By Tony Ubani, Tokyo
For the first time since 2012, two Nigerian athletes will be running in the semifinals of the women’s 100m after Blessing Okagbare and Nzubechi Grace Nwokocha qualified from their respective heats Friday in Tokyo, Japan.
Nwokocha had to run a new personal best of 11.00 seconds to secure her qualification to the semifinals in her debut at the Games. 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 11 seconds barrier as the fifth Nigerian woman to do so 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 with the fastest woman alive, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica, 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.
She has been drawn in the first semifinal heat alongside two heavyweights of the event, 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 who ran 11.07 seconds to come second in her first-round heat.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics Long Jump silver medallist will be in action at exactly 11.15 am Nigerian time on Saturday.