Nigeria’s undisputed queen of the track, Blessing Okagbare will on Thursday, June 17, face what should count as her toughest hurdle in recent years at the National Championships (2020 Olympic Trials) when she takes on the home base rave of the moment, Grace Nwokocha in the women’s 100m.
Okagbare, who is eyeing her eighth 100m title to move one clear of Enduarance Ojokolo as the second most decorated sprinter in the blue ribband event after Mary Onyali (11 titles) last competed in the competition in 2016 when she ran an 11.02 seconds Championships record in Sapele.
The Olympics, World, Commonwealth and African Games medallist will be wary of the form of Nwokocha who stormed to an 11.09 seconds personal best at the end of March on the track of the Yaba College of Technology track, venue of the 2021 National Championships.
It was the fastest 100m title by a home-based sprinter in about two decades and the fastest since Okagbare ran 11.02 seconds five years ago in Sapele.
Okagbare will also be looking to become the first Nigerian sprinter to run inside 11 seconds at the championships.
The Commonwealth Games double sprint champion is the reigning Nigerian record holder in the event ( 10.79) and the only one who has run under 11 seconds among the competitors for the 100m title.
She holds a personal season’s best of 10.90 seconds she ran at the second leg of the Wanda Diamond League in Doha, Qatar in April and has broken 11 seconds thrice this season.
She has already booked her ticket to the Olympics in Tokyo where she will be aiming to become the first Nigerian, man or woman to make a podium appearance in the most glamorous track event.
The key event for the opening day of the Championships is the 100m with both the men and women’s finals taking place in the evening after the preliminaries set to hold in the morning.
Morning events will witness the 20km women and men final, the 100m prelims, 400m heat (men and women), 1,500m women’s final and the hammer women’s final.
Also on Thursday, reigning African Shot Put king, Chukwuebuka Enekwechi will be the cynosure of all eyes as he eyes his first National title in the event.
Enekwechi, who has also secured a place in Team Nigeria’s flight to Tokyo is the only Nigerian shot putter who has hit the 21m mark and over so far this season.
Sprint hurdler Tobi Amusan will be praying for a favourable weather as she aims to challenge not only the 12.63 seconds Championships record set by Amgela Atede in June 1997 in Lagos but also the 12.44 seconds African record she came close to breaking early this month at the NACAC New Life Invitational at the Ansin Sports Complex in Miramar, Florida, USA where her 12.43 seconds finish was aided by a +4.5mps tail wind.
Amusan will also be looking to become the third athletes after Atede and Glory Alozie (twice) to run inside 13 seconds in the history of the championships.
The petite sprint hurdler’s only sub 13 seconds run in the event (12.97) was achieved in Ozoro, Delta state at the Warri Relays in 2017.