It’s been a year of many firsts for Nigerian 400m sprinting, receiving a much needed spark in the form of Samuel Ogazi, Chidi Okezie and a host of other quarter-milers.

Ogazi who showed so much promise while he was in Nigeria competing on the tracks of Kaduna where he was discovered, finally delivered on the promise shown, becoming the 2nd fastest Nigerian man in history over 400m with an astonishing 44.52s at the NCAA Championships!

The University of Alabama freshman who only got to the US six months ago had only most of the indoor season to settle into the new system. He had himself a couple of races indoors to get warmed in but took the bull by the horn outdoors, setting multiple records to earn himself a spot in the 400m final.

One of such records is the School 400m Record of 44.86s held by the legendary Kirani James since 2011.┬áThere is no doubt that he will come to Nigeria as the red-hot favourite to take the men’s 400m crown.

At the age of 30, Chidi Okezie has found new form, new love for the sport, a bright blossom to go with it, an African title and an array of PBs already in 2024!

He became the first Nigerian man to win the African Games men’s 400m title since the great Innocent Egbunike in 1987, a huge feat after winning 4 Bronze medals at continental level, dating back to Durban in 2016 when he made his debut for Nigeria at the African Athletics Championships.

Okezie’s winning time and new lifetime best of 45.06s in Accra, was just six-tenths of a second away from the Olympic qualification standard. The quartermiler made a loud statement with less than a week to the Olympic Trials, breaking the fabled 45-second barrier at the Edmonton Athletics Invitational , storming to victory with a new PB of 44.97s!

The sub-45 run was not far-fetched at all for Okezie who had already pulled two 44s splits to help Nigeria qualify for the Olympics in both the men’s 4x400m and mixed 4x400m at the World Relays in the Bahamas last month. The African Games champion will be coming to┬áBenin to defend his national title which he won in the same stadium last year.

Dubem Amene was in the form of his life leading up to the NCAA Regionals, but he didn’t make the cut to Eugene. However, he turned the disappointment into determination, running a new PB of 45.36s a week after in Ontario. He will also be aiming for a big trip to Benin where he would definitely be in the shake up when things get heated on track.

The fastest athlete on the home circuit is Emmanuel Ojeli who is rounding into form nicely, having posted a Season’s Best (SB) of 45.84s to win the men’s 400m title at the ECOWAS Championships in Ghana. Ojeli is one of Nigeria’s most consistent quarter-milers and will aim to improve on his best outing this season to have a say when it matters the most.

Another man to watch will be Dubem Nwachukwu who will hope to find the form that carried him to the NCAA Championships last year, having posted 44.81s as an athlete with Arizona State University. He has so far run 45.89s this year and will need to better that time for Paris to fully be in play.

Even though Ezekiel Nathaniel is now primarily a 400m hurdler, there is no messing around when he dabbles in the 400m where he almost broke Sunday Bada’s indoor National Record when he ran 45.54s in Clemson earlier this year.

Although he may not contest the 400m flat in Benin, this is a year of many firsts and this is one of them. He has a rich history of 400m/800m running and is a major player anytime the conversation of the 400m is raised.

Other athletes to watch in Benin will be Samson Nathaniel, Sikiru Adeyemi and Daniel Atinaya who all excelled at the African Games Trials held earlier this year in Asaba.

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