Before assessing the medal chances of Murielle Ahoure and Blessing Okagbare in the 200 metres starting tomorrow, it would be remiss of me not to hail Ahoure’s Silver medal in the 100 metres on Monday night – the first medal of any colour for Cote d’Ivoire in the 30-year history of the World Championships! Despite not being mentioned as a medal contender by most commentators, Murielle’s record making Silver medal should not come as a big surprise. Along with Blessing, she has been steadily improving over the last couple of years, leading the way for African athletes to mix it with the best in the world. Ahoure actually finished 7th and 6th respectively in the 100m and 200m finals at London 2012, so after stepping up to Silver in Moscow, she will go into the 200m tomorrow with full confidence that she can get a medal there as well. In a country that usually only has their football stars such as Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure to cheer about, she is quickly becoming a national celebrity in her own right. Her interview following her Silver medal performance is in French, but having lived in the US since she was a teenager, she also speaks English fluently – this was her after the heats on Sunday:
So which of Ahoure and Okagbare carry Africa’s best hope for a medal in the 200 metres? This is definitely a tight call. Both have run three 200m races each this season, and both are unbeaten. Both have beaten Shelly-An Fraser-Pryce over this distance in the Diamond League this season, Murielle in Monaco, and Blessing in Birmingham. Ahoure even beat Olympic Champion Allyson Felix in Rome, with the absolute swagger of a woman who knows that she’s in great form this season. Every time Ahoure steps on to the track and runs a Personal Best, she sets a new National Record – this was the case with the 22.36s in Rome and the 22.24s in Monaco, which is the second fastest time in the world this year so far, behind the 22.13s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce ran at the Jamaican trials. One can certainly not count Ahoure out of the medal reckoning in the 200 metres – watch out for yet another National Record, which she will probably need to get a medal!
Blessing will be looking to quickly get over the disappointment of her 6th place finish in the 100 metres on Monday night, to grab a much needed medal in the 200 metres. For the form that she’s been in this year, it would be unwise to discount her despite things not going according to plan for her in the 100 – I have been saying since we started seeing her coming from behind to win 100 metre races at the London Olympics last year, that the 200 metre would most likely become her more dominant event, and now she has a fantastic opportunity to show just that. Blessing set her 200m PB of 22.31s in her first race of the outdoor season in California in April, and with a PB and new African Record of 10.79s in the shorter sprint, I really do think that Mary Onyali’s 200m African Record of 22.07s is under threat from Blessing – I think she has the potential to go under 22 seconds, and that certainly would be more than enough for some colour of medal.
It goes without saying that the 200 metres is going to be billed by all commentators as a head-to-head duel between Allyson Felix and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. It would certainly be foolish to discount the London 2012 Gold and Silver medallists at this distance. If Allyson runs at her best, she is probably unbeatable, but has only won two of her four races this season, surprisingly losing to newcomer Kimberlyn Duncan at the US trials, and to Ahoure in that race in Rome. She did win her final outing before Moscow at the London Anniversary Games, so maybe she is coming back into form at the right time. If she can return to her Personal Best form (21.69s) then she will likely not be stopped from winning back her 200m world title that she relinquished to Veronica Campbell-Brown 2 years ago in Daegu. As for Shelly-Ann, she is in such imperious form, winning the 100m so emphatically on Monday night, that one can be forgiven for assuming that the 200m will be a straight fight between her and Felix. But can she sustain her incredible 100m speed over the longer distance against some of the taller girls, like Blessing? Only time will tell, but surely it would be a surprise to see her finish outside of the medals.
One can also not discount the other Americans, Kimberlyn Duncan and Jeneba Tarmoh, who should also certainly make the final, and the Bahamians Anthonique Strachan and Shaunae Miller, who are my dark horses for this event. Strachan especially, who was the double 100m and 200m Junior (U-20) World Champion last year, should also make the final and from then on anything is possible – she is fifth fastest in the world this year with 22.32s so perhaps she may even threaten the Bahamian Record of 22.19s set all the way back in 1999 by one Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie. Miller is probably a year behind Strachan in terms of development, so I expect she would be happy to just make the final. I don’t really expect an individual medal for either of them at these championships, but expect great things from both of them in the future – having travelled to the Bahamas this year to watch the Caribbean Junior and Youth Games (CARIFTA), I can attest that the amount of talent the Bahamas is churning out with a population of only 350,000 people is simply astonishing!
Does my analysis mean that Blessing and Murielle are fighting for just one medal, likely to be Bronze? Perhaps, but not necessarily. It would take an upset of one of the huge favourites for Africa to get two medals in an event in which no African woman has ever won a World Championship medal, but we have already seen huge upsets this week, with Amantle Montsho losing the 400m by a nose to Christine Ohuruogu, and Olympic Champion Kirani James being comprehensively defeated by Lashawn Merritt at the same distance. One thing’s almost certain for me – Mary Onyali’s African Record will be up for grabs come Friday, but will it be broken by Ahoure or Okagbare? Or indeed by both of them? Who will come out on top in this 200m sub-plot, the battle for the title “Queen of African Sprinting”? After the 100 metres, it’s already one-nil to Ahoure. Which of them will medal in the 200 metres? I for one certainly hope that it can be both of them!
Okagbare goes in Heat 2 in the first round of the 200 metres at 8.02am (British Summer Time / Nigerian Time) tomorrow, while Ahoure is in Heat 7 at 8.37am. The semi-finals are also tomorrow, from 4.45pm, and the Final is at 6.15pm on Friday. Go Team Naija, and Go Team CIV!