By Dare Esan:
Reigning Commonwealth Games fastest woman,Blessing Okagbare Monday evening on the track of the Grand Stade de Marrakech overcame a slow start to outrun her major challenger,Muriel Ahoure of Cote D’Ivoire and her 11.03 seconds championships record to win the 100m gold at the 19th African Championships in Athletics.
Ahoure,who pipped Okagbare to the 200m silver medal last year at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, Russia was first out of the blocks and looks to be coasting home to her first African title before the long striding Okagbare powered past her in the final six metres to claim her second title in four years.
The Nigerian first picked the blue ribband title four years ago in Nairobi,Kenya,running 11.03 seconds to smash the then 11.05 championships record set in 1998 in Dakar,Senegal by Mary Onyali.
Okagbare’s attempt to make it a back-to-back win two years later at the Stade Charles de Gaulle in Porto Novo, Benin Republic at the 18th edition of the championships was truncated by illness as she finished second (11.18) behind Gabon’s Ruddy Zang Milama
who won in 11.16 seconds.
Monday evening’s feat has however made Okagbare the second Nigerian to win the 100m title at least twice after Onyali who won it back-to-back in 1988/89 before making it three times in 1998 after childbirth and Endurance Ojokolo who also won it back-to-back in 2002 and 2004.
The IAAF World Championships’ double medallist has also become the eighth Nigerian winner of the title after Obuzoene Nsenu (1979),Rufina Uba (1985),Mary Onyali (1988,1989,1998),Onyinye Chikezie (1990),Beatrice Utondu (1993),Ojokolo (2002, 2004) and Damola Osayomi (2008).
Okagbare expressed delight at winning her second African championships 100m title but tasked the Athletic Federation of Nigeria to do more and ensure Nigeria are a force to reckon with in world athletics.
‘I am very happy to have won the title because I just wanted to win for my fans and do my country proud. Just coming straight from the Commonwealth Games, my body is tired, but my coach told me to just focus and execute the race, which was what I did.
Of course the competition was stiffer at the Commonwealth Games, but that is not to take anything away from Murielle Ahoure. She is a great athlete. It was good that we had three Nigerians in the final but this is Africa. I am hoping that we can have this kind of representation on a bigger platform, like the World Championships and the Olympics,’ she said.
In the men’s version,Nigeria’s American import and former drugs offender,Mark Jelks ran 10.07 seconds,the fastest time by a Nigerian since Ogho-Oghene Egwero ran 10.06 in Maputo in 2011 at the All Africa Games to settle for silver behind Wilfred Koffi Hua of Cote D’Ivoire who set a new 10.05 national record to become the second Ivorian in championships history after Ben Youssef Meité (2010) to win the 100m title.
Another American Nigerian,Edward Monzavous (10.16) came third while the third Nigerian in the race, Egwero placed fifth in 10.28 seconds.
Pre-race favourite and defending champions,Simon Magakwe of South Africa,the only African who has broken 10 seconds so far this year (9.98A) came in fourth (10.19).
Nigeria has won nine of the 19 gold medals on offer at the championships since 1979 with Olusoji Fasuba emerging the last Nigerian to win the title in record-setting fashion in 2008 in Addis Ababa,Ethiopia when he became the first man in championships history to win the title three consecutive times.
In the women’s 100m hurdles,another American-Nigerian,Nicole Denby (13.27) finished third behind South Africa’s Rikenette Steenkamp (13.26) and Rosvitha Okou Bodjiho of Cote D’Ivoire (13.26).
Nigeria has won 10 of the 19 gold medals on offer since the championships inaugural edition in 1979 in Dakar with Maria Usifo (1984,1985,1988) and Glorie Alozie (1996,1998, 2000) winning the title three consecutive times.
South Africa tops the medals table after day two of competition with four gold, three silver and one bronze with CIV second with one gold, two silver and one bronze.
Nigeria is third with one gold,one silver and three bronze medals.