Blessing Okagbare…before the bubble bursts in Doha
Just when many sports-loving Nigerians have written her off, former Commonwealth Games double sprint champion, Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor came with a bang last weekend, winning the 100m at the IAAF Diamond League in Rabat, Morocco with a time of 11.05 seconds.
Apart from running a personal season’s best, Okagbare defeated her hottest challenger, Cote d’Ivoire’s Marie-Josee Ta Lou by four hundredth of a second (11.09) to secure the win.
The victory took Okagbare to the top of the women’s 100m standing in the Diamond League with 15 points after garnering eight points in Rabat to add to the seven she got in the opening leg of the meetings in Doha last month with her second place finish. She also got $10,000 for her effort. The win brought Okagbare’s total victories on the track in the IAAF Diamond League to seven, four in the 100m and three in the 200m.
She won her first race on the track seven years ago at the Herculis Zepter in Monaco where she ran a then personal best of 10.96 seconds ahead of the USA duo of Tianna Madison and Jeneba Tarmoh.
Okagbare exploded the following year with a first ever sub-10.8 performance by an African woman when she ran 10.79 seconds, then an African record to win at the Muller Anniversary Diamond League meeting on July 27 in London. This came barely a month after she raced to her first ever Diamond League win in the 200m at the Birmingham leg of the 14-leg meetings, running 22.50 seconds to win.
Okagbare’s last victory on the IAAF Diamond League track was in 2015, when she ran 10.98 seconds to win in Shanghai, China. A year earlier (2014), the Nigerian had ruled the Diamond League meetings in Shanghai and Paris in France. She ran 22.36 seconds to win in Shanghai and 22.32 seconds for the win in Paris.
Perhaps, the focus for Okagbare now will be to break her first 10 seconds in the 100 metres this year before setting her sight on the IAAF World Championships in Doha in September/October where she will be hoping to return to the podium six years after she got a silver (long jump) and bronze (200m) in Moscow 2013.
The win in Rabat, Morocco may have re-directed Nigerians’ attention on Okagbare once again. In the build up to London 2012 Olympics, Okagbare was the talking point in world athletics, as she broke old records and set new ones at major championships across the globe. She even set a new African record of 10.79 seconds in the 100m and also defeated a reigning Olympic champion at the time, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica.
She was so good on the track then that many Nigerians began to count their chicks even before they were hatched. Some athletics followers even swore to high heavens that no matter happened, Okagbare must be among the medallists, particularly in the 100m at the London Olympics.
When hostilities began in London, the Sapele-born athlete got to the final of the 100m to justify the expectations of millions of Nigerians back home. But she posted a schoolgirl performance in the final and eventually finished eighth on a day so much was expected from her.
It was the same scenario at Beijing 2015 IAAF World Championships, where Okagbare placed eighth in the 100m as well as London 2017, where she occupied the same position in the Long Jump. She couldn’t make the 100m final at Rio 2016 Olympics.
Some athletics analysts were quick to point out that Okagbare’s poor performance in those championships was as a result of ‘over loaded’ athletics programmes before the main event.
With focus now on Doha 2019 IAAF World Championships, the question on the lips of many athletics followers in the country is whether Okagbare will be able to maintain the stride and give Nigeria something golden when the 100m and 200m are concluded?
Will the athlete return to the usual style of ‘jumping’ from one athletics competition to another in Europe, America and other parts of the world in a bid to grab some quick money, and in the process burn out before the main event in Doha? Time will tell.
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