African record spurs sprinter Blessing Okagbare

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Blessing Okagbare’s quest to successfully defend her Commonwealth Games 100 and 200 metres sprint titles will be boosted by her new African record over the longer distance.

Last month, the Nigerian shattered compatriot Mary Onyali’s 22-year-old mark of 22.07secs when she ran 22.04secs in Texas, the fastest time in the world this year.

It could provide a psychological edge for Okagbare, who is coming off an injury-hit 2017 and will face Olympic champion Elaine Thompson of Jamaica in the 200m in Gold Coast.

Onyali set the African record in Zurich in 1996, and the closest anyone had came to breaking it was when Marie Ta-Lou of the Ivory Coast ran 22.08secs in 2017.

Onyali said she was delighted it was her “daughter and sister” Okagbare who lowered her record.

“This will put her in the right frame of mind for the Commonwealth Games,” Onyali said. “She has been knocking for some years now and finally she has got it.

“For some time now she has not been in her right element, especially at the last world championships. But she went back, trained very hard and we can see the result of her perseverance.”

Okagbare has for many years now been Nigeria’s biggest medal hope at major athletics competitions, and winning the sprint double in Glasgow four years ago was a career highlight.

At the last Commonwealth Games, she won the 100m in a Games-record 10.85, and the 200m in 22.25. She also helped Nigeria win silver in the 4x100m relay with a time of 42.92.

Okagbare has an Olympic bronze in the long jump from Beijing 2008, and took 200m bronze at the 2013 world championships.

She has often struggled with her start, especially in the 100m, but if she gets that right, she should be among the medals.

The sprinter, who is married to a former Nigeria football star, will be 30 in October and has bounced back this season after her injury problems last year.