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Diamond League: Amusan in good command after Okagbare’s exit

By Gowon Akpodonor
25 June 2022   |   4:07 am
For about 10 years, former Nigerian sprinter, U.S.-based Blessing Okagbare was a notable figure in the prestigious Diamond League, particularly, 100m and 200m events.

Tobi AMUSAN (Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / Diamond League AG)

For about 10 years, former Nigerian sprinter, U.S.-based Blessing Okagbare was a notable figure in the prestigious Diamond League, particularly, 100m and 200m events.

In one of her outings in 2013, Okagbare upstaged her fierce rivals, Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and America’s Carmelita Jeter to win the 200 metres in 22.55 seconds at the Birmingham Diamond League. That was barely a week after Okagbare cruised to a sprint double at the All Nigeria Championships in Calabar, Cross River State.

At that event in Birmingham, England, Okagbare was not given much chance for a top finish, as many analysts predicted that the Diamond League race would be a head-to-head clash between Fraser-Pryce and Jeter.

But Okagbare surprised many as she made an unusually strong start and held off Fraser-Pryce, the Olympic champion in the 100 metres, while Jeter, who was then world champion, trailed in a disappointing seventh position in 23.36s.

Okagbare went on to dominate the Diamond League, coasting to victory in 2019 in the women’s 100m at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat, Morocco, where she ran a Season Best of 11.05s ahead of her Ivoirian rival and African champion, Marie Josee Ta Lou, who was second in 11.09s.

The event in Rabat was Okagbare’s 60th appearance in the League and was also her last appearance before she fell from grace to grass, following a drug scandal, which landed her a career ending 10-year ban.

What Nigerians have missed in Okagbare, they have gained in sprint hurdler, Tobiloba Amusan.

On Saturday, Amusan set a new African record in the 100m hurdles at the Diamond League in Paris to give Nigeria hope of challenging for a first ever-gold medal at the fast approaching World Athletics Championships in Oregon, U.S. next month.

Amusan, 25, finished strongly in the race to win in 12.41 seconds, 0.02 better than her previous 12.42 seconds best, which she ran last year to win the historic 100m hurdles at the Diamond League final in Zurich.

The reigning Commonwealth Games champion finished fourth at the last Olympics Games in Tokyo, as well as the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, in 2019.

For many Nigerian athletics followers, Amusan’s race in Paris on Saturday may have placed her in a pole position of claiming her first global medal in Oregon as well as retain the Commonwealth title she won in 2018 in the Gold Coast, Australia.

The President of Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Tonobok Okowa, said: “Nigeria’s national anthem is yet to be sung at the flagship event of World Athletics, the World Championships and Tobi now looks ready to join Ese Brume, our sprinters and the relay teams in the bid to get Nigeria to the podium as world champion.”

Nigeria has won at least a global medal since Okowa was elected as AFN president in June, last year, and the trend looks set to continue in Oregon.

Ese Brume won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year, which was the first time since 2008 that Nigeria won a track and field medal at the quadrennial games. Amusan made history last year as the first Nigerian to win a Diamond League title and this year, Brume got a silver in the long jump at the World Indoor championship, Nigeria’s first since Olusoji Fasuba won the 60m gold in Valencia, Spain in 2008.

Okowa, who is expected to lead AFN’s official to Benin City today for the national trials, believes Nigeria is now taking her rightful place in global athletics and is confident the country’s rising profile will translate to podium appearances at Oregon 2022 World Championship and the Commonwealth Games in England.