Okagbare, Nwokocha face tough semifinal hurdles in Tokyo
Track and field events began yesterday at the Tokyo Olympics, and for the first time since London 2012, two Nigerian athletes will be running in the semifinals of the women’s 100meters. The duo of Blessing Okagbare and Grace Nwokocha made it from their respective heats yesterday.
Nwokocha, who competed against the fastest woman alive, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica, ran a new Personal Best of 11.00 seconds to secure her qualification to the semifinals. The Nigerian made her debut at the Olympics Games yesterday.
The 20-year-old has also moved into fifth in the Nigeria all-time list behind Okagbare (10.79), Glory Alozie (10.90) Mary Onyali (10.97), and Damola Osayomi (10.99).
The home-based athlete, who ran 11.09 seconds to secure her qualification for the Olympics in March at the MOC Grand Prix in Lagos, will however need to make further history by breaking the 11s barrier as the fifth Nigerian woman to do so, in order to stand a chance of joining Onyali and Okagbare as debutants who ran all the way to the final of the event.
She has been drawn to run from lane nine in the third semifinal heat alongside the Jamaican, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Daryl Neita of Great Britain, Teahna Daniels of the USA, and fellow African, Muriel Ahoure of Ivory Coast.
While Nwokocha qualified for her first semifinal, Okagbare will be running in her third since she made her debut in the event at the 2012 Olympics in London.
The 32-year old ran 11.05 seconds to win her first-round heat yesterday. She has been drawn in the first semifinal heat alongside two heavyweights, defending champion, Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica, who ran 10.82 seconds to win her first-round heat, and Great Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith, the 200m world champion two years ago in Doha, Qatar. Asher-Smith ran 11.07 seconds to come second in her first-round heat yesterday.
Okagbare will be in action at 11.15 am Nigerian time today.
Meanwhile, the President of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Tonobok Okowa has lambasted those blaming the federation for the disqualification of 10 Nigerian athletes in Tokyo. He described them as mischief-makers.
Speaking with The Guardian from Tokyo yesterday, Okowa tongue lashed two former female Nigerian athletes based in the U.S. for championing what he described as a ‘campaign of hatred’ against his board over the disqualification.
“My board did nothing wrong and nobody should hold us responsible for it,” he said. We inherited these problems, and we are trying to correct the mistakes from repeating themselves in the future,” Okowa stated.
Also yesterday, AFN Secretary-General, Adeniyi Beyioku, described as misleading the headline in some national dailies, which described as a ban the ineligibility of 10 Nigerian athletes to compete in Tokyo due to non-completion of their mandatory three out of competition test (OCT).
“The athletes have done nothing wrong to be labelled ‘banned’ as the screaming headline in a few Nigerian dailies indicated.
“This is far from the truth. The athletes were only declared ineligible to compete because they did not complete the three competition tests that would have made them eligible for only the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The Athletics Integrity Unit did not use the word, ‘banned’ in its press release naming 18 athletes from six countries who are ineligible to compete at this Olympics due to the OCT failure. In the case of our athletes, they have not contravened any anti-doping rule and should not be tagged as banned athletes,” said Beyioku, who has just been recognised as the Secretary-General of the AFN by World Athletics.
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