Ok­ag­bare, Oth­ers Be­gin Quests for Ath­let­ics Medals for Nige­ria

THISDAY - - FRIDAY SPORTS - Duro Ik­hazugbe

Africa and Com­mon­wealth sprint cham­pion, Bless­ing Ok­ag­bareIghoteguonor is at the top of Nige­rian ath­letes who will be­gin their search for Olympic medals when the track & field events of Rio2016 be­gin to­day at the Está­dio Olímpico João Have­lange.

With­out doubt, the Sapele-born Ok­ag­bare ap­pears Nige­ria’s best chance for a podium ap­pear­ance in the dou­ble sprint events as well as the women’s long jump.

How­ever, the dou­ble gold medal­ist in the 100m and 200m at the Glas­gow Games is up against a very qual­ity field in the 100m event in­clud­ing de­fend­ing cham­pion Ja­maica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pyrce who is bid­ding to be­come the first woman to win a hat-trick of blue rib­band gold at the games fol­low­ing her wins in 2008 in Bei­jing and 2012 in Lon­don.

While Fraser-Pyrce’s his­toric bid looks a her­culean task go­ing by her pre-Games per­for­mances in the cir­cuit where she has only man­aged a le­gal run in­side 11 sec­onds (10.93 sec­onds at the Ja­maican tri­als) due mainly to a toe in­jury, it is much more for Ok­ag­bare who is also bid­ding to be­come the first Nige­rian to win a 100m medal at the qua­dren­nial event.

Since she made a bolt out of the blues emer­gence into the sprints stage in 2010 when she ran 11.10 sec­onds and be­low seven times be­fore join­ing the sub-11 sec­onds club the fol­low­ing year, this is Ok­ag­bare’s worst pre-ma­jor cham­pi­onships/games sea­son as she has legally failed to break 11 sec­onds this year,only bandy­ing the wind-aided 10.92 sec­onds she ran in Székesfe­hérvár,Hun­gary on July 18 as her only claim to that ef­fect.

With her rivals such as world leader Elaine Thomp­son (10.70 sec­onds per­sonal sea­son’s best, SB) of Ja­maica, the Amer­i­can trio of English Gar­dener (10.74 sec­onds SB),Tori Bowie (10.78 sec­onds SB) and reign­ing world long jump cham­pion Tianna Bar­to­letta (also 10.78 sec­onds SB) as well as new African record holder Muriel Ahoure (10.78 sec­onds SB) and the fly­ing Dutch woman, Dafne Schip­pers who holds a 10.83 sec­onds per­sonal sea­son’s best red hot in the pre-games cir­cuit, Ok­ag­bare will need to not only legally duck in­side 11 sec­onds in Rio,she also needs to break her 10.79 sec­onds per­sonal best to be sure of an his­toric podium ap­pear­ance.

While the 100m looks like an im­pos­si­ble task to ac­com­plish by the beau­ti­ful, seven-time Nige­rian blue rib­band queen ,the half lap even looks more her­culean if she chooses to re­main on the track at the ex­pense of the long jump pit due to the clash in sched­ule.

Ok­ag­bare’s love for the event seems to have di­min­ished since she fin­ished third at the IAAF World Cham­pi­onships in Moscow three years ago as she rarely runs it. This will surely count against her and with a 22.58 sec­onds per­sonal sea­son’s best,the best she can hope for will be to just be among the fi­nal­ists.

Hol­land’s Schip­pers, the reign­ing world cham­pion, with a 21.93 sec­onds world lead looks the hot favourite to add Olympic gold to the world ti­tle she won last year with Bowie, who won bronze in Bei­jing last year and Thomp­son who raced Schip­pers to the fin­ish line in se­cond place at the Worlds favoured to share the re­main­ing space on the podium.

Is the long jump event where she won a for­tu­itous bronze eight years ago the best bet for Ok­ag­bare to re­turn to the podium?

With the un­pre­dictabil­ity of the event,this may seem so but a look at the qual­ity of com­peti­tors and the Nige­rian’s less than in­spir­ing per­for­mance in the event pre-Rio do not paint a very pos­i­tive pic­ture.

De­fend­ing cham­pion Brit­ney Reese who won ev­ery avail­able global ti­tle from 2009 to 2013 is back to form and lead­ing the pack with a huge 7.31m world lead. It is safe to bank on her re­tain the ti­tle she first won four years ago in Lon­don where she equalled Chioma Ajunwa’s 7.12m mark as the third joint long­est win­ning mark at the Games.

Fol­low­ing on Resse’s heels are Sos­thene Mogue­nara of Ger­many who set a per­sonal best of 7.16m in Wein­heim, Ger­many lasy May to jump to num­ber two on the top list for the year and Aussie’s Brooke Strat­ton who also set a 7.05m per­sonal best in Perth, Aus­tralia in March. The trio have jumped above 7m this year and should be chal­lenged by Ser­bia’s Ivana Spanovic of Ser­bia (6.95m SB,) who has been very con­sis­tent in the cir­cuit this sea­son jump­ing 6.90 and more.

Ok­ag­bare holds a per­sonal sea­son’s best of 6.73m which is 10cm out­side the 6.83m her com­pa­triot, Ese Brume jumped in Akure on June 6 at the fi­nal of the Ath­letic Fed­er­a­tion of Nige­ria Golden League.

Both Ok­ag­bare and Brume will need to jump far­ther than their present bests. The for­mer will need to at least equal the 7.00m per­sonal best she jumped on July 19,2013 at the Her­culis Zepter IAAF Di­a­mond League meet­ing to stand a chance of mak­ing the podium while Brume will need to make his­tory as the third Nige­rian woman to hit the 7m mark in the event to also wear the tag of a contender.


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