Last year was a memorable one both on and off the track for the multi-talented Blessing Okagbare. She capped off golds galore in the Commonwealth Games and African champs by tying the knot in her hometown. Now the Nigerian wants to take on even more in 2015.
You could forgive Blessing Okagabare for feeling a tinge of regret on New Year’s Day.
It is not that the outrageously gifted Nigerian should approach 2015 with anything but optimism; it is just that 2014 was such a memorable year for the sprinter-jumper that it must have been hard to leave it behind, and harder still to better.
Going in to 2014, the powerful Okagbare had recorded a series of blistering times but had mystifyingly underperformed in major 100m finals. At London 2012, she set PBs on the way to winning her heat (10.93) and semi-final (10.92). But when it came to the final she could not back it up and placed last.
In the lead up to the Moscow 2013 World Championships she posted an African record 10.79 at the London Diamond League. Yet a time of 11.04 in the medal race in the Russian capital saw her finish a disappointing sixth. Although she found medal success in Moscow, winning silver in the long jump and bronze in the 200m, Okagbare addressed her weaknesses to avoid a repeat of falling short again in the 100m.
“I needed to work on the first part of my race,” she admits. “I don’t want to say I was a terrible starter but the first part of my race was very poor.”
She did work on it, and boy did it work for her.
With no major global champs in 2014, her primary goal was the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Sporting a shock of blonde hair under a grey Scottish sky, she lit up the track to strike gold in a games record, finishing 0.18 clear of Jamaica’s silver medallist and former two-time world 100m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown.
“To run 10.85 in the 100m final was a great accomplishment for me,” Okagbare says. “I had never won a major 100m title before. It was my first Commonwealth Games and it was great that I was able to deliver in the 100m sprint.”
There was more. Okagbare comfortably secured the sprint double with victory in the 200m, before adding a silver medal as part of the Nigerian 4x100m quartet.
A little under two weeks later Okagbare shrugged off the mounting fatigue by winning the 100m and 4x100m at the African Championships in Marrakech.
“It was not about the medals, it was more about the execution and staying patient and focused,” she says.
There was more excitement to come. In November she wed former Nigerian international footballer Igho Otegheri, and Okagbare was careful not to let wedding preparations get in the way of her track season.
“I would say I was 40 per cent involved,” she says. “I was lucky in that my maid of honour was very active in terms of organising, but whatever they did needed my approval.”
Okagbare, who is based in Los Angeles, took a month off from training in October to focus on the wedding ceremony, which took place in her home city of Sapele. She wore not one dress but six!
“I wore two dresses for the white wedding and four traditional outfits. Although only two of them are seen in public and the rest for pictures.” She dismisses talk of the multiple clothing changes as stressful in the same way she dismissed all-comers at the Commonwealth Games. Yet she insists the element of the day which took the most time was being fitted with a traditional Nigerian headscarf.
With her husband an ex-footballer and as a handy former midfielder herself, the happy couple are partial to an occasional keepie uppy session.
“I was teaching him the skills and he told me ‘you are not too bad.’ I said ‘that’s because you haven’t taught me!’ He said I would make me a great striker because I’m fast and strong.”
Clearly, Okagbare is a woman of many talents. Prior to her world long jump silver in Moscow she won Olympic bronze in 2008. She competed in the event only once last season, winning in the Shanghai Diamond League with a leap of 6.86m. At the Moscow 2013 World Championships she had a go at the triple jump.
She says that she will only be giving the jumps a go this year “if the timing of the schedule allows”. Yet Okagbare admits she has eyes on a fourth event, perhaps aided by the endurance work she has been doing over the winter.
“I might do a 400m. I haven’t run one since I was a little girl running barefoot, but I fancy giving it a go.”
Whether it is the 100m, 200m, long jump or the 400m (which she stresses will be just a one-off), no event appears beyond her capabilities. But regardless of the discipline, the aim for the Beijing 2015 World Championships remains the same.
“A gold medal,” she says adamantly. “A triple, a double, whatever I need to do. It is a world championships so the aim is a gold medal.”
That would certainly make 2015 another year to remember.