The Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny, nicknamed Le Félicia, in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire will be a bee-hive of athletics activities, when hostilities kicks off for the African U18 and U20 Championships, from April 16th -20th.
This is the first time these age groups will be combined at the continental championship, with the major power countries in the continent looking to challenge the top spot on the medals table, in order to conquer Africa.
Therefore, the major events that’ll post strong challenge to this supremacy are the sprints: (100m, 200m and 400m), with South Africa and Nigeria being the front-runners in determining Africa’s fastest emerging athletes.
While South Africa are favourites for the top positions in these events, Nigeria will be in for some major upsets shooting to regain her dominance in the continent.
Reigning Youth Olympic Champion, Luke Davids (10.42s) and Phatushedzo Maswanganyi (10.44s), have been listed by the southern nation to don the colours of their country in this event.
Davids, is the star favourite considering he’s also the African Youth Games (AYG) Champion and tipped as the brightest emerging sprinter coming out of Africa.
However, for him to win his first continental junior title, he’ll have to overcome Nigeria’s new sprints sensation, Enoch Adegoke and familiar rival, Alaba Akintola.
Adegoke, whose season opener of 10.36s puts him as the highest ranked African junior athlete, will be gunning for his first international and continental individual medal. Meanwhile Akintola, will hope he can get one back at Davids this time, after losing to him at both the AYG and Youth Olympics respectively.
The women’s event would have been an easy prediction less than six months ago, with Nigeria’s Rosemary Chukwuma easily tipped to add another Gold medal to her collections.
Unfortunately, the Youth Olympic Champion has struggled with regaining her top form this year, an effect which saw her surprisingly lose the Nigerian title to Grace Nwokocha.
Both Chukwuma (11.83s) and Nwokocha (11.79s), are below South Africa’s Rose Xeyi’s (11.68s), who now stands as favourite barring unforeseen circumstances, not forgetting compatriot Remoneilwe Pasha who may be in to upset the order too.
Thabang Hlohlolo and Eckardt Potgieter, are within the top 6 positions on the 2019 world youth rank, with their 10.44s and 10.54s respectively.
If anyone is to upstage them such as the Nigerian duo of Godson Brume (10.81s) and Iruoghene Okoro (10.93s), then it’ll be one of the major upsets at the Championship.
Meanwhile the girl’s category gravitates towards being a more open race, as South Africa’s duo of Miandi Van Staden (11.92s) and Nosipho Malinga (11.93s), will have to dig deep to overcome the threats of Praise Ofoku (12.14s) and Anita Taviore.
Both Taviore and Ofoku, are making their international debuts for the country and will be aiming for a memorable one with a podium finish.
Based on the list released by the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), the country will be having just one representative in the men’s 200m.
Favour Ekpekpe, was chosen after winning the National title in a Personal Best (PB) of 21.44s. However, his sole participation will depend on Adegoke’s choice of attempting the sprints double, having clocked a Season’s best of 21.26s in Ijebu-Ode.
Notwithstanding, either of them going for the top position in Abidjan will be a tall order as South Africa, will be sticking with Maswanganyi (20.81s) and Davids (21.05s), which obviously from their times makes them the most rated to clinch the Gold medal.
Antoinette Van der Merwe (23.94s), will have her country’s hopes on her shoulders competing in the women’s category.
She stands favourite before the championship, but that’ll mean giving her lifetime performance against Nigeria’s Chukwuma, who cannot be best against for a win.
Nigeria’s Favour Ofili, is overall favourite for victory after clocking a PB of 23.74s for the win at the Nigerian Championships, which is also the leading mark in the continent on the IAAF youth rank.
She’s the reigning AYG 400m Champion, so switching to the 200m positively denotes she’s on the verge of adding another age-group continental title in her name.
If at all she’s defeated, it’ll be from her teammate Taviore, with 24.45s and Elke van der Westhuizen, having a modest 24.66s.
Huge dominance will be witnessed in the boy’s category, as South Africa’s Sinesipho Dambile’s 20.43s is not just the leading time in Africa U18 but the world as well.
Dambile’s time is over a second faster than Nigeria’s duo of Iruoghene Okoro (21.88s) and Thovoetin Sewakan’s (21.83s). Barring unpredictable circumstances, this is an event that already has a winner even before the race begins.
Another event where the South Africans are clear favourites having two representatives superseding their Nigerian counterparts.
Frans Matlala (47.06s) and Nhlanhla Maseko (47.10s), will both fancy their chances as the top 2 finishers, while Nigeria will settle for a consolatory position from any of the quatermilers listed to compete.
The female category consisting of Kisten Ahrens (54.65s) and Marli Viljoen (54.89s), are expected to spearhead South Africa’s chase for the top medals, ahead of Nigeria’s duo of Glory Patrick (55.85s) and Charity Agofure (56.58s).
South Africa’s Lythe Pillay (46.52s) and Antonie Nortje (47.05s), stand as headliners in this event as well ahead of the Nigerian trio of Obashola Olaoluwa (47.47s), Adedoyin Fatola (48.14s) and Victor Akhalu (48.01s).
Interestingly, all three will be donning the colours of the country for the first time and will be setting their focus on making it a memorable with a podium finish, which posts for a really interesting event to watch out for.
However, the girl’s event will have a bit of twist as the selected Nigerian athletes in Nse Imaobong Uko (54.46s) and Juliana Abayomi (56.18s), both age 15, are under aged by IAAF rules. The eligible minimum age to compete is 16, which led to the duo not travelling with the team.
It remains to be seen the competitors Nigeria will present. If this happens, then it’ll be a clear coast for South Africa’s Amy Naude (55.13s) and Elke van der Westhuizen.
NOTE: This doesn’t mean other countries won’t present athletes to topple the South Africans and Nigerians, the article is basically on the head to head classification of the two sprints power houses and their athletes ranks on the IAAF level.
Therefore, who do you think will have the supreme edge in winning the sprints events? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.