Just two months ago, the name Mark Jelks was largely unheard of in Nigeria, but that was before he arrived in Calabar for the National Athletics Championships in June. That was where Jelks announced his arrival as Nigeria’s new fastest man, as he completely dominated the field on his way to winning the highly coveted men’s 100 metres title. On that occasion, Jelks beat former Champions Ogho-Oghene Egwero and Obinna Metu in dominant fashion, as it became clear that over the next couple of years, he will likely be the athlete to beat as far as the men’s 100m on the home front is concerned!
In just a few days from now, Jelks will once more stand a strong chance of winning his first African title when the 19th African Senior Championships get underway in Marrakech, Morocco. The newly converted Nigerian athlete will take on his second assignment in the green and white colours, straight from the Commonwealth Games where he put up a commendable effort in his first outing for the world’s most populous black nation.
He won his 100m heat in 10.28s, beating the Commonwealth’s fastest man this year (Richard Thompson) in the process, and was eventually the only African representative in the final where he finished fifth in an SB of 10.13s. In the 4x100m heats, he even had the audacity to stare down the world’s fastest man himself, Usain Bolt, as they crossed the finish line together!
That said, in terms of times, Jelks comes to Morocco as the fifth on the African 100m list this season, behind South Africa’s duo of Simon Magakwe (9.98s) and Akani Simbine (10.02s), Gerald Phiri of Zambia (10.03s) and Zimbabwe’s Gabriel Mvumvure (10.07s). Despite their top spots in the rankings, neither of the South African pair qualified for the Commonwealth 100m final, as Magakwe could only manage 7th place in the semis, while Simbine placed 4th in the semis with 10.21s.
Can the Southern Africans bounce back at these African Championships, or will Jelks once again prove the man of the moment, and add the African crown to his Nigerian Title? It would certainly be an interesting story if Jelks wins, given the controversy that has followed the athletes that bloggers are popularly calling the “Naijamericans” since their switches of allegiances from Team USA to Nigeria.
It would no doubt be of some significance if Jelks or one of his Nigerian teammates make the podium – as in the Commonwealth Games, Monzavous Edwards and Egwero are mostly likely to complete the trio for the individual 100 meteres. Despite Nigeria’s historical dominance of the sprints at the African Championships, no Nigerian has reached the podium in the 100 metres since the 2008 edition, when Olusoji Fasuba and Uchenna Emedolu were the GOLD and Silver medallists. Jelks is looking the most likely man to break that barren run in Marrakesh!
Men’s 100m Schedule: August 10th – Round 1 @ 10am, Semis @ 8.25pm, August 11th – Final @ 6.10pm.
(NB: This program is liable to change according to the number of participants and the local conditions)