By Yemi Olus
March 24th, 2019, marked the first anniversary of Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor’s Nigerian and African Record of 22.04sec in the women’s 200m set at the Wes Kittley Invitational in Abilene, USA. Her new Record eclipsed Mary Onyali’s former mark of 22.07sec set in 1996. What made Blessing’s feat even more impressive was the fact that it was her first race of the season.
Okagbare-Igoteguonor will surely go into the history books as one of the best athletes the continent, and I dare say the world, has produced. Over the years, she’s managed to combine the 100m, 200m and Long Jump, and that’s certainly no child’s play, especially when there is a need to compete in more than one event at a major championship.
In 2013, she stormed to an African Record of 10.79sec in the 100m while competing at the London Anniversary Games where she defeated the reigning Olympic Champion at the time, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica. Okagbare-Ighoteguonor had earlier set a new African record of 10.86sec in the semis, before bettering her time to 10.79sec in the final.
Her 100m Record lasted for three years before Cote d’Ivoire’s Murielle Ahoure broke it by the slightest of margins – 0.01sec, replacing it with a new mark of 10.78sec.
Although Okagbare-Ighoteguonor started the 2018 Athletics season on a high, with her new 200m Record, the rest of the season didn’t pan out as expected as she eventually succumbed to an injury, which forced her to end her season earlier than she had envisaged. That notwithstanding, she still managed to inspire a much younger 4x100m team to Bronze at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, and Gold at the African Championships in Asaba.
The Delta State athlete has no doubt faced some disappointing moments in her career, chief of which would probably be the London 2012 Olympics which she approached with such high hopes but eventually finished 8th in the 100m. There was also the 2015 and 2017 World Championships in Beijing and London respectively (she placed 8th in the 100m in Beijing and occupied the same position in the Long Jump in London). She didn’t make the 100m final at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
However, barring any injury, Okagbare-Ighoteguonor believes she still has a lot to offer as she is now chasing a World Championships Gold medal, having won Silver and Bronze respectively in the Long Jump and 200m in Moscow in 2013. She also aspires to break the African Record in the Long Jump before she calls time on her illustrious career.
In an interview with Making of Champions in December, Okagbare-Ighoteguonor had this to say: “I know I still have it in me, it’s just that this health issue has taken a lot from me. If I can get back to being healthy, there is so much more to accomplish in the few years I have left to represent this country very well. My major focus right now is to get healthy again.
“I’ve just been cleared to start practice which is really good news. I just want to stay healthy because other things are fine. Mentally I’m there. The African Games and the World Championships are around the corner; I’m still missing a World Championships Gold medal; I’ve got Silver and Bronze so I’m still looking forward to representing Nigeria and not just being at a competition, but medalling as well.
“I have this goal of breaking the African Record in all my three events, which I have already achieved in the 100m and 200m. I’m still waiting for that 7.12m in the Long Jump which I think I’m capable of. I’m hoping everything goes well. I’m looking forward to that as long as I’m healthy and as long as my body allows me.”
Going forward, the Beijing 2008 Long Jump Silver Medallist says she will continue to compete in all three events but would probably just settle for one event at a major championship; that would be up to her team to decide, depending on how she is feeling at the time.
Breaking the continental records in the 100m and 200m is no mean feat. It would be great to see Blessing’s hopes of breaking Chioma Ajunwa’s African Record in the Long Jump, eventually come to pass. That is certainly a tall order, and I’m sure a lot would ponder on how realistic this target is. However, I’ve learnt never to say ‘never’.
Still basking in the euphoria of the first anniversary of her 200m record, I wish Okagbare-Ighoteguonor a healthy 2019 and hope her dreams come true.