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Mauritius expects star studded African Championships - Preview

Nigeria's Olusoji Fasuba in Helsinki (Getty Images)Nigeria's Olusoji Fasuba in Helsinki (Getty Images) © Copyright

Over 450 of Africa's finest athletes from 49 countries converge at the Germain Commarmond Stadium in Bambous, Mauritius for the 15th Africa Senior Athletics Championships from Wednesday (August 9).

There is more at stake than just winning a gold medal. Athletes are vying for a place on the Africa team to the World Cup in Athletics to be contested in Athens, Greece from 16-17 September. What's more gold medallists automatically qualify for the 2007 World Athletics Championships in Osaka, Japan.

Men

Track events

Based on current form on the World Athletics Tour (WAT), Nigeria's Africa record holder Olusoji Fasuba stand head an shoulders above his rivals to retain his 100m title. He could lead Uchenna Emedolu and Deji Aliu in a Nigerian clean sweep of the medals in athletics most exciting event. However competing on home soil Stephane Buckland has a real chance of spoiling the Nigerian party.

Buckland will start as the favourite to edge Gambia's Jayasuma Saidy Ndure to win the 200m. Nigerians Emedolu, Enefiok Udo Obong along with the South African pair of Leigh Julius and Sherwin Vries are serious medal contenders.

At 400m Gary Kikaya is the hot favourite to give the Democratic Republic of Congo its first ever-gold medal at the biannual event. Homeboy Eric Milazar will be looking for his third consecutive Africa title. However to secure a medal he will have to be at his very best to prevail over World Indoor silver medallist California Molefe (Botswana), James Godday (Nigeria), Zimbabweans Lewis Banda and Talkmore Nyongani, Sudan's Nagmeldin Ali Abubakar and Paul Gorris (South Africa).

Kenya's World Indoor champion and WAT leader Wilfred Bungei has the edge in the 800m. Morocco's Amine Laalou the World's fastest runner over the two laps, Alfred Kirwa and Kipngetich Kombich (both Kenyans), Sudan's Ismail Ahmed Ismail, Mbulaeni Mulaudzi (South Africa) and Algeria's Mohcine Chehibi (Morocco) will give him a run for his money.

Kipchirchir Komen, Alex Kipchirchir and Elkhana Angwenyi make a fearsome Kenyans entry in 1500m. Moroccans Adil Kaouch and Redi Abdelaati Iguider along with Algeria's Kamal Boulahfane have what it takes to secure medals in this event.

It is hard to see who will break the Kenyan hold in the 3000m Steeplechase with Olympic champion Ezekeil Kemboi, Kipsiele Koech and Brimin Kipruto topping the WAT chart. That enormous challenge rests on the shoulder of Moroccans Abdelkader Haclaf and Brahim Taleb.

Meanwhile Ethiopia and Kenya renew their intense and perennial rivalry in the 5000 and 10,000m. Kenenisa Bekele and Sileshi Sihine face Kenyans Eliud Kipchoge and Benjamin Limo. While Zesenay Tadessa (Eritrea) and Uganda's Boniface Kiprop have the potential to cause a major upset.

South Africans Shaun Bownes and Africa Junior champion Ruan de Vries can expect a stiff challenge for medals from Nigeria's Selim Nurudeen,  Sa Amadou (Senegal) and Madagascar's Joseph Berlioz Randriamihaja.

The 400m Hurdles is the only event where South Africa can win all three medals. Louis van Zyl, Alwyn Myburgh and Pieter de Villiers are the only athletes to have run sub 49 seconds this year.

Field Events

Previously a strong hold for South Africa, many countries are lately challenging their dominance on the infield. Never before have there been so many long jumpers over the eight metre mark at the championship. Ghanaian World silver medallist Ignisious Gaisah starts as favourite. He faces a spirited challenge from Issam Nima (Algeria), Khotso Mokoena (South Africa), Gable Garenamotse (Botswana), together with Moroccans Mohammed Mersal and Yahya Berrabah.

While Mokoena could win the triple jump, Moroccan Tarik Bougtaib and Hassan Bazine along with Cameroon's Hugo Mamba are strong medal contenders.

South Africa's Chris Harmse's main challenge in the Hammer throw is Egypt's Mohsen El Anany. Omar Ahmed El Ghazaly (Egypt) is favourite to win the discus throw. The South Africans Gerhardus Pienaar and John Robert Oosthuizen are expected to dominate the javelin, as South Africans Janus Robberts and Okkert Brits carry the day in shot put and pole vault respectively.

Relays

Provided they maintain a flawless baton exchange Nigeria should win the 4x100m relay. Ghana, South Africa and Mauritius will battle for the minor medals. South Africa, Nigeria, Sudan, Botswana and defending champions Zimbabwe are the teams to watch in 4x400m.

Women

Track events

South Africa's 100m and 200m defending champion Geraldine Pillay will be pushed to the limit by Cameroonians Delphine Atangana and Leonie Mani, Vida Amin (Ghana) along with Nigerians Mercy Nku and Endurance Ojokolo.

Former World champion Amy Mbacke Thiam should keep the 400m title in Senegal as defending champion Fatou Bintu Fall struggles to regain form. Nigerian newcomers Christy Ekpukhon, Joy Eze, Afolabi Olabisi, South Africa's Estie Wittstock, and Chad's former champion Kaltouma Nadjina are the main medal contenders.

Kenya's youthful Janet Jepkosgei and veteran Mozambican Maria Mutola clash in the 800m. Moroccans Mina Ait Hammou, Seltan Ait Hammou and Olympic silver medallist Hasna Benhassi will enhance competition intensity.

Ethiopians Gelete Burika and Mestawet Tadessa are the front runners in the women's 1500m. Their principle challenge will come from Algeria's Nouria Merah-Benida, Moroccans Saida El Mehdi, Alaoui Selsouli, and Bitissam Lakhouad along with Kenya's Veronica Wanjiru.

Like the men's race the women's 5000m and 10,000m will be a duel between Ethiopia and Kenya. The Dibaba sisters Tirunesh and Ejagayehu, Meseret Defar, Berhane Adere will seek to prevail over Kenyans Edith Masai, Prisca Jepleting Ngetich, Lucy Kabuu Wanjiru, Isabella Ochichi and Tanzania's Zakia Mrisho.

Elsewhere Nigeria's Josephine Onyia looks set to win the 100m Hurdles, while Algeria's Houria Moussa could carry the day in the 400m Hurdles.

Having regained her health World Champion Dorcus Inzikuru is the favourite to win the 3000m Steeplechase. However she should be wary about the Kenyan duo Jeruto Kiptum and Salome Chepchumba.

Field Events

South Africans Anika Smith (high jump), Elizna Naude (discus) and Janice Josephs (Heptathlon) are strong gold medal prospects. In the javelin South Africans Justin Robbeson and Sunnette Vijoen are set for a showdown.

Elsewhere, Morocco's Nisrine Dinar and Lindie Roux (South Africa) will battle hard for the Pole Vault title. Seychelles' Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Celine Laporte stands in the way of Nigeria's new crop of long jumpers Ibifuro Tobia West, Ester Aghatse and Chinedu Odor in the battle for the gold medal.

To win the triple jump Sudan's Yamile Aldama will be stretched to the limit by Algeria's Baya Rahouli, Kene Ndoye (Senegal), Cameroon's Marie Theresa Bahanag, along with Nigerians Iworima Otonye and Nkiru Domike.

Nigerian Commonwealth Games silver medallist Vivian Chukwuemeka should win the shot put, In a repeat of the last championship  Egypt's defending champion Marwa Hussein faces her main rival Tunisian Hayat El Ghazi in the hammer throw.

Conclusion

South Africa's 37-strong contingent will battle to match their tally of 10 gold 12 silver and 8 bronze medals that saw them top the medal table at the last Africa Championships in the refurbished Alphonse Masamba Deba Stadium in Congo-Brazzaville. This time their dominance in field events comes under its most serious challenge ever since the country's readmission into the African Athletics Family in 1992.

On current form, the most improved performances will come from Morocco, Algeria and the resurgent Nigerians. The battle for the top spot on the medal table is expected to also feature the usual suspects Ethiopia and Kenya, while Sudan surprise even though some of their best athletes opted for the World Junior Championships in Beijing, China.

Perhaps the best aspects of these championships will be the broader medal distribution and that Africa's elite athletes will grace the occasion. Welcome to the Germain Commarmond Stadium's fast track, the best attended Africa Athletics Championship on the warm and welcoming atmosphere that is the Island of Mauritius.

Mark Ouma for the IAAF