All Eyes On Okagbare As IAAF Worlds Start In London

All Eyes On Okagbare As IAAF Worlds Start In London

Nigeria’s chances of winning her first gold medal at the IAAF flagship event, the World Championships in Athletics, is on reigning Commonwealth queen of the track, Blessing Okagbare- Ighoteguonor, as the 16th edition of the championships get underway at the Olympic stadium in London this evening.

Okagbare, silver (long jump) and bronze (200m) medal winner at the championships’ 14th edition four years ago in Moscow,Russia where she made history as the first Nigerian to win two medals at the same championships, will be hoping to become the first Nigerian to win a blue ribband medal.

Okagbare is Nigeria's hope at IAAF

Blessing Okagbare
image: getty

The closest Nigeria came was Olusoji Fasuba’s fourth place finish in 2007 at the Naggai stadium in Osaka, Japan but Okagbare will relish her chances of surpassing that feat following her late return to form.

The six-time Nigeria 100m champion ran her first sub-11 seconds 100m race (10.99 seconds) last month at the IAAF Diamond League meeting at the Olympic stadium in London,venue of the championships.

It was the first timesince September 2015 she would break 11 seconds in the event and she will be confident shehas got the momentum going for her.

Okagbare will also be banking on the fast track at the Olympic stadium which has proved to be a good ground for her as it was at the same track in 2013 that she became the first Nigerian nay African woman to run a sub-10.80 seconds (10.79 seconds) in the 100m.

So, can Nigerians and indeed Africans start counting their chickens? Can she achieve what the great Mary Onyali who ran in three consecutive 100m finals at the championships between 1991 and 1995 failed to achieve?

On the surface it looks a very herculean task as she will not only have to think about the duo of Elaine Thompson, the Jamaican who won the world title two years ago and added the Olympic crown just last year in Rio and the flying Dutch woman,Dafne Schippers, who won the silver medal behind Thompson two years ago in Beijing but also add the two Ivoriens,Muriel Ahoure who broke her African record by one hundreth of a second (10.78 seconds) last year and the more impressive Marie-Jose Ta Lou.

Okagbare will also have to spare some thoughts for the dark but talented American, Torie Bowie who won a surprise bronze medal in Beijing.

If the track gets congested for the Nigerian, she could seek redemption in the long jump where she will only require one long leap to achieve another slice of history: become the first Nigerian to be crowned a world champion.

Only three athletes have come closest to making the mark.Innocent Egbunike was the odds-on-favourite to win the 400m title in 1987 after his impressive,pre-championships performance in the circuit and came to the event in Rome as the fastest man in the world in the event.When the chips came down,he settled for a silver medal.

Fast forward to 1999.Two athletes, Francis Obikwelu in the men’s 200m and Glory Alozie in the women’s 100m hurdles looked sure bets to be crowned world champions.

While Alozie’s pre-championships’ feats made her look one of the sure favourites alongside Devers Olga,Shishigina and the Swede,Ludmila Enquist,Obikwelu’s 19.84 seconds run in the semi-final of the event got the reigning 100m king,Maurice Green who was gunning or a sprints double scared.

Both Nigerians failed to fulfil expectations.While Alozie (12.44 seconds) raced to a silver medal finish behind Gail Devers (12.37 seconds),Obikwelu settled for a bronze medal behind Green (19.90 seconds) and Brazil’s Claudinei da Silva (20.20 seconds).

Interestingly, Obikwelu’s 19.84 seconds run was the fastest time in the world that year.

For Okagbare, the task may look less herculean unlike in the 100m but she will have to leap farther than the 6.77m personal season’s best she jumped last month in Hungary or even the 6.99m that fetched her silver medal behind Britney Reese four years ago in Moscow where she lost the gold by 2cm.

While all attention will be on Okagbare, petite sprint hurdler,Tobiloba Amusan could prove to be the joker in the pack of the 18 athletes that will dorn Nigeria’s green and white colours at the championships.

Amusan is the hottest sprint hurdler in Africa this year and one of the seven fastest in the world following the 12.57 seconds she ran last June to win the American collegiate title.

She is also the second fastest African of all time in the event after compatriot Glory Alozie and looks a good bet for a place in the final in her first trip to the championships.

The gold may be far from her reach unless reigning world record holder (12.20 seconds) in the event Kendra Harrison hits the hurdle and crashes,she can make the podium if she runs faster than her personal best of 12.57 seconds.

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