World-class sprinter and long jumper Blessing Okagbare, 26, is already the fastest woman in Africa — her best of 10.79 seconds is the continent’s 100-meter record — but the Nigeria athlete is less concerned with maintaining her ranking than she is about beating herself.
“I’d like to break 10.7 seconds for the 100 and 21.8 seconds for the 200, and I want to jump further than 7.3 meters in the long jump. I have goals written up and posted around my room. I write them as soon as I wake, when I’m feeling fresh.”
As a young athlete, Okagbare competed in the high, long and triple jumps — and her triple-threat talent earned her a scholarship to university in the United States. There, coaches encouraged her to add running to her repertoire. “They noticed that I ran faster than most of the runners,” recalls Okagbare. “They said to me: 'You aren’t a jumper, but a sprinter who can jump.'”
The transition brought new challenges, but Okagbare looked to a tried-and-true dedication and focus.
“Growing up I was very skinny and someone told me that I could never do sports because I was too soft and fragile. I didn’t let it get to me. I pushed through and became a jumper. Then, I set a new goal to be a runner. It’s all about setting goals and keeping your mind set on those goals. Don’t ever give up on yourself.”
This philosophy translates into a training regimen that juggles each event’s particular demands and challenges. “I train for both [sports] on the same day. For the jumps, I practice techniques and afterwards I switch to the sprints, focusing on my speed work, especially my starts, which is what I battle with.”
To conquer on-track challenges, Okagbare employs cross training. “I start at 6 a.m. every morning in the gym before I run; you get muscles from explosive training. The power of my runs comes from doing weight training and the speed comes from track running.”
She also relies on an intense inward focus. Blocking out the competition, Okagbare registers only her own performance, despite training alongside many of the world’s top runners.
“Training with competitors does not get to me because I focus on myself. During the race, I don’t even notice if my training partner is in the race, but I don’t underestimate anyone. As long as you are on the starting line, you are a competitor.”
The next few months will reveal the fruits of Okagbare’s labor, as she competes in key international races, including the World Track and Field Championships in Beijing.
“Repetition during my training helps me go into a race and not have to think so hard because it will come naturally. You put in the work during training and then take that into the competition.”