Just like in 2020, the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA) will be hosting
the inaugural Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) All-Comers meet to commence the Nigerian Athletics 2021 season. With so many athletes eager to gauge how their build-up programme has been, Akure provides the perfect ground to have a competition-based assessment.

After the prospects of the Tokyo Olympics was given a boost, following Japan’s
insistence on going ahead with the Games, athletes go into local competitions
knowing there’s something to look forward to this year.

For some Nigerian athletes, Akure portends a good omen as it has been a good
Olympics qualification ground for many. Ese Brume qualified for her first Olympics competing in Akure in 2016, jumping a then Personal Best of 6.83m. At the same
meet, Patience Okon-George ran 51.06s to confirm her ticket to Rio, while for
Making of Champion’s Joy Udo-Gabriel, it was in Akure that she ran her first sub
12s, clocking 11.87s when she was still 17.

The women’s 100m should be a mouthwatering contest, and will be a continuation of
the brewing rivalry between Grace Nwokocha and Udo-Gabriel, kicking off 2021
from where they left off in 2020 while competing in Asaba.

Grace Nwokocha was impressive in the women’s 100m at the Akure All-Comers last season.

Nwokocha finished 2020 as the fastest Nigerian woman in the 100m, running a
Personal Best (PB) of 11.45s in Asaba, but she had posted a time of 11.38s in Ado-Ekiti
(NWI) earlier in the season. For Udo-Gabriel who finished the year with a Season’s
Best (SB) of 11.49s, there’s a renewed hunger to claim the mantle of the fastest athlete
based in Nigeria.

While the women’s shorter sprints look to be two-way or potentially three-way if
Praise Idamadudu (11.54s PB last year) opts to start with the 100m again like she
did in 2020, the men’s category will have a much evenly matched cast.

Enoch Adegoke, Jerry Jakpa, Ogho-Oghene Egwero and Emmanuel Arowolo; four
athletes with Olympics aspiration all start an early race on who gets into the
Nigerian team. Egwero twice ran 10.23s last season in Benin, and it was quite early in the season when he had not yet peaked.

Jakpa makes up a lot of ground to beat Adegoke and Egwero in their 100m semis at the National Sports Festival

Adegoke will feel that he is close to securing an Olympic qualification, running a PB
of 10.12s in 2019 at the MoC Grand Prix. Last year, he finished his season with an
SB of 10.29s Renowned for his bullet start, if Adegoke is ahead after 60m, there is hardly any catching him.

Although Jakpa may not be considered as a 100m favourite, with the 200m being his specialty, he proved last November that he’s also in the mix. Jakpa was the surprise winner in Asaba, running undetected to emerge a clear winner ahead of Egwero and Adegoke. Jakpa will have his sights more on his preferred event (200m), finishing 2020 as the second-fastest Nigerian with an SB of 20.71s.

Favour Ofili may have departed alongside a horde of Nigerian athletes who secured scholarships to study abroad. While she would have been the top challenger, the long-awaited duel against Imaobong Nse Uko will now get a new date, possibly at the National Championships, keeping the fans salivating on that match-up.

Both Uko and Ofili have never raced against each other before and are the
fastest rising prospects in the quarter-mile for Nigeria. Uko, last season, ran 53.16s
in Asaba, and if Okon-George returns to Akure for the first time after four years,
that race will not be lacking in quality. It is also an ample race for some other good quarter-milers to prove their mettle.

If we are judging by how last season finished, the men’s 400m should be a cliffhanger.
Daniel Atinaya finished 2020 with an impressive PB of 46.09s and has now firmly joined the fray as a top challenger. There’s also Adeyemi Sikiru who consistently ran under 47s last season, finishing with a PB of 46.17s.

MoC’s Emmanuel Ojeli lost his first 400m race in almost two years in Nigeria, but he would surely look to solidify his place as the top dog in this event, and shaking off that loss in Asaba. Nevertheless, he may not start with the 400m as he could commence with shorter sprints like he did last year, incidentally running a 200m PB of 20.94s.

Nigerian athletes will open their Athletics season, competing at the Akure All comers meet on Saturday

Abejoye Oyeniyi will be favourite for the men’s 110m Hurdles, and if Timothy
Emoghene makes the long trip from Ughelli, he will be aiming for a second consecutive victory over Henry Okorie in the 400m Hurdles. There are other good 400m Hurdlers springing up, the likes of Ndiponke Okure and Sodiq Adebisi who are both aiming to fill the void left by David Olowookere.

The wmen’s 100m Hurdles is becoming exciting and a new rivalry is gradually unfolding.
MoC’s Miracle Thompson against Stella Anyaleke, two athletes who just started
Hurdling competitively in 2020 and have surprisingly taken to the event as though
it was the primary event which launched their careers. Both went under 15s in the
100m Hurdles last season.

Best Erhire lost a rare High Jump event last year, losing to David Aya who was at his very best in Asaba, scaling a PB of 2.10m. In the absence of Erhire, the younger Aya is now a clear favourite for the men’s High Jump.

Although these athletes may not come out all guns blazing being the first
competition of the year, it is undoubtedly the perfect warm-up to see where their level is at, two weeks before the bigger one…the National Sports Festival in Benin!

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