Team Nigeria will be the focus of attention from today as the chase for medals and tickets to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics begin at the 17th World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar.
According to the world athletics body, International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), 209 out of the 214 member federations will be participating in the Championships as well as an Athlete Refugee Team-all numbering a total of 1,972 final entries (1054 men and 918 women).
Meanwhile, Nigeria would be aiming to break a six-year old jinx without medal since Blessing Okagbare won silver and bronze respectively in the 200m and long jump events at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.
The iconic Khalifa International Stadium will host the 10-day championship as $7.5m (N2.6b) will be at stake for record setters and finalists in some events.
However, if the performance of Team Nigeria at the 2019 African Games is taken into consideration, some athletes would expectedly mount the podium in Doha.
Already, four Nigerians including Blessing Okagbare, Divine Oduduru, Ese Brume and Tobi Amusan have been tipped as potential medallists by IAAF in its preview of the competition and this a pointer to the recognition of the athletes at the global level.
Incidentally, the prowess of Team Nigeria has never been in doubt and as recent as the 12th African Games in Morocco in August, the track and field events fetched Nigeria 23 medals made up of 10 gold, seven silver and six bronze medals.
“We are hopeful of a good showing in Doha ,” Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) technical director, Sunday Adeleye, told NationSport. “After the African Games in Morocco, we told the athletes to continue with their training programme because we wanted to sort out so many things that may cause distraction during the World Championships.
“I am happy to inform you that we have sorted all these particularly in terms of equipment and kits and we believe this will give the athletes the needed concentration and confidence to do well in Doha.”
Despite the criticisms that trailed the 25-man list, Adeleye said that selected athletes were the best the country could present while urging those irked by the list to support the team in its quest to pick medals and Olympic tickets.
Apart from the women who have been making the country proud, the performance of the likes of Oduduru, Raymond Ekevwo and a host of other male athletes has given hope for the country.
In the women’s 100 and 200m, Okagbare has been considered a threat to some favourites. The 30-year-old, who took bronze in the event at the 2013 World Championships, has pieced together a decent season, headed by a notable 22.05s win at the Prefontaine Classic in 200m.
In the men’s 200m, favourite American Noah Lyles will have to contend with 22-year-old Divine Oduduru who has succeeded as NCAA champion. Oduduru, who won the collegiate 200m title in June this year in a championship record of 19.73, the third fastest recorded this year.
Oduduru is the second fastest man in 100m and after a pair of sub-10 performances early this year, Oduduru won the NCAA 100m title in 9.86 and doubled back to take the 200m crown in a blazing 19.73secs. Oduduru clearly has the ability to work his way into the medal mix, but the question that remains is how heavy a toll his early season collegiate racing schedule has taken on World Championships form.
Also considered a major force in 100m is 20-year-old Nigerian Raymond Ekevwo, who blasted to a 9.96 personal best to take the 2019 African Games title in August.