Okagbare… Settling Scores Outside The Track
There was the luminous smile she wore on the medals stand seven years ago, when Blessing Okagbare grabbed a bronze medal, her first in a major competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
She was 19, and her lucky bronze in the long jump event at the Bird Nest Stadium, which was newly constructed then, placed Okagbare as Team Nigeria’s shining track-and-field star of the Beijing Olympics.
Now, the mind cannot conjure up an image of the triumphant Okagbare at Beijing 2008, without also recalling the fumbling Okagbare at the 2015 IAAF World Athletics Championship, which ends tomorrow at same venue.
From the podium seven years ago, to ‘kill joy’ in 2015 at the Bird Nest Stadium, Okagbare’s failure is considered by many Nigerian sports lovers as a setback in the nation’s sports history, considering her status in global athletics.
She was Team Nigeria’s medal hope going to the IAAF Championship in Beijing. She did not only fumble but painted a picture of an athlete, who does not have the interest of her nation at heart.
With Okagbare firmly seated as the ‘pilot’ in Team Nigeria’s cockpit at the IAAF Beijing 2015 World Championship, and millions of Nigerians having fastened their seatbelts in anticipation of a fun-filled night on the day of the 100m women’s final, the country’s flight crash-landed, with the hopes of millions of sports loving Nigerians going up in flames.
Yet, there was no sign of remorse.
As if that was not enough, Okagbare, who is seen as a pampered athlete by many of her contemporaries, shocked athletics followers two days later, when she failed to show up for the 200m event, despite appearing earlier in the warm-up area. It was followed by an outburst on her Facebook account on Thursday: “I owe no one an explanation win or lose.”
Perhaps, Okagbare’s greatest undoing, which has turned her fans and a majority of her colleagues against her, is her ‘pride’ and over confidence, which they say has turned her into a dictator. They also accuse the AFN, Delta State government and Federal Government of over pampering her, while neglecting other athletes.
She also has a way of rubbishing Nigerian sports journalists whenever she fails at a major competition, not minding what the Nigerian media had done for her. But all these would have been overshadowed by the joy of success if she had done well in Beijing. Not many people expected her to fail in Beijing. Even Okagbare never thought or considered the possibility that she might fail at the 2015 World Championship.
But rather than take the failure in Beijing in good faith and consider ways of doing better next time, Okagbare went to the trenches. “Not everyone, who open their mouth to talk or write with a pen in the name of journalism, have their sanity intact and they know themselves,” a declaration which came as a rude shock to enthusiasts of track and field on Thursday.
However, despite Team Nigeria’s no medal show in Beijing and Okagbare’s no sign of remorse for the failure, the National Sports Commission (NSC) says AFN and the athletes should be commended.
“Speaking with The Guardian yesterday, Director-General of the NSC, Al-Hassan Yakmut said: “I salute all the athletes and officials that represented Nigeria at the greatest and highest platform of World Athletics in Beijing. This has positively exposed us to how to calibrate our revolutionary change and strategic plan for immediate return to the IAAF World Championship as very eminent and serious contenders.”