In one of the most eagerly anticipated races on the 20th National Sports Festival schedule, it was Chidi Okezie who prevailed in the battle between three of the four fastest men in Nigeria at the moment.
In a tension-filled final, which provided a fitting climax to the great times we had witnessed on Day 1 and 2 inside a pumping Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, it was the Delta State athlete who delivered, claiming a decisive victory in a new Personal Best (PB) of 45.60s, 0.48s clear of Lagos’ Emmanuel Ojeli.
The third member of the ‘terrific trio’ Sikiru Adeyemi – who was the second athlete to run inside 46s this year – had the consolation of snatching bronze in 46.51 following a strong late surge.
Ojeli looked a bit animated on the blocks as he faced his second outing at the Festival from lane six, Okezie on his inside and with Adeyemi running blind in the outside lane eight.
As the gun fired all eyes were on the big three. It was hard with the naked eye to distinguish the leaders in the early stages but it was Ojeli who appeared to make the faster start quickly catching the stagger on Adeyemi on his immediate outside.
Down the back straight, however, arms and legs pumping ten to the dozen, it was Okezie who slowly started to make gains on the American and by halfway he held a slight advantage.
Round the final bend, Adeyemi appeared to be fading from the medal picture with Samson Nathaniel, the two-time National Champion looking to coming into the mix.
As the field entered the home straight Okezie held a clear 5m advantage on Ojeli, with Adeyemi emerging as the likely Bronze medallist.
Approaching the final 20m, Ojeli’s stride started to lengthen as he strained every part of his body to catch up with Okezie, but the latter was not going to relinquish his lead as he held on to win.
Samson Nathaniel was further back with 47.18, taking 4th.