This Day (Lagos)

Africa Championships - Team Nigeria Athletes Storm Cotonou

Team Nigeria's party to the 18th Africa Senior Athletics Championships arrived neighbouring Cotonou, Benin Republic with 46 athletes ahead of Wednesday's opening ceremony of the competition scheduled to hold between June 27 and July 1.

The contingent departed the National Stadium in Lagos in a convoy of a luxury Marcopolo Buses and six sports' association mini buses. The Nigerian athletes and officials are quartered in hotel in Cotonou from where they will be making a daily one hour trip to Port Novo, venue of the competition.

Speaking before departing for the African Championship where Team Nigeria is aiming to better the eight gold medals the country won to place second behind Kenya at the last edition, Head Coach, Innocent Egbunike assured Nigerians of a good outing.

"The team we selected from our Olympic Trials in Calabar at the weekend is going to Port Novo to do Nigeria proud. Our athletes as still fresh from competition mood and are ready to take on the rest of Africa," said Egbunike, who is no stranger to the African meet having competed and won laurels there as an athlete.

The Los Angeles '84 1600 relay bronze winner stressed that this African Championships is going to be used to gauge Nigeria's preparations for the 2012 London Olympic Games starting in barely a month from today.

"We, (the coaches and the federation secretariat) have done our part in preparing the athletes adequately. We are now asking all Nigerians to continue to pray for our successes because sports remain the biggest unifying factor in the country. Nobody remembers where you come from if the team is doing well. We are all always very proud of Nigeria," stressed the track coach.

Same Monday, reigning African 400m hurdles and Javelin champions, LJ van Zyl and Sunette Viljoen arrived Benin looking for their fourth and third consecutive titles respectively at the Africa showpiece.

South African Van Zyl, who has a season's best time of 49.42 set on April 5, will have to contend with Nigeria's Amaechi Morton - the fastest African athlete this season with a 48.79 set in Des Moines, US on June 8 and currently ranked sixth in the world. Morton who is competing in his first African Championship is looking forward to earning his first continental title.

Mozambican athlete Kurt Couto (49.02 set in Praha on June 11) and Senegalese Mamadou Kasse Hanne (49.04 recorded in Angers, France on June 17) also have faster times than Van Zyl this season to make the field a very interesting one.

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