The Tokyo Olympic trials will begin on Thursday June 17 with some of Nigeria’s best athletes aiming to either earn tickets that will get them a place in the Tokyo-bound flight or to confirm their qualification after scaling the qualification standard hurdles set by World Athletics for the Games.
The much anticipated championship will witness the best of Nigerian track and field and a celebration of the new board of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, AFN, led by Chief Tonobock Okowa.
Complete Sports brings you 5 of the best Nigerian athletes who will grace the Day 1 of the Championship on Thursday.
Blessing Okagbare (100m):
Blessing is undoubtedly the greatest sprinter Nigeria has ever seen and she will be the cynosure of all eyes as she attempts to win her eighth 100m title.
Only former African queen of the track, the delectable Mary Onyali has won more (11) and Okagbare will be looking to pull clear of ‘The Bulldozer’ Endurance Ojokolo who dominated the national 100m scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s, winning seven national titles.
The 32 year old Okagbare holds the Nigerian record in the event (10.79) and has broken 11 seconds a staggering 21 times, 19 more than any other Nigerian sprinter.
This term, Okagbare is coming to the trials in superb form after running a personal season’s best of 10.90 seconds last May at the second leg of the Wanda Diamond League in Doha, Qatar.
The beautifully built, long striding Sapele-born sprinter has ducked inside 11 seconds three times so far this term and holds the 11.02 seconds championship record she set on her last appearance in the competition in 2016 in Sapele.
Tobi Amusan (100m Hurdles):
Since Glory Alozie retired, Tobi has proved to be her perfect successor and the former will be watching with keen attention as the reigning Commonwealth Games champion attempts to run her first sub 13 seconds race at the championships, break Angela Atede’s 12.63 seconds championships record and Alozie’s 12.44 seconds African record!.
Amusan came close to breaking the African record but for a tailwind that renders her 12.43 seconds run in Florida early this month illegal. Alozie knows it is just a matter of time before the 24 year old breaks her record.
Two years ago at the African Games, Amusan erased from history books Alozie’s 12.74 seconds Games record set 20 years earlier with a first sub 12.70 seconds (12.68) performance in the history of the competition.
This year, Amusan has broken 13 seconds an incredible seven times ( five legal) and the petite hurlder will be eyeing her third in the month of June and eight overall.
Nzubechi Grace Nwokocha (100m):
No home based athletes has run faster in Nigerian than Grace in over two decades!. The 20 year old stormed into national consciosness like a bolt out of the blues when she raced to an 11.09 personal best at the MOC Grand prix in Lagos at the end of March.
That was the fastest time on Nigerian soil in five years and the fastest by a home based athletes in over 20 years.
Grace has won every 100m race in Nigeria since 2020 but she will face her biggest test yet when she lines up against Blessing Okagbare in what local athletics watchers believe will be one of the most exciting 100m races since the late 1990s and early 2000s.
She has become one of the few home based athletes to make the qualification standard for the Olympics right here in Nigeria and the first since Ese Brume jumped 6.83m to qualify for the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Grace also set a new 22.79 seconds in the 200m to win the half lap gold at the Edo 2020 National Sports festival.
Chukwuebuka Enekwechi (Shot Put):
Chukwuebuka will be looking to win his first national title since he came into the Nigerian shot put scene in 2018 when he won the shot put and discus throw titles at the Abuja Nigeria Sports Festival.
The 28 year old came into national consciousness in early 2018 when he won a silver medal for Nigeria at the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast, Australia.
He has gone on to win the African Games gold medal two years ago in Rabat, Morocco and became the first and so far only Nigerian to make the last eight at World Athletics’ flagship event, the World Athletics Championships.
Annette Echikunwoke (Hammer Throw):
During his inauguration of the Tonobock Okowa led board of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, Sports Minister Sunday Dare says ‘this is a new dawn for Nigerian athletics’.
The Minister is right. While we are having a new seed replacing the rotten one sowed by Solomon Dalung in 2017, in far away United States of America, Annette has been busy rewriting the Nigerian hammer history with a series of throw of 70m.
No Nigerian hammer thrower has ever hit the 70m mark but Annette has done it not just once but five times this season. He has now set the Nigerian record multiple times this season with the 75.49m she threw last May at the USATF Throws Fest in Tucson, Arizona the new National record.
Annette also made history as the first Nigerian woman to qualify for the Olympics in the event.