This is the question that will be agitating the minds of Nigerian athletics faithful as Old Father Time will,in a couple of years from now,schedule a meeting with 32-year old Blessing Okagbare,the elegant, beautiful,multi-talented and greatest sprinter Nigeria has ever produced.
Okagbare has been the best thing that has happened to the 100m/200m events in Nigeria since she sprinted to her first national title in July 2009,’jogging’ 11.16 seconds to win the 100m event at the Nigerian Trials in Abuja.
She has broken the Nigerian 100m (10.90) and 200m (22.07) records held by Glory Alozie and Mary Onyali respectively.In 2013,she became the first and so far only Nigerian sprinter to run inside 10.90 and 10.80 seconds and this she accomplished in one day!.
This feat she achieved at the Diamond League meeting (Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games) at the Olympic stadium in London where she broke the Nigerian record twice in one day by first running 10.86 seconds in the semis and improved to 10.79 seconds in the final seconds to win the race and set a Nigerian and African record in the process.
The African record may have been taken away from her by Ivory Coast’s Muriel Ahoure (10.78),but the Nigerian record looks set to stay as long as genuine followers of the sport in Nigeria can imagine.Did you say this is another Florence Griffith-Joyner’s never-to-be broken record? Your guess is as good as mine.
Okagbare,we all know started out as a jumper and was on top of the ladder in the triple and the long jumps.She set enviable records in the two events before jumping onto the track from the horizontal jumps pit.
She remains one of only three Nigerians to hit the 7m mark and over in the long jump and the first of three Nigerians to hit the then magical 14m mark in the triple jump courtesy of her then national record setting mark in May 2007 at the Teslim Balogun stadium in Lagos where she hopped,stepped and jumped 14.13m.
While Nigeria has been able to produce a successor in the long jump in the shape of the very humble and easy-going but supremely talented Ese Brume,the reverse has been the case in the sprints and this is a source of concern for genuine lovers of the sport.
Since Mary Onyali raced to national reckoning in the 100m/200m events in the late 1980s,Nigeria has always produced three,four or more world class talents to not only rival her but actually complement her efforts in the 4x100m relays.
The result was the historic bronze medal win at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
We had at the time Christy Opara-Thompson (11.07), Beatrice Utondu who is on record as the second woman at the time to break 10.10 seconds on Nigerian soil (10.08) and of course Tina Iheagwan,the first Nigerian woman (girl) to win a world title (Athens ’86 World Juniors).
While others faded away,a new set of rivals sprang up to unsuccessfully challenge Onyali as the greatest Nigerian sprinter at the time.The likes of Endurance Ojokolo (won the Nigerian 100m title seven times),Mercy Nku (second Nigerian nay African woman to run in the 100m final at the World Championships),the beautiful Akwa Ibom girl,Uduak Ekah who won bronze at the World Juniors in Annecy,France in 1998 and once held the World Juniors fastest time in the 60m event (7.09) and was one of two Nigerians to run in the final of the event at the World Indoor Championships inside the Green Dome in Maebashi,Japan in 1999 and Gloria Kemasuode, the former Nigeria U-15 record holder who holds a personal best of 11.21 seconds.
The Okagbare era was preceded by Francisca Idoko (11.14),the 2008 World Indoor 60m finalist and a member of the 4x100m relay team that won a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics and of course the great Oludamola Osayomi,one of only four Nigerians to run inside 10 seconds in the 100m and who made history as the third Nigerian nay African woman to run in the blue ribband final at the World Championships (Osaka 2007).
In summary,Nigeria has always produced athletes that could be called upon if the star athlete in the 100/200m is unavailable. That was then. A lot of water has passed under the bridge now and Nigeria cannot boast of competent rivals to Okagbare.
Yes,the talents are there but they have yet to metamorphose into competent rivals that could complement Okagbare’s efforts in trying to get Nigeria to the podium in the 4x100m at major global events like the Olympics and the World Championships.
Today, Complete Sports takes a look at five sprinters who have shown they have the talent to step into the big shoes Okagbare will definitely behind but who have,so far,failed to fulfil expectations.
Alphonsus ANIEKEME (11.30)
The fastest of the chasing pack is the USA-based Aniekeme. The 21 year old 2015 African U-20 silver medallist has failed to fulfil the promise she showed in Addis Ababa in 2015.She showed a glimpse of it in June 2019 when she ran 11.30 to race to 22nd on the Nigerian all-time list but failed to deliver at the African Games in Rabat,finishing last (11.78) in the blue ribband race.
Tobi AMUSAN (11.31)
Many sprint hurdlers have proved to be always fast in the 100m.Glory Alozie, the Nigerian nay African 100m hurdles record holder proved this when she ran 10.90 seconds in the 100m in 1999 which still ranks her as Nigeria’s second fastest woman of all time. Amusan has also shown this promise and currently ranks 23rd best in the national all-time list with her 11.31 personal best in the 100m set in 2018.
Ese Brume (11.41)
Still only 24, Brume can transform from the great,world class sprinter that she is to a remarkably better sprinter like Okagbare has done!. Ranked 39th fastest in the national all-time ranking, Brume can become a great sprinter if she chooses to be.
Joy UDO-GABRIEL (11.42)
Perhaps the athlete to whom all eyes are focussed on,the beautiful Udo-Gabriel has failed to live up to the promise she showed in April 2018 when she raced to national record in the firt round of the 100m at the Commonwealth Games with an 11.42 seconds run. It was a personal best. Since then,she is yet to run faster than that with her best last year two hundreth of a second outside her personal best.
Rosemary CHUKWUMA (11.44)
Still 19 years of age, Chukwuma looks to be the most promising of the talents after dominating the African junior scene in 2018 and 2019.In the former she successfully completed a sprints double at the African Youth Games in Algiers before repeating the same feat last year in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire at the African U-20 Championships.
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