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Track & Field News of Thursday, 13 January 2022


Blessing Okagbare ‘implicated’ in doping investigation of Texas doctor as ‘Athlete 1’

Africa's Queen of the track, Blessing Okagbare Africa's Queen of the track, Blessing Okagbare

Blessing Okagbare, Africa’s Queen of the Tracks, is currently embroiled in a doping controversy that may permanently tarnish her reputation. Evidence seized from her gadgets supposedly revealed her joyful reaction to the effect of the performance-enhancing medicine she was taking.

“Eric, my body feels fantastic,” Nigeria’s Olympic medal hopes texted her supplier after racing a personal-best 10.63 seconds in the 100 metres, to attest to the medication’s effect.

That supplier was Eric Lira, a Texas naturopathic doctor. He is now the first individual charged under a groundbreaking United States statute aimed at bringing legal accountability to a worldwide anti-doping system that has long failed to govern itself.

Okagbare, whose participation at last year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, was prematurely truncated by a doping report from the Athletics Integrity Unit of World Athletics, could be subjected to further investigation under the Rodchenkov Act, which was passed in 2020 to address incidents like this.

The text messages between Lira and Okagbare were among the ten pages of evidence unsealed in a criminal complaint by the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. Lira allegedly distributed the medications, which included human growth hormone (HGH) and erythropoietin, a blood-building hormone, “for the purpose of corrupting” the Tokyo Olympics, according to the attorney’s office.

And, Michael J. Driscoll, the FBI Assistant Director, who helped spearhead the investigation, remarked: “It’s not winning if you take illegal substances — it’s cheating.”

Although not directly mentioned in the accusation, the description of “Athlete 1”, as well as the racing and suspension history of said athlete perfectly describes the 33-year-old Okagbare, who earned a silver medal in the long jump at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Pointers from the 10.63 she was ecstatic about in mid-June to the provisional ban she received in late July for a positive HGH test make it all the more obvious.

As reported at the time, Okagbare’s punishment was issued just hours before the semifinals of the 100-meter dash in Tokyo. Okagbare tested positive for a blood booster in Nigeria in June, according to the AIU, which oversees the anti-doping campaign in track and field.

Anti-doping officials claim that the ability to detect doping and suspend Okagbare, a strong medal candidate, before she competed was a win in and of itself since it prevented another chapter in the long cycle of medals being revoked and re-awarded years after a violation occurs.

Authorities searched Okagbare’s cell phone after receiving a tip from a whistleblower and discovered messages in which she sought four doses of “honey,” which investigators determined was a reference to HGH.

There were also other text exchanges between Okagbare and Lira, some of which mentioned “Athlete 2,” a Florida resident who has yet to be identified.

On June 7, around ten days before Okagbare ran her personal best, she sent this text: “I had a bad race yesterday, Eric. Upset, angry, and disappointed.”

This was followed a few days later with another text that Athlete 1 wrote to Lira where she said that she “took 2000ui of the ‘E’ yesterday, is it safe to take a test this morning? Remember I took it Wednesday and then yesterday again. I wasn’t sure so I didn’t take a test.”

Okagbare ran the 10.63 a few days later, a personal best that made her very thrilled despite the fact that it was wind-aided.

While her ban has been in place since last year, the Rodchenkov Act was supposed to cast a larger net, and it has now caught Lira, the alleged provider, whose next hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday.