Blessing Okagbare of Nigeria upstaged illustrious rivals Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Carmelita Jeter to win the 200 meters at the Birmingham GP on Sunday, capping a tough day for a string of reigning Olympic champions on their returns to Britain.
The standout race of the Diamond League meet was billed as a head to head between Fraser-Pryce and Jeter but triple African champion Okagbare made an unusually strong start and held off Fraser-Pryce, the two-time Olympic 100-metre champion from the United States, to win in 22.55 seconds.
Jeter, the world 200 champion, trailed in a disappointing seventh in 23.36.
“I just focus on myself, I don’t care who is in the line-up,” said Okagbare, who won an Olympic bronze in the long jump in 2008.
“I don’t underestimate those two, I know they are good.
“The time wasn’t so fast but it’s always a good feeling winning so I’m happy.”
Double Olympic long-distance champion Mo Farah thrilled home fans by winning the 5,000 ahead of Ethiopian challengers Hagos Gebrhiwet, Yenew Alamirew and Ibrahim Jeilan, but it wasn’t such a great day for many other gold medallists from the London Games.
World-record holder Aries Merritt of the US finished second in the 110 hurdles behind 2009 world champion Ryan Brathwaite, who clocked 13.13 into a headwind, and Sally Pearson of Australia slumped to fourth in the women’s 100 hurdles as Dawn Harper-Nelson led an American 1-2 ahead of Kellie Wells.
Olympic champion Felix Sanchez was seventh as Javier Culson dominated a high-quality 400 hurdles field to win in 48.59 and Jennifer Suhr of the US could only come third in the women’s pole vault.
Nesta Carter of Jamaica capitalised on the absence of the leading men’s sprinters such as Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin to win the 100 in 9.99.
With the world championships in Moscow a little more than a month away, Okagbare has emerged as a real contender in the short sprints.
“I’m actually confident about both (the 100 and 200),” said Okagbare of her world championship prospects. “I might be doubling so we’ll see.”
Jeter has just recovered from a thigh injury and never looked capable of closing the gap on training partner Okagbare or Fraser-Pryce, who had both pulled clear as they rounded the bend.
Okagbare was just ahead and stayed strong down the straight to finish 0.17seconds clear of Fraser-Pryce.
Britain had female winners in Christine Ohuruogo in the 400, Perri Shakes-Drayton in the 400 hurdles and Jessica Judd in the 800 but the loudest roar greeted the victory of Farah, who was looking to make a statement of intent against the three Ethiopian rivals he will likely face in Moscow.
In scenes reminiscent of his memorable long-distance double in the Olympic Stadium last summer, Farah pushed himself into the lead after going through the bell slightly behind Gebrhiwet. As Alamirew, the fastest over 5,000 this year, challenged Farah with 200 metres left, the Briton kicked again and pulled clear to win in 13 minutes, 14.24 seconds.
“The young guys wanted to beat me – I’m the guy to beat,” said Farah, who raised his hands to perform his signature “Mobot” celebration as he crossed the line.
“I had to dig deep.
“They were working as a team. But you’ve got hold your form and make sure you’ve got something else left.”
A string of hamstring injuries had kept world and Olympic champion Pearson off the track for 11 months – since her winning run at the London Games – but she made a successful return to action on Thursday with a victory at the Golden Spike in Ostrava.
The Australian couldn’t back that up, though, fading in the last 20 metres to come fourth as Harper-Nelson – silver medallist in London – edged Wells to win in 12.64. Tiffany Porter of Britain was third and just 0.09 separated the first four.
This was the seventh Diamond League event of the year. There are four more before the world championships start August 10.