With two World champions in particular raising the competition's profile a notch higher, the 10th All Africa Games at the Estadio Nacionale in Maputo, Mozambique is being attended by some ,000 journalists accredited to cover some 5000 athletes compete in the four-yearly “African Olympics” just a few days after the IAAF World Championships in Daegu.
Meanwhile, the allure of an “African Olympics” on her homeground too exciting to let go, Mozambique's former multiple women's World 800m champion Maria Mutola got the crowds excited for the umpteenth time when she showed up, but this time to play for her country's national football team.
But having retired from the track after the Beijing Olympics, crowning a stellar career that saw her, inter alia, win a massive seven World indoor titles, one Olympic gold (Sydney 2000) and three outdoor Worlds (Stuttgart 1993, Edmonton 2001 and Paris 2003), the “Maputo Express”, who started off as a footballer, found herself on the wrong end of the scoreline, her team eliminated in the preliminaries after falling 0-1 to Cameroon and 1-7 to Algeria.
Back on the track, Ethiopia's new kid on the block Ibrahim Jeylan (2006 World Junior 10,000m champion and 2008 World Cross Country Championships Junior champion) and Botswana's Amantle Montsho were the two champions from the Daegu IAAF World Championships who were among a fair number of athletes who travelled back to Africa from Daegu seeking to add further accolades to their fledgling careers.
Exactly 16 days after running 27:13.81 to emerge as the unexpected World 10,000m champion on the blue Mondo track at the Daegu Worlds, Japan-based Jeylan – bizarrely Ethiopia's only gold medallist in Daegu - once again outwitted his Kenyan rivals kicking to the All Africa Games title in 28:18.22 on the red tartan of the Estadio Nacionale on the second day of competition (September 12).
With Ethiopia dominating the opening track programme, Azmeraw Bekele took silver in 28:19.32 and Kenneth Kipkemoi spared Kenya the blushes with the final podium place in 28:20.61.
Montsho became an instant national heroine when she pushed pre-race favourite Allyson Felix to her personal best 49.59, beating the American to the 400m title in Daegu in a personal best and Botswana national record 49.56.
In Maputo this week, the 28-year-old Montsho had an easier cruise to her second gold medal inside three weeks with former World champion (Edmonton 2001), Senegal's Amy Mbacke Thiam, offering little resistance, the fresh World champ clocking 50.87 to defend her Games title.
Thiam (51.77) took silver and Namibia's Tjipekapora Herunga (51.84) the bronze.
Utura completes long distance double
The middle and long distance battle was always going to be between Kenya and Ethiopia but the latter stunned everyone when, for the first time at these Games, they swept the men's steeplechase podium.
Birhan Getahun (8:17.4) took gold, with Roba Gari, fifth in Daegu, taking silver in 8:18.4 and Sisay Koreme Mojo (8:20.70) bronze. The top placed Kenyan was Jairus Birech (8:21.3) in fourth place.
Ethiopia also prevailed over Kenya in the women's 5000m final where 2008 World Junior champion Sule Utura (15:38.70) led compatriot Emebet Mengist (15:40.13) to a 1-2 finish with Kenya's 2006 World Cross Country Championships junior race winner, Pauline Korikwiang (15:40.93) completing the podium places.
Utura completed a double by winning the 10,000m gold in 33:24.82, with Korikwiang picking up her second bronze of the championships in 33:26.16, the silver going to Ethiopia's Wude Ayalew (33:24.88).
But Hyvin Jepkemoi Kiyeng (10:00.50) outkicked Ethiopians Hiwot Ayalew (10:00.57) and Birtukam Adamu (10:02.22) to take the women's steeplechase title.
“I'm impressed with my performance tonight. I always knew I was going to win if I stayed close to the Ethiopians,” said Kiyeng who hopes to follow in the footsteps of Daegu Worlds bronze medallist Milcah Chemos.
Seoud claims short sprint gold
And while the east African rivals battled in distance running, north and south Africans dominated the field events with the sprints enjoying a west African flair making these championships quite evenly spread out on the continent.
Egypt's Yasser Ibrahim Farag took the Shot Put gold with a throw of 19.73m with South Africa settling for silver and bronze through Jaco Engelbrecht (18.89) and Roelie Potgieth (18.63).
Egypt were the surprise gold medallists in the men's 100m with Amr Ibraim Seoud (10.20), beating African champion Ben Youssef Meite of Ivory Coast (10.20) with Nigeria's Obinna Metu (10.29) third.
The women's 100m was a Nigerian procession led by Oludamola Osayomi (10.90), followed by Blessing Okagbare (11.01) and Gloria Asunmu (11.26).
The Nigerians also dominated the men's and women's short relay, Okagbare leading the girls to gold in 43.34, followed by Ghana (44.33) and Cameroon (45.00). Nigeria took the men's gold in 38.93 ahead of Ghana (38.95) and Botswana (39.09).
With the track and field competition's tally including special events (paralympics), Nigeria stood at the top of the standings going into the final day of competition Thursday (15) with a total of 22 medals (nine gold, seven silver and six bronze) while Kenya followed with 15 (6-3-6) and Tunisia were third with 10 medals (5-4-1).
An exciting menu was on offer on the final day with finals in the men's and women's half marathon, men's and women's 200m, men's 5000m, men's and women's 1500m and the 4x400m Relay.
Elias Makori for IAAF
Selected results from the opening track and field programme at the 10th All Africa Games (September 3-18) in Maputo, Mozambique:
1. Amr Ibraim Seoud (Egypt) 10.20
2. Ben Youssef Meite (Cote d'Ivoire) 10.28
3. Obinna Metu (Nigeria) 10.29
1. Rabah Mohammed (Sudan) 45.27
2. Tobi Ogunmola (Nigeria) 45.82
3. Mark Mutai (Kenya) 46.52
1. Taoufik Makihoufi (Algeria) 1:46.32
2. Boaz Lalang (Kenya) 1:46.40
3. Job Kinyor (Kenya) 1:46.52
1. Birhan Getahun Shiferaw (Ethiopia) 8:17.4
2. Roba Gari (Ethiopia) 8:18.4
3. Sisay Koreme Mojo (Ethiopia) 8:20.70)
1. Ibrahim Jeylan (Ethiopia) 28:18.22
2. Azmeraw Bekele (Ethiopia) 28:19.32
3. Kenneth Kipkemoi (Kenya) 28:20.61
1. Yasser Ibrahim Farag (Egypt) 19.73m
2. Jaco Engelbrecht (South Africa) 18.89
3. Roelie Pogieter (South Africa) 18.68
1. Ojhman Hadj Lazib (Algeria) 13.48
2. Selim Nurudeen (Nigeria) 13.61
3. Samuel Okon (Nigeria) 13.75
1. Abderrahmane Hamadi (Algeria) 50.48
2. Kurt Cuoto (Mozambique) 51.04
3. Julius Rotich (Kenya) 51.15
1. Larbi Bourrada (Algeria) 5.00
2. Mourad Souissi (Algeria) 4.00
3. Teraou Hedi (Tunisia) No result
1. Sbei Hassan (Tunisia) 1:24.53
2. Teraoud Hedi (Tunisia) 1:26.44
3. Gabriel Nginintendem (Cameroon) 1:32.08
1. Mostafa Abdel Hamed (Egypt) 75.00
2. Chris Harmse (South Africa) 74.66
3. Hassan Abdel Gawad (Egypt) 69.70
1. Nigeria 38.93
2. Ghana 38.95
3. Botswana 39.09
1. Oludamola Osayomi (Nigeria) 10.90
2. Blessing Okagbare (Nigeria) 11.01
3. Gloria Asunmu (Nigeria) 11.26.
1. Seun Adigun (Nigeria) 13.20
2. Jessica Ohanaja (Nigeria) 13.36
3. Rosa Rakotosafy (Madagascar) 13.55
1. Amanthe Montsho (Botswana) 50.87
2. Ami Mbacke Thiam (Senegal) 51.77
3. Tjipekapora Herunga (Namibia) 51.84.
1. Annet Negesa (Uganda) 2:01.81
2. Fautu Magiso Manedo (Ethiopia) 2:03.22
3. Sylvia Chemtai (Kenya) 2:04.16
1. Hyvin Jepkemoi (Kenya) 10:00.50
2. Hiwot Ayalew (Ethiopia) 10:00.57
3. Birtukam Adamu (Ethiopia) 10:02.22
1. Otonye Iworima (Nigeria) 14.47
2. Baya Rahouli (Algeria) 14.02
3. Ken Ndoye (Senegal) 13.74
1. Sule Utura (Ethiopia) 15:38.70
2. Emebet Mengist (Ethiopia) 15:40.13
3. Pauline Korikwiang (Kenya) 15:40.93
1. Sule Utura (Ethiopia) 33.24.82
2. Wude Ayalew (Ethiopia) 33.24.88
3. Pauline Korikwiang (Kenya) 33:16.17
1. Tabelsi Chayma (Tunisia) 1hr 40.35 minutes
2. Lali Olfa (Tunisia) 1:41.25
3. Aynalem Eshtu (Ethiopia) 1:42.19
4. Emily Ngii (Kenya) 1:43.28
1. Mafoudh Dora (Tunisia) 3.60m
2. Sinal Alima Ouattara (Cote d'Ivoire) 3.20
1. Nigeria 43.34
2. Ghana 44.33
3. Cameroon 45.00