Nigeria women’s 4x100m relay team will begin its battle into World Athletics Championships’ history books from lane eight after the lane assignment for the final of the event was revealed by World Athletics.
The quartet of Joy Udo-Gabriel, Favour Ofili, Rosemary Chukwuma and Grace Nwokocha ran 42.68 seconds in the semifinal to qualify for Sunday morning’s final, the first time in 11 years the team will be running in the final of the championships.
The team’s time is the second fastest ever achieved after the 42.52 seconds the quartet of Chioma Ajunwa, Endurance Ojokolo, Mercy Nku and Mary Onyali-Omagbemi ran to place fourth in the final of the eighth edition of the Championships in Edmonton, Canada in 2001.
The odds are however heavily stacked against the team as they prepare to face the almighty Jamaica, winner of four of the past six editions.
The championships record holder (41.07) will also have the luxury of recalling the incredible trio of 100m champion, Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce (10.67), 200m champion Shericka Jackson (21.45) and Tokyo Olympics 100 and 200m champion, Elaine Thompson-Herah for the final. The Jamaicans have been drawn to run in lane five.
The USA team is also star-studded (Melissa Jefferson, Aleia Hobbs, Jenna Prandini and Twanisha Terry) and ran a 41.56 seconds world lead to qualify for the final.
Great Britain will also be a hard nut to crack for the Nigerians. The British quartet of Asha Philip, Imani Lansiquot, Ashleigh Nelson and Daryll Neita ran 41.99 seconds without 100m bronze medalist, Dina Asher-Smith to qualify for the final. Asher-Smith ran 10.83 seconds to place third in the final.
Athletics watchers are however convinced the Nigerian team can race to the podium only if they perfect their baton exhange.
‘The team’s talent is never in doubt and having the poorest baton exhange among the contenders after the semis gives a lot of worries,’ says Rotimi Obajimi, a former World Athletics lecturer and course director.
Obajimi believes if the ladies can get the exhanges right, they will certainly finish in the top three.
In the semifinals, Udo-Gabriel ran the fourth fastest opening leg run among the eight teams before handing over to Ofili who did not live up to the 10.93 seconds personal best she ran twice this year as her 10.22 seconds split ranked as the fourth fastest in the race behind USA’s Aleia Hobbs who is the fastest second leg runner with 9.91 seconds.
Dalia Kaddari of Italy who has only raced over the 200m this season is second in 10.14 seconds and holds a personal best of 11.44 seconds in the 100m while Spain’s Jaël Bestue, an 11.19 seconds runner is third with her 10.17 seconds finish.
The Spaniard handed over at the second exhange to Paula Sevilla whose 10.56 seconds run is betterred only by Jenna Prandini of the USA (10.36) with Nigeria’s Chukwuma’s 10.77 seconds performance ranking as fifth fastest.
Tokyo Olympics and Oregon 2022 World Championships’ 100/200m semifinalist, Grace Nwokocha however ensured Nigeria secured a place in Sunday morning’s final by scorching to a 9.95 seconds anchor leg run, the second fastest in the field and betterred only by Twanisha Terry of the USA who ran 9.85 seconds.
In fact Nigeria was in fifth position by the time Nwokocha got the baton from Chukwuma and the 21 year old lived up to billing as the second fastest anchor leg runner in the line up behind USA’s Terry who came to the championships with a 10.87 seconds best in 2022 and ran 10.95 in the 100m event.
Experts believe both Ofili and Chukwuma need to deliver more as they both have gone under 11 seconds this year while the coaches should also work on the exchanges.
Precision is important when passing a baton during a relay race as fumbling would cause a team to lose seconds in a race where every moment counts.
The athletes have also been warned of the rules governing relay races, especially the baton exhanges so as to avert the problem the men’s 4x100m relay team ran into that ensured the team could not finish the race.
The rule is clear: Baton must be exchanged within a 20 meters change-over zone. The athlete receiving the baton can commence their run 10 meters before the change-over zone
Athletics experts are clear. The team can make history with a first ever podium appearance and run inside 42 seconds, a performance that will also be historic as no Nigerian nay African 4x100m relay team has achieved a 41 seconds performance.