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Feature19 May 2015

More right, less wrong is aim for Okagbare-Ighoteguonor


Blessing Okagbare on her way to winning the 100m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai (© Errol Anderson)

“Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I get it wrong,” said Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor when talking about her 100m running.

Sunday night in Shanghai was one of those occasions Okagbare-Ighoteguonor, now going by her hyphenated married name, got it right.

Facing a field of big-name sprinters including Olympic and world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, last year’s world leader Tori Bowie, fastest in the field this year Michelle-Lee Ayhe and Veronica Campbell-Brown, Okagbare-Ighoteguonor responded by trouncing them all.

Cool overcast conditions arguably put a damper on the times, but Okagbare-Ighoteguonor won by almost a full metre in 10.98. It was a stunning victory, both in itself and in its comprehensiveness.

This performance prompted the thought: why is Okagbare-Ighoteguonor’s chances so often ignored in this sort of race?

Again in Shanghai, all the talk beforehand was about others, naturally so given some of the names, but unwisely so in that it under-rated the ultimate winner.

Maybe it is the curse of versatility.

Okagbare-Ighoteguonor’s talents across sprints and jumps are prodigious. Maybe because she is so good at all, people tend to discount that possibility she can be excellent at one or, at least, one at a time.

Maybe when it comes to the sprints, it is because of her obviously erratic start.

Usain Bolt talked about his ‘poor’ starting so often in the early stages of his 100m sprinting, but rarely, if ever, did he get a shocker.

Shocking start

Okagbare-Ighoteguonor seems to do so regularly. Indeed, it was hard to pick the greater shock in Shanghai. Was it the fact she won, or the fact that she was in the lead the whole way and had it won at 40 metres?

She alluded to this herself after the race. “Normally I don’t have the best start, but now I was leading from the beginning,” said the Nigerian sprinter.

It was a familiar scenario. Okagbare-Ighoteguonor ran 10.79 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London in 2013 before finishing sixth in the 100m at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow. But it does prompt the question: can she make a real charge at being the No.1 in the world this year?

"I feel, I think and I hope I can,” Okagbare-Ighoteguonor told reporters after her Shanghai win. "I’m working towards it. I hope it happens.”

The other cautionary note – which the athlete also echoed – is that it is still early in the season.

As David Oliver had put it a day earlier: “The home run you hit last night doesn’t win today’s game.”

The season, as Fraser-Pryce observed, is still young. People are at different stages of their preparations with the IAAF World Championships in Beijing still three months away.

But it is never too early to build confidence and Okagbare-Ighoteguonor laid a fair foundation on Sunday night.

“It does (give me confidence),” she said of her win, “but it doesn’t change anything. There’s a lot of talented people out there, like me, so I just have to keep working hard. I don’t want to be left behind.

“A performance like that gives me a little edge and a bit of confidence but I still have to put more work in and keep pushing forward.”

The main thing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor has been working on is the first 40 metres of her 100m. Put that part of the race together and the rest should take care of itself.

“There’s been a lot of work going on,” she said.

“My coach told me ‘don’t worry about the time, just go out and execute'. I think that’s what I did and after 40 metres it felt extremely easy for me to go.”

Despite her win, and despite last year’s 10.85/22.25 sprint double at the Commonwealth Games, Okagbare-Ighoteguonor said she still feels like a novice in the straight sprint.

Easy execution

“Sometimes I get it right; sometimes I get it wrong. If I get it right – which I did today, not 100 per cent, but 70 – it feels extremely easy.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, this tallies with the feeling you get watching her run the 100m.

If she is up and running early, you just know Okagbare-Ighoteguonor is going to be hard to beat, because she comes home like a train.

Last year, Okagbare-Ighoteguonor won a 200m/long jump double in Shanghai.

Diamonds may be rare, and IAAF Diamond League doubles are perhaps even rarer still, but her recent focus has been more on the sprints than the long jump.

So will she long jump this year?

“I will,” she promised, “because I just want to see how far I can jump.” At the minute, her best is 7.00m, which she produced in 2013.

In medal returns, there is little to choose between long jump and sprints. Okagbare-Ighoteguonor has an Olympic bronze in the long jump from 2008 and a World Championships bronze in the 200m from 2013.

It seems there must be more there.

Okagbare-Ighoteguonor’s win on Sunday suggests that if she can keep her focus on keeping her focus during the first 40m of her 100m, she could find herself standing on the podium when she comes back to China in August. Maybe even the top step.

Len Johnson for the IAAF