially a full season under his belt going into next season, he’s one athlete Nigerians should keep an eye on.
Ashley Anumba continues to give Chioma Onyekwere a run for her money
When Ashley Anumba first represented Nigeria in the women’s Discus at the 2019 African games in Rabat and finished 4th overall, it marked the sign of a new beginning for Nigerian throws as a lot of focus had been on the trio of Sade Olatoye (Hammer), Chioma Onyekwere (Discus) and Chukwuebuka Enekwechi (Shot Put).
Having played second fiddle to Onyekwere for a while, with the latter snagging the 2022 Commonwealth Games and African title, Anumba has emerged from the shadows and steadily improved on her Personal Best times.
After usurping Onyekwere to the National Sports Festival title, Anumba won the Tucson Elite Classic meet in April, throwing 60.97m. By virtue of that win, she joined her compatriot as the first pair of African women’s Discus throwers to throw above 59 meters in the same season since 2014 and the first pair of Nigerians to ever do it in the same season.
Ashley Anumba, photo by Deji Ogeyingbo
Now in Benin, the 24-year Old has now beaten Onyekwere for the fourth time in her career as she recorded a new Personal Best of 61.98m to win the National title for the first time. Nigeria surely has a gem on her hands.
The AFN needs to get its axe right by organizing a competition of this magnitude.
The National Athletics Championships used to be a spectacle in the late eighties and nighties. Fans looked forward to it in anticipation, and the media was agog with stories and rivalries. Even the BBC ran live commentaries. It was that big.
What Nigeria has now is a shadow of itself. Barley, any media covers the National Championships live, so athletes struggle to see their races. Then there is the issue of the required out-of-competition test for the home-based athletes as they select them based on their potential to get into the world championships. It’s a real mess, and the federation needs to change things for the better drastically.