Team Nigeria’s 4x100m quartet of Gloria Asumnu, Blessing Okagbare, Dominique Duncan and Peace Uko salvaged some pride for the nation despite only finishing 7th in 42.99s in a closely fought race in the Finals of the World Relays on Sunday night in Nassau, Bahamas. The team was the only one of Nigeria’s four 4x100m and 4x400m teams to finish in the Top 8 of their event and qualify automatically for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Running from Lane 1, Asumnu got the team off to a solid start on the first leg, handing off to Commonwealth 100/200m Champion Okagbare who ran a monster leg as she flew past the Swiss team in Lane 2. By the time Okagbare handed off to Duncan they were well in contention for a medal. Uko received the baton on the anchor leg in third place and she was very close to defending that medal position until she stumbled a little a few metres before the finish line.
Jamaica, anchored by Veronica Campbell-Brown, got the GOLD in a World Lead (WL) time of 42.14s, while Team USA, which included both Allyson Felix and Carmelita Jeter in their quartet, had to settle for the Silver in 42.32s. Team GB, anchored by Margaret Adeoye, claimed the Bronze in 42.84s, but it was a photo finish, as only 0.15s separated Britain in 3rd and Nigeria in 7th, with Canada, Trinidad & Tobago, and Brazil finishing in fourth, fifth and sixth respectively.
Despite the team not picking up a medal, they performed admirably in ensuring that Nigeria will definitely have a women’s 4x100m quartet at the Olympics in Rio next year, which is more than can be said for Nigeria’s men’s and women’s 4x400m teams, neither of whom were able to progress from their heats yesterday for today’s final races. The women’s quartet, featuring only one surviving member of the Bronze medal winning quartet from last year in Patience Okon George, was unable to race the B Final today due to injury and no substitutes being available.
Nigeria’s men’s 4x100m did not even start their race on Saturday, presumably because they did not have a full team to present. For a country with Nigeria’s history in the relays – the team races are responsible for 8 of our 13 Olympic medals in history – it is almost inconceivable that the nation cannot present a men’s 4x100m team at the World Relays, especially when very capable sprinters such as Seye Ogunlewe were not invited to the team.
The Final Day of the World Relays was brought to a climax with the men’s 4x400m, the most popular track even in the Bahamas, ever since their ‘Golden Knights’, led by the ageless Chris ‘Fireman’ Brown, triumphed over the might of Team USA at the London 2012 Olympics. This time USA had the last laugh, triumphing in a WL of 2:58.43s, while the Bahamians had to settle for Silver in front of their vociferous home fans, in 2:58.91s. A Belgium team comprising of three Borlee brothers finished third in a new National Record of 2:59.33s!
Other highlights on the final day of the World Relays included a men’s 4x200m win for Team Jamaica, who in the absence of Usain Bolt were anchored by Warren Weir to victory in 1:20.97s, exacting revenge for their 4x100m loss to USA the night before – this time Team USA dropped the baton and were disqualified.
USA comfortably swept most of the other events on the night as they won the ‘Golden Baton’, awarded to the best overall team, as they did in the inaugural World Relays last year. They carted home the women’s 4x400m and 4x800m in Championships Records of 3:19.39s and 8:00.62s respectively, while the icing on the cake was their World Record of 9:15.50s in the 10-lap Distance Medley Relay (1200m, 400m, 800m & 1600m).
Overall USA, Jamaica and Poland finished in the ‘podium’ positions in the race for the Golden Baton with 63, 46 and 34 points respectively. Team Nigeria finished 12th out of 23 nations overall with 10 points (8 points for the women’s 4x200m GOLD on Saturday, and 2 points for the 7th place finish in the women’s 4x100m on Sunday).
Undoubtedly the 4x200m GOLD means that Team Nigeria has improved on the solitary Bronze medal posted at last year’s edition, but that should not paper over the cracks that there is still a lot of room for improvement in Nigeria’s preparation for major tournaments, and that serious investment in developing athletes in Nigeria is needed, particularly on the men’s side.
For now we can all celebrate a job well done for Nigeria at the 2nd World Relays and wish the team the best of luck for the rest of the season and the World Championships in Beijing in August!