Team Nigeria may have won a medal in Rio compared to the London Olympics where they returned empty-handed. But in this interview with Pius Ayinor, Blessing Okagbare says even without a medal, London was by far better than Rio
How was Rio 2016 generally like for you?
It didn’t feel like an Olympic for me but not because I didn’t win a medal. This is my third Olympics and I have been to Olympics that everything was so cheerful and the athletes were very happy. But for this Rio, I don’t know about other people in Team Nigeria as I’m speaking for myself, the morale was just low. Some of the girls come to me and we talk. Some times when they say these things (about how bad they feel), I just feel like these people feel the same way I feel. Everything about Rio was just low. This is the worst Olympics we’ve had.
Was it about the preparations?
Prior to coming here was bad, I don’t understand what they wanted us to do in Rio. At times you go to other countries, mix with the athletes and you see a people getting quality support. But it’s not so with the Nigerian contingent. It comes to a point where you just try to do everything for the sake of your passion as well as for your fans.
How long will you keep running; how long are we going to see you actively on the tracks?
There are certain things that if you were doing them for other countries, you would have been far better than what you are now but with Nigeria it’s like an advanced labour issue. You do it but it’s like you don’t see what you work for. I’m sponsored by Nike and it’s a job for me, it’s a career. I do have a lot of setback, which has affected me for two years in a row but I might take a break and people won’t even see that. I don’t know how many more years I really want to stay on for. I have not taken any break yet, and people don’t see that I have been going hard every year. I might take a break and come back hopefully before 2020.
And when you return we expect you to blast off again; go full blast in medal chase?
The way I am, I don’t talk about medal this, or medal that. I’m not one who predict things or say what I am going to win before any competition, so I avoid answering questions like this.
Talking about medals I was watching you before the Rio 100m race. I saw you bending for a long time, were you reluctant to run?
No, I wasn’t reluctant to run, I was ready and I felt like I was in the best shape of my life coming here (Rio Olympics). It still surprises me (how things turned out). I posted something on Facebook that there are certain things that don’t make sense, there are things that you just don’t understand.
Like this competition, I put in my commitment despite having good reasons to stay away. I had some injuries but I worked so hard to come in here (Rio), and when the competition started it was just different; it was just like I wasn’t in it.
Did your injuries and mindset affect your general performance?
I don’t know, I was still trying my best, but you don’t force it. You just get in line and run, because you’ve been doing that training already. I can’t explain it, so let’s leave it there. When you go to a major championship, you don’t think too long. You don’t have that time.
When I spoke with weightlifter Mariam Usman, she said if the Nigerian situation continues the same way, she would just take a break. Are you thinking that way too?
No, no, I can’t tell you what I’m thinking; I don’t let people get into my head. That’s personal. But talking about Rio, it’s been the worse we’ve had mentally, physically. The atmosphere is too cold; it’s been very cold out there. No encouragement at all.
I was in London too, we didn’t win anything but the athletes looked more determined than in Rio…
I went to Beijing when I was 19. I was so young and naive. Beijing was one of the best Olympics for us; we had entitlements, encouragement and all. They supported us and we were quite encouraged. But in Rio it’s like all they just wanted was for you to show your face and leave. I don’t know but it’s as if they didn’t want us to come here. Last time I heard the minister say a gold medal winner would get $2000 and I asked ‘is that what a gold medal is worth?’ And before I knew, it was actually in the media. You don’t bring that kind of stuff to athletes in the name of encouragement because we know what other athletes from other countries get. It’s been a problem and every year, I wish things would be different. At times it would be like should I move to another country? But you may understand why I refused to change. It’s my career and my passion so I enjoy it and that is what drives me. And that’s why I am still on the track and for Nigeria.