Seems just like yesterday when the curtains fell on Glasgow 2014! Now four years after that memorable edition of the Commonwealth Games, there’s another one just around the corner for us to savour, this time, in far away Gold Coast, Australia.

What was telling about Glasgow was how Nigerian athletes held their own against some of the world’s best whom they matched up in their respective events. Who would forget the commanding performances from Blessing Okagbare who secured the sprint double, or a then relatively unknown Ese Brume winning the women’s Long Jump?

As the countdown to Gold Coast 2018 begins, we bring you Part 1 of our list of Top 8 Nigerian athletes to watch out for. Please do note that there’s no chronological order of ranking for these athletes, so we are bringing you all eight athletes randomly.

1. Blessing Okagbare
Depending on what you have seen or read about what event Blessing Okagbare will be competing in, it’s pertinent to note that she remains Nigeria’s headliner going to the Games, irrespective of the event she files out for.

Okagbare is the defending champion for both the women’s 100m and 200m, and until another winner emerges, she will be going into the Games as one of the favourites for any individual event she’s entered for.

In fact, Okagbare holds the women’s 100m Commonwealth Games Record of 10.85s, a time that may not be so easy to replicate this early in the outdoor season.

At the moment, Okagbare has been listed to run in just the women’s 4x100m relay, and having competed in the team that won Silver the last time with a time of 42.92s, no doubt, she would be angling for GOLD this time around.

Although many would expect to see Okagbare run the 200m especially after she stormed to a World Lead (WL) and African Record (AR) of 22.04s last weekend in what was her first race of the season, she might just be contented taking it one step at a time and not under any pressure to prove a point.

According to the Gold Coast 2018 provisional list, no Nigerian athlete has been entered for the women’s 200m just yet, and that is subject to change before the Games commence. However, if Okagbare decides to take up that challenge, she will be coming up against the likes of Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson and Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas.

For now, it looks like the sole target for Okagbare in Gold Coast is to inspire the relay team to win GOLD in the women’s 4x100m relay.

If Okagbare, who ran a breathtaking second leg to help Nigeria win GOLD in women’s 4x100m at the 2015 African Games can recreate that form from Congo Brazzaville, there’s no doubt that a fresh and well-rested Okagbare could be the tonic needed for Nigeria to claim GOLD in this particular event in a few days time.

 

2. Chukwuebuka Enekwechi
Until the 2017 World Championships in London, not many people on this side of the world knew who Chukwuebuka Enekwechi was, except that when he filed out to compete in London, he competed under the green and white colours and also bore a Nigerian name.

However, he has since been seen as the closest Nigerian Shot Put challenger to Stephen Mozia, with the latter being the country’s best in the event for the last five years, even holding a National Record of 21.76m, which he achieved two years ago.

Enekwechi, who made his first bow for Nigeria last year, did not progress to the final, having shown great promise when he threw a Personal Best (PB) of 21.07m just weeks to the commencement of the World Championships in London.

He must have learnt a thing or two from that outing and has no doubt honed his skills for subsequent global outings.

With Mozia not listed to compete for Nigeria, Enekwechi would undoubtedly want to rise to the occasion and be counted, knowing he has a big opportunity to land a global medal. He started this season with an Indoor PB of 20.89m which he threw earlier in January at the West Lafayette Invitational.

Although New Zealand’s Tom Walsh is the overwhelming favourite to win GOLD, having been dominant at both the World Champs in London and the Indoor Championships in Birmingham, all other medal placements are up for grabs.

Jamaica’s O’Dayne Richards is also a potential medallist, but if Enekwechi can match his PB or possibly set a new one, he could see himself finishing on the podium.

Enekwechi was runner up at the 2016 NCAA Championships in the Shot put and finished 6th in the Hammer throw, all on the same day. He will now be hoping the next medal he gets is in Gold Coast.

 

3. Patience Okon-George
Ask any keen follower of Athletics in Nigeria who the country’s most consistent female quarter-miler has been in the last four years, and your guess is as good as mine; you will get a resonating “Patience Okon-George” as your answer. It’s that crystal and an answer that many wouldn’t argue with.

Four years ago in Glasgow, Okon-George was not listed to compete in the individual 400m; however, she teamed up with the quartet that secured Silver in the 4x400m relay, shaving off almost 4s from their qualifying time of 3:28.28 in the heats and racing to a time of 3:24.71 in the final.

This time around, she will get the chance to run in the 400m, an opportunity she would relish, knowing that she’s in good stead to make the final, and would hope for a positive climax.

Patience Okon George will be hoping she could get on the podium in the women’s 400m

Currently ranked at No.7 in the world with a Season’s Best (SB) of 51.40s, Okon-George is definitely a medal contender going into the Commonwealth Games, even though she will be heading into a stacked field, as Botswana’s Amantle Montsho, Jamaica’s Stephanie McPherson, team mate Yinka Ajayi and South Africa’s Justine Palframan currently rank higher on the world standings.

Having lost a rare race to her Nigerian rival Ajayi in February, Okon-George must have gone back to analyze that race in order to identify what could have gone wrong, and what she could have done better to prevent that loss.

She will get better in Gold Coast and probably run faster than that her SB because not only will she be looking to match Montsho and McPherson, she also has to deal with the threat of Ajayi, a development that would no doubt spur her.

Can Okon-George match her PB of 50.71s which she set three years ago? It’s a tough call, but we are sure that her present SB will change after the Games in Australia.

 

4. Glory Nathaniel
As a member of a sporting family, last year, Glory Onome Nathaniel alongside her younger brother Samson made history when they became Nigeria’s first siblings to the World Championships in 18 years.

Since then she has gone on to become a mainstay in Nigerian Athletics, and now she’s the undisputed No.1 female 400m hurdler in the country. It’s particularly impressive that she’s making these giant strides as a home-based athlete.

Last year at her maiden World Championships, Nathaniel came close to making the 400m Hurdles final, finishing 4th in her semifinal heat with a time of 55.40s. However, that didn’t stand as she got disqualified for a rule violation which denied her an opportunity to finish 9th overall.

She did run very well in the first round where she clocked a PB of 55.30s and looked to have motored on from that before that semifinal disappointment.

This time around, Nathaniel would be hoping she can get into the final in Gold Coast, a step up from last year when she was marginally close to a World Champs final.

It has to be said that Nathaniel is going into this competition ranked 8th in the world, having clocked a Season’s Best of 56.14s at the Abuja Golden League.

It’s going to be tough when she comes up against the Jamaican duo of Ristananna Tracey and Janieve Russell, not forgetting Scotland’s Eilidh Doyle and South Africa’s Wenda Nel. However, at this stage, she has shown that stage fright can’t overwhelm her. If she makes the final, that would be great, and any other thing would be a bonus.

Having recently clocked a PB of 52.08s in the 400m, she will be a valuable asset to the Nigerian 4x400m team and also increase their chances to medal in this event. So, if she doesn’t medal in the 400m Hurdles, not to worry, there’s the 4x400m relays to literally put all her efforts into.

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Very proficient in writing and talking about football, but has now found a new love in Athletics. Just a matter of time before I become a master on things pertaining to the tracks. Formerly the Content Manager-Sports at NigerianBulletin and Allsports, Christopher is now a Senior Sports writer at Making of Champions.

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