Nigerian superstar Blessing Okagbare says that when she competes at the Rabat Diamond League, it feels like she is representing the whole of Africa.
Okagbare has competed at the Moroccan meet every year since it was incorporated into the Diamond League circuit four years ago, but she won for the first time there only last year, with a season’s best of 11.05 in the 100m.
In this interview Sunday evening,the sprint and long jump star bares her mind in the Rabat edition of the Wanda Diamond League Call Room…
You have competed in every single edition of the Rabat Diamond League, but you had to wait till last year to get your first ever win…
Okagbare: “When I first heard they were going to have a Diamond League in Rabat back in 2016, I was so happy. I love competing in general whichever place, wherever I go as an athlete. For me, Africa was more like home, and it was an honour to be part of it and to represent the continent – that was my first take for me going there. And every time I go there I hope I’m gonna do well especially as I feel I’m at home. It might not be Nigeria but it is Africa and I think I have lots of fans there as well, so I wanted to perform really well in front of them. But finally last year, I got a win… Ooh… laughter.(She ran 11.05 seconds in the 100m race to win ahead of Ivory Coast’s Marie-Josée Ta Lou who ran 11.09 seconds).
You competed there in 2017 and 2018. You struggled a bit in 2018, ran faster in 2017 and I don’t think you remember in 2018 you ran a 200m?
Okagbare: Ouch! I remember. It was an horrible race…
You actually started well that year before things turned awry. It was like an up and down season for you?
Okagbare: When I started 2018, my season was going amazingly great. But I don’t know what I did, and my body just went downhill with injury and I don’t know if most people were watching. It was like I was taking one and a half steps – not two steps every time I sprint. When I take a long step, the other step is short – people going forward, I feel like I’m going backwards. It was not something I wanted to do, but it was just what my body could do. With that, I was dealing with that part of the injury and my thyroid just go wack completely. So I was dealing with so much going on and my thyroid for me is – I just gained weight and it’s like what is going on? And before they could figure out what was happening, it was a little too late. They just said my thyroid was not completely dead, it was not performing at all. It was not! Because sometimes I just jog around and I’m tired – and I’m better than that, what’s going on? It just didn’t add up but with time we’ve been able to fix it. I was there (in Rabat), like I said I was taking this (racing) for Africa and I got to go. So that 200m for me was a bad one. I was tired even before I got to the finishing line – I was just waiting to finish the race, honestly. (She ran a mind boggling 23.42 seconds to place seventh in the race barely four months after she sped to a new 22.04 seconds personal best, the second fastest time in the world that year).
I actually checked your time, it was one of your slowest in many, many years. Do you think that explains there was a bigger picture to it? Is it frustrating sometimes that people expect so much from you when you had so much going on behind the scene?
Okagbare: It is. Sometimes it gets to me mentally. That’s the truth. I’m not gonna sit down here and pretend that I didn’t feel it. But at the end of the day, what I just take from it is that not a lot of people understand that. That people that really need to know what is going on were aware of it. So I’m fine and good and that’s just it.
It just occurred to me that most of the time, people want to see you perform well which is not a bad thing – it is a positive thing because they are rooting for you. But a lot of things that go in – when you really want to perform well as an athlete – it’s tough, it’s difficult mentally. Every little thing you have going wrong with you tends to affect your confidence level.
So the last couple of years honestly, all I have going for me is that I was mentally strong. Physically, I don’t feel like it. When I get on the track, I was feeling this is not me – this is nothing close to me. But there is this thing that says, ‘Blessing, it’s fine. You know what you’re going through and if you can go through doing what you’re doing right now, it’s okay.’ So I just go out there and give it my best. It can be better and one day, it’s going to be perfect at least if you have age on your side.
Going back to 2019 when you won the 100m race in Rabat, it must be satisfying…
Okagbare: Yes… For me when you get into a race and you win – waoh it was a great feeling. Even if you run slow, you’ve run fast. So most of the time I look at the line-up, I don’t underestimate any athlete when I get on the track. That’s just me – straight up rule. I don’t care if you’re just coming out, or you’ve been there all along because if they beat you, they’ve beaten you – that’s it. So, you better be there and show up when it’s race day. That’s how I compete. And it was everybody on the line that is great – everyone. So I was very happy I won, but I was just hoping the time was a little faster. 11:05 – all that. But it’s a win. So, first you take the win and look at the time and you say, let’s just keep working, you will be fine.
I checked and it was your first Diamond League win since 2015 when you ran 10.98 seconds to win the 100m race in Shanghai, China. Is it strange to compete regularly on the Diamond League circuit and to run faster sometimes and posting incredible time but not to cross the line first?
Okagbare: There are times I want the time more than just crossing the line first. So this is it. So if I cross the line at 10.75 and I cross the line second, I would take the 10.75 over the first place finish sometimes because I wanted that time so bad. I will say this is great. So, it does depend. There are times when I’m really slow, then I wish I crossed the line first. But if I’m really fast and everyone is running fast, I get excited even if I didn’t cross the line first. So it all depends on the day, the race, time, how you started and finish and the weather too – you put all of that into the final consideration.
You’ve talked about being one of the tallest sprinters. What advantage do you think that gives you and if there are any disadvantages?
Okagbare: For me, I think that has really affected my start. If you watch me, I’m not a great starter. I am working so hard on it. There are lot of taller sprinters, but for me with my strides, I try to use it well. Some taller sprinters than I don’t have that stride. So when I’m ready I don’t panic, because I’m very confident that I will use my stride and strength to finish strong as much as I can. I think that’s just a huge advantage for me. It depends on how much I can use it when
Is that something you constantly experience when you’re a younger sprinter. Did you panic if you find yourself behind early in a race?
Okagbare: No, not at all. I think I’m actually worrying now than I used to. I need to go back being a child – I worry too much as an adult, you know… (Laughter)… It was fun and better when you’re young and all you want to do was to just run and compete. Now you go out there and you worry about starting, finishing, the time – everything you worry about and that takes a toll. It drains you. But as a child, you don’t stress about anything, honestly. You just go and compete and have fun. The fastest time I’ve ran, I didn’t see it coming . I just crossed the line and waoh!
DOB: Oct 9,1988
Silver-Long Jump (Beijing)
Silver-Long Jump (Moscow)
IAAF World Relays
Has won 12 times in the circuit
World (Continental) Cup
Bronze- 100m (Split)
Bronze-4x100m (Gold Coast)