Happy birthday Blessing Okagbare!
A big birthday shout out to Nigeria’s most decorated athlete; Blessing Okagbare. Usually we do a normal social media post for any athlete or coach who is celebrating his/her birthday but today is different as we want to honour Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor specially.
Blessing was born on the 9th of October, 1988 in Sapele, Delta state. Just like many other Nigerian successful athletes, she originally played football in her teenage years before delving into Track and Field in 2004 and that same year she competed at the Nigerian School Championships wherein she participated in Long Jump, Triple Jump and High Jump winning a medal in each.
She took her winning streak a step further clinching the bronze medal in the Triple Jump at the National Sports Festival that year. In 2006, the then Junior prodigy, made her debut outing for Nigeria at the World Junior Championships in China and she bowed in the qualifying rounds of both the Long and Triple Jump events.
Despite not making the final at the Junior Champs, she came home with more experience and bounced back stronger in the 2007 season. At the trials for the All-Africa Games in Lagos, the youngster broke the National Triple Jump record with a mark of 14.13m and she was tipped to win the title in Algeria but her record was short-lived as teammate, Chinonye Ohadugha, eclipsed the record at the Games, leaping a distance of 14.21 meters. Okagbare could only manage a fourth place in the final but she won a Silver medal in the Long Jump.
2008 was a big year for Okagbare as she began focusing more attention on the Long Jump event than the Triple Jump. This paid off as the 19-year old shocked the world at the Beijing Olympic Games despite being the last qualifier with a leap of 6.52m in her final attempt, she jumped a mark of 6.91m to clinch the bronze medal which was later upgraded to Silver this year after Tatyana Lebedeva had a positive test for turinabol.
That was the turning point for the Sapele-born. She got admitted into University of Texas, El paso and enjoyed an unbeaten record in the 100m as well as the Long Jump. In 2010, she won her first National 100m title and she hasn’t looked back since then, winning it SIX more times.
Fast forward to 2012, by this time, she had scooped 7 medals in total at the All-Africa Games, African Championships and Continental Cup and she also participated at the 2011 World Championships. In 2012, Okagbare was Nigeria’s only star athlete who could merge up with other athletes across the globe and so, she was tipped to win a medal in either of her events at the London Olympics. With that been said, US based sporting company, NIKE splashed a sponsorship deal worth $500,000 (N79 MILLION) on the athlete who they believed would break the stronghold of the Jamaicans dominance in sprints.
Okagbare raised everyone’s hope in the heat and semi running a Personal Best of 10.92s in the process but she couldn’t live up to expectation as she finished Eight with a time of 11.02s. The athlete received a lot of backlash from Nigerian athletic buffs but she didn’t let that define her.
2013 served as a comeback year for her as she set a new 200m Personal Best of 22.31s at a meet in Walnut, California. Okagabre continued to build on her fine form as she leaped successive PB’s of 6.98m and 7.00m in the Long Jump. As a way to prove her point that she was back in shape, Okagbare was at the Olympic stadium in London for the London Anniversary Games wherein she set in new African Record of 10.86s in her heat and even bettered the time in the final when she beat then reigning Olympic Champion, Shelly-Ann Fraser in 10.79s.
At the 2013 World Championships, she didn’t disappoint as the NIKE ambassador won a Silver medal in the Long Jump and a Bronze in the 200m behind Shelly Ann Fraser and Murille Ahuore.
When she said she was BACK, she meant every letter in the sentence! At the 2014 Commonwealth Games, she defeated the Jamaicans and every other nation to clinch the 100m title in a Games Record of 10.85s and also won the 200m in 22.25s, thereby becoming only the FOURTH woman ever in history to win DOUBLE titles at the Games.
After recording these achievements, she decided to say ‘YES I DO’ to the love of her life, Igho Otegheri who is an ex-international footballer but was forced to retire after sustaining an injury. 2015 season started on a good note, winning the Gold medal in the 4x200m at the IAAF World Relays in Nassau, Bahamas alongside Dominique Duncan, Regina George and Christy Udoh in an African Record of 1:30.52s beating Jamacia, Bahamas and USA. At the 2015 Beijing World Champs, she did her best but it wasn’t enough as she sustained an hamstring injury while finishing Eight in the 100m final. She jetted out to Brazzaville, Congo where she teamed up with Cecilia Francis, Ngozi Onwumere and Lauretta Ozoh and together they won the 4x100m relay race.
Rio 2016 Olympics wasn’t a good outing for the Nigerian Track Queen as she didn’t make the final of any individual event but placed Eight in the final of the 4x100m. At the just concluded World Championships in London, Okagbare couldn’t relish her 2013 form as she narrowly missed the final of the 100m after placing 9th overall. The First Bank ambassador leaped a mark of 6.55m to finish Eight in the Long Jump final.
We are saying Wekobiruo for all you have done in putting Nigeria’s name on the World stage. Do have a wonderful day Champ!