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Okagbare targets 100m medal in Tokyo after tying second-fastest time in history


Blessing Okagbare of Nigeria competes in the 100 meter preliminary during the USATF Grand Prix at Hayward Field on April 24, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. She raced to a world lead 10.63 on Thursday in Lagos. Photo: AFP

Blessing Okagbare says she is ready to make a legitimate claim for a sprint medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo after becoming the joint second-fastest woman in history over 100 metres on Thursday at the Nigeria Olympics Trials in Lagos.

The 32-year-old scorched to a 10.63 seconds finish at the Sports Complex of the Yaba College of Technology to set a new Nigerian and African record and tie Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s 2021 world lead.

The Ivory Coast’s Murielle Ahoure previously held the African 100m record of 10.78s, set in 2016.

The time Okagbare returned in Lagos on Thursday beat her previous best of 10.79s and made her the joint second-fastest woman of all time behind 100 metres world record holder Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 10.49s which the American set at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1988. Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is the other woman to have run 10.63s

And the legendary Nigerian sprinter says the race has given her renewed confidence of a memorable performance at the delayed 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, five years after she failed to make it to the final of the 100m at the Rio Olympics.

“Since the start of this season, I see myself as very ready,” she said. “I feel healthy, stronger and like the real Blessing Okagbare again. I am really happy that this time came down today; it will boost my confidence, my faith and my trust in God. I just hope this same thing happens at the Olympics.”

Okagbare has not raced in any final of the sprint events since 2015 when she raced to an 11.02 seconds finish to place eighth at the World Athletics Championship in Beijing, China.

Many local watchers of the sport erroneously thought Okagbare’s time at the top was up but she has returned to her best in 2021, racing to a 10.90s season’s best at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Doha, Qatar in May before cruising to a 10.99s finish in the semi-finals of the AFN-organised Nigerian Olympic Trials on earlier on Thursday to set a new championship record.

But not many expected she would run faster than the 10.79s Nigerian record she ran in London in 2013 in the 100m final. But Like a bolt out of the blues, Okagbare stormed to a 10.63s finish.

The Nigerian has now emerged one of the favourites for the 100m gold at the Tokyo Olympics alongside Fraser-Pryce who first ran 10.63 seconds this season at the JOA/JAAA Olympic Destiny Series 3 meet at the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica and Sha Carri Richardson, the 2019 NCAA 100m queen who has achieved 10.72 seconds this season.

“I have been working on everything and I hope it counts at the big stage, that’s the Olympics,” Okagbare said. “I have to go to the Olympics, do better than I did or better still replicate it. You might not need to run like this to win the Olympics; at the Games, you just want to get to the finish line.”

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