Qualifying for the Olympic Games is a process that takes years, significant financial investment, and relentless resolve. The qualification period for some sports ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics began way back in January 2019, and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the window has been extended to 29 June 2021, which includes the world rankings period.
Athletes can qualify for the Olympics in one of two ways; by virtue of the athlete’s position on the World Athletics Ranking System at the end of the qualification period, or by achieving the entry standard within the qualification period.
Making of Champions’ (MoC) athlete Jerry Jakpa’s quest to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (which will take place in 2021) has been a road that has been meteoric and, although filled with its fair share of bumps, is one that could usher him into his first Olympic Games.
Over the years, Jakpa has honed his talent as a sprinter, lacing his spikes mainly in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m. His sojourn since becoming a student of the University of Lagos and joining MoC track Club while training under the tutelage of Olympic Bronze medallist Deji Aliu, has seen him winning a fair share of medals at both junior and senior cadres.
Jerry will be looking to get into the Tokyo Olympics by meeting the qualifying time of 20.24s his checklist of medals in that timeframe include being a National Junior (U20) 100m Bronze Medallist and a National Senior 200m Bronze Medallist in 2017, MoC Grand Prix 100m & 200m Silver Medallist in 2018, African Games Trials 200m Champion, and Nigerian Championships 200m Silver Medallist in 2019.
Having carved a niche for himself as a sprinter that can reach a high ceiling in the 200m, Jakpa’s upswing in the discipline from 2017 has been nothing short of stellar. With a Personal Best (PB) of 20.59s, which he set in 2019 at the African Games Trials in Abuja and equalled two further times while competing in Europe that year, Jakpa chalked a massive 0.6s off his 2017 PB in the event in just two years.
The Olympic qualifying standard for the 200m is pegged at 20.24s, and the target was for Jakpa to compete in Europe in 2020 and as many meets as possible in order to qualify for the Tokyo Games.
However, 2020 came with its fair share of stumbling blocks with regards to competitions as the COVID-19 pandemic put a spanner in the works of most sporting events across the world and as a result, Athletics competitions either got postponed or cancelled completely. Also, local and international travel was suspended across several cities and countries, restricting movement from one place to the other.
Regardless, despite training for less than a month, Jakpa travelled to Kenya to compete at the Kip Keino Classic in September after travel restrictions were lifted. He raced to 4th place in the men’s 200m with a Season’s Best (SB) of 20.71s. Nearly two months later, he competed at the Okowa Covid-19 Resumption Meet in Asaba where he stormed to the sprint double with times of 10.50s and 21.09s respectively, to bring his season to an end.
With several competitions lined up both domestically and internationally between now and June, Jakpa has ample time to improve on his PB and potentially meet the qualification standard.
However, there is another pathway for the sprinter to get into the Olympics, one which was highlighted before- qualifying through his World Ranking in the 200m. The algorithm used by World Athletics for rankings calculates the 5 best performances for each athlete in the past twelve months in their respective events.
Since the Olympic qualification, window reopened in December, and the World Rankings unpaused, Jakpa has moved into the Top 50 in the World in the men’s 200m – he is ranked No. 50 globally (or 46th when considering that only the Top 3 from each county who can qualify for the Olympics).
He is Nigeria’s No. 2 globally, behind only Divine Oduduru who is ranked 23rd in the world currently. As such, as of today, Jakpa is already in a strong qualifying position for the Olympics, given that 56 Athletes will grace the first round of the 200m in Tokyo!
By no means does this indicate that Jakpa will be sure of qualifying for Tokyo without significantly improving on his 20.59s PB and getting much closer to the 20.24s Olympic standard. When the World Rankings were paused in March 2020 amidst the onset of the global pandemic, he was ranked No. 76 globally, or 56th exactly, with only the Top 3 from each nation considered.
With a lot of track still left to run in 2021 to determine the Athletes who will qualify by their World rankings in their respective events when the process closes in June, it will be a fierce competition for places, especially with the sport coping much better with the pandemic than it did last year.
Jakpa opened his 2021 season at the AFN All-Comers meet in Akure, going on to win Heat 11 with an SB of 20.94s (+1.4). The sprinter would most certainly be looking to hit the 20.24s automatic qualifying standard as the season progresses, to dispense with having to wait till June and the permutations that come with relying on the new World ranking system.
It is a scenario that most of the world’s Athletes can relate with, considering that World Athletics intended for at least half of Track and Field’s Tokyo Olympians to qualify through the new Rankings system- an aspiration no doubt complicated more than they could have anticipated because of the disruptions caused by the coronavirus.
The journey for Jakpa has been arduous and required a lot of sacrifices along the way, and the University of Lagos undergraduate is hoping all the efforts he has put into place to make the quadrennial event is not futile.
He said, “It would mean a lot to me. Every sportsman aspires to be called an Olympian and an Olympic Medallist so for me, going to my first (Olympics) will be all about getting the recognition and satisfaction that I got to one of the peaks of my sport. I have put a lot in and sacrificed a lot: time with family and transfer of schools and all that, so, I look forward to reaping the rewards”.
The Delta State-born athlete will certainly not want to leave his qualifying fate to chance as he still has a glut of competitions to race in this year. In fact, his rapid progression with regards to his times puts him in good stead to lower his PB this year and move one step closer to the Olympics.