Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare was provisionally suspended for doping Saturday, hours before the former world championships silver medalist was due to run in the semifinals of the women’s 100 meters at the Olympics.
Okagbare tested positive for human growth hormone in an out-of-competition test on July 19, four days before the Olympics opened, the Athletics Integrity Unit said, prompting a mandatory provisional suspension.
The results of that test were only received by track and field’s anti-doping body late Friday and after Okagbare had already run in the 100 heats on the opening day of track competition at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, the AIU said.
She won her heat in 11.05 seconds and was due to run in the semifinals on Saturday. The highly-anticipated women’s 100 final is the last event on the day’s track schedule.
The AIU informed Okagbare of her suspension on Saturday morning, it said, ruling her out of the 100 and likely ending her Olympics. Under doping regulations, she is allowed to request that a “B” sample — or backup sample — is tested to double-check the results.
The 32-year-old Okagbare won a silver medal in the long jump at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and at the 2013 world championships. She also collected a bronze in the 200 meters at the 2013 worlds in Moscow behind gold medal winner Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who is the favorite for the 100 title in Tokyo. Okagbare did the 100-200 double at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Okagbare’s suspension came three days after the AIU announced that 10 track and field athletes from Nigeria were among a group of 20 from various countries who were disqualified from competing at the Olympics because they hadn’t met minimum doping test requirements. The AIU didn’t name any of those athletes.
Nigeria is considered a high-risk country by the AIU because of a brittle anti-doping program. Because of that, Nigerian athletes must have at least three out-of-competition tests in the 10 months before a major championship. Nigeria was moved into the high-risk category last year, when the problems with its anti-doping program were described as “very serious” by AIU chairman David Howman.
Some Nigerian athletes who said they were among those who were barred from the Olympics by the AIU protested on the streets of Tokyo this week. They held up signs claiming Nigerian sports and anti-doping authorities were responsible for them not meeting the testing criteria.
Kenya dropped two runners from its Olympic team just before the Tokyo Games opened because they had not undergone enough out-of-competition tests in the buildup to the Olympics.
There are seven “Category A” countries on the AIU’s watchlist: Belarus, Bahrain, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria and Ukraine.
Their anti-doping programs have been further hampered by the coronavirus pandemic and related travel restrictions, which have made it even harder to conduct tests and keep checks on athletes when they are not in competition.