On Friday evening, Blessing Okagbare won her second World Championship medal in a week – bronze in the 200 metres – to ensure that Nigerians for the first time since 1999 had something to celebrate at the end of these championships. Indeed, Blessing single-handedly ensured that Nigeria equaled its best ever medal tally of 1 Silver and 1 Bronze at a World Championship, from 1999 when Glory Alozie took Silver in the 100m hurdles and Francis Obikwelu took Bronze in the 200 metres. Sadly for Nigeria, Alozie and Obikwelu, its two best athletes from that era, switched to Spain and Portugal respectively, both in 2001, creating a void which has since been left unfilled until now!
Blessing’s feat ensured that she became the first ever Nigerian to become a double individual medallist at either the World Champs or the Olympics, and doing it within the same championships should be especially commended. Blessing had the busiest schedule of any athlete in Moscow, competing in the 100m, 200m and Long Jump, and but for that hectic schedule, she may have also medalled in the 100 metres – I am extremely happy for her that she won that Bronze in the 200 metres and put to bed any suggestions that even I had prematurely raised about her not performing when it mattered the most. This lady is truly a Championship performer, and her 2 medals from 3 events in a packed week is more than enough evidence of that!
Including her Long Jump bronze from the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Blessing is already well on her way to becoming Nigeria’s most decorated athlete of all time. I would love to see her continue to attack all 3 events at major championships, but she may have to decide in the future to forego one (maybe the long jump?) to improve her chances in the other two. Certainly if the women’s long jump is not moved from the day before the 100 metre final in future championships, that might continue to hamper her best prospects in the marquis sprint event. Perhaps organisers could adjust the schedule to accommodate an athlete as supremely gifted as Blessing? In the past this has been considered for the likes of Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson, in their bids in years gone by to win multiple events at major championships!
Cote d’Ivoire’s Murielle Ahoure also had a fantastic championship, finishing with Silver behind Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in both the 100m and 200m. This lady has stepped up massively from her 7th and 6th place finishes at the Olympics last year, and these are her country’s first ever medals at a World Championships in the 30 year history of the event! Both ladies can only gain more confidence from their medals, and personally I am looking forward to a great rivalry between them for years to come. Granted, my prediction that at least one of them would break the 200 metre African record on Friday night did not come to pass, but I look forward to seeing both of them in the coming years going for both Mary Onyali’s 200 metre record (22.07s) and Blessing’s 100m African record (10.79s)! Both of them will be looking towards Rio 2016, and the possibility of breaking Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s dominance in the 100m (and now the 200m) by then!
If Ahoure and Okagbare continue to develop and progress the way that they have so far, they could well lead the way for the renaissance of world class sprinting (and jumping) in Africa. That said, the incredible successes of these two great athletes should not paper over the fact that countries like Cote d’Ivoire (with 23 million people) and Nigeria especially (with over 170 million people) could and should be doing a lot better in Athletics. It should be noted that both Murielle and Blessing as sprinters are products of the American collegiate system. Obviously Blessing’s Olympic Bronze medal in 2008 showed that with her natural talent she had the potential to become a big star, but she would not have had the opportunity to blossom the way she has if she had stayed in Nigeria. There is simply no programme in Nigeria or elsewhere in West Africa that allows for natural athletic talents to be moulded into world class performers – think of how many people with talent similar to Kirani James or even Usain Bolt who will never be discovered or developed in Africa? Perhaps it is time for Africa to take a leaf out of Jamaica’s book and stop outsourcing the development of its athletes to the American college system?
Here’s another look at my video short entitled “Long Distance”, showing how far behind Jamaica that Nigeria has fallen in Athletics – we used to be on par back in the nineties!