Hosts Edo State has won two gold medals to lead the medals table as track and field got to a brilliant start on Friday at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin, the venue of the 20th National Sports Festival.
The duo of Fadekemi Olude (1:40.05) and Dele Elegbede (1:42.16) gave Edo State the first gold medals of the Festival by winning the women and men’s 20km Walk respectively.
Delta state, through Ibrahim Baba (46.39m), won gold in the men’s Hammer Throw while the fast improving Utitofon James (48.36m) expectedly won the Women’s Discus Throw.
Rivers State picked its first gold of the Festival through sprint hurdler, Grace Aiyemoba who ran 13.65 seconds to win the 100m hurdles while Oyeniyi Abejoye picked the men’s 110m hurdles (13.79 seconds) for Lagos’ first gold medal of the competition.
Rose Akusho completed the gold medal haul for the opening day,running 17:13.95 seconds to win the 5000m event for Plateau state.
The second day of athletics will witness two blockbuster races, the men and women’s 100m final.
In the latter, Grace Nzubechi Nwokocha will be the overwhelming favourite to win following her very dominant displays in the Nigerian athletics scene since last year.
The Delta State athlete has won all available local events till date and raced to a scorching 11.09 personal best last month.
The time remains the fastest ever run on Nigerian soil by a home-based athlete in over two decades and the fastest since Blessing Okagbare ran 11.02 seconds to win the 100m gold at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games trials in Sapele.
Nwokocha will have the trio of Ese Brume (11.69), Praise Ofoku (11.67) and Joy Udo-Gabriel (11.66) challenging for the silver and bronze medals for Team Delta and Team Lagos respectively with the pretty Udo-Gabriel who ran a new 11.34 seconds personal best some 12 days ago in Lagos ahead in the battle for silver.
It is going to be a titanic battle for the three podium places in the men’s version with no clear favourite for the gold.
Defending champion Ushoritse Itshekiri is back to defend his title and was impressive in the heat,running 10.38 seconds,the second fastest time behind Alaba Akintola (10.32 seconds) in qualifying for the semi-finals which holds today before the final.
Veteran sprinter and two-time national champion, Ogho-Oghene Egwero, Favour Ashe who raced to a surprise 10.17 seconds personal best last month in Lagos and the pre-Festival national leader, Enoch Adegoke of Edo state are all favoured to reach the final later today.
The highlight of the morning session on the second day of athletics will be the men and women’s 400m semi-finals.
For the men,the quartet of Sikiru Adeyemi who is the only Nigerian quartermiler who has dipped inside 46 seconds so far this year ,Ifeanyi Ojeli,Nathaniel Samson and home boy Orukpe Erayokan tops the list of athletes who will make it to Sunday’s final.
In the women’s,it is increasingly looking like a battle of Akwa Ibom as the queen of the event in the absence of Favour Ofili, Patience Okon-George has returned with a bang with her 53.03 seconds performance in the heat in her first race of the year to lay down the gauntlet for her ordained successor, 21 year old Nse Uko Imaobong whose 52.07 seconds run at the Athletics Federation of Nigeria All-Comers and Classics competition in Akure last month remains the national lead coming to the Festival.
Both are expected to stroll into Sunday’s final which is already looking like a mouth-watering event.
Also on the menu later today are the women’s Shot Put final,the men and women’s 400m hurdles final,the men’s triple jump and 10,000m finals.
Meanwhile Technical Director of the AFN,Brown Ebewele says he is delighted with the quality of performances so far and believes a few of the athletes will achieve the qualification standard for their respective events.
“The 100m finals will be explosive tomorrow (today) and I am delighted the federation has helped put these athletes in great shape for the Festival,” said Ebewele.