16 JUL 1999 General News

Kenya wins African battle for honours in the distance events

Kenya wins African battle for honours in the distance events
Phil Minshull in Bydgoszcz for the IAAF

Ethiopia and Kenya are such regular combatants at long distance running that the phrase Rift Valley rivals has almost become a cliche but the two neighbouring countries went to war on the track once more on Saturday and it was Kenya who emerged as the emphatic winner after arguably two of the most thrilling races of the IAAF World Youth Championships so far.

Steeplechase titles on the global stage have become virtually a Kenyan sole preserve since Joseph Kariuki won the 1988 Olympic gold medal and Cheruiyot Cherono carried on the tradition by taking the first ever world youth 2,000 steeplechase crown.

However the younger brother of 1995 world championship silver medallist Christopher Kosgei and last year's world junior silver medallist Abraham Cherono was made to work hard for his victory.

He sped straight to the front to avoid being spiked or bogged down in the pack of the 26-man field and uncorked a 64 second opening lap. Many thought he would quickly run out of steam but he continued his frantic pace, clocking 2:38.68 for the first kilometre.

His early efforts began to take their toll in the second half of the race and Ethiopia's Lulesegad Wale gradually closed the huge gap that had opened up, drawing alongside him with 700 metres to go.

The pair ran shoulder-to-shoulder until the final bend when Cherono suddenly found untapped reserves and pulled away from Wale off the final barrier.

The duel pushed Cherono to a time of 5:31.89, the second best time ever and just shy of the world best of 5:31.54 which has stood in the name of the former Soviet Union runner Mikola Matyushenko for nearly 16 years. Wale finished second with 5:32.61 for the third fastest time in history.

Unlike most of the other winners in Bydgoszcz, Cherono's future is not in school. He said that he wants to run on the Grand Prix circuit soon.

If the men's 2,000 steeplechase had its fair share of thrills, then it was possibly even shaded by the women's 3,000 for excitement.

Kenyan schoolgirl Alice Timbilil fought for the entire race with Ethiopia's Meseret Defar and it was far from a head-to-head duel with Kenya's Vivian Cheruiyot and Australia's Eloise Poppett in close attendance behind them.

The two main protagonists got away slightly on the last lap and Defar forged ahead as they came off the bend. It briefly looked as though Defar was going to be Ethiopia's first winner at the championships until Timbilil made a late charge from 20 metres out and just edged in front in the last metre, to win by less than a tenth of a second.

Timbilil's gold medal was won in 9:01.99 with Defar getting the silver in 9:02.08. After getting her reward and having the gold medal hung around her neck, her next task was far less fun - the celebration dinner back at the team hotel.

"Poland is a beautiful country but Polish food is not very good," she said, still suffering from culture shock on her first trip abroad.

Sebastian Homo became the latest member of his family to vault to success. His father had a best of 4.35 in his heyday, his sister Amandine is the former European junior record holder and now one of the top women in her event but the youngest member of the dynasty topped them all by winning the World Youth title with a first-time clearance at 5.20.

The Frenchman was clear through out the competition until his three failures at 5.25. The Ukrainian silver medallist Oleksandr Korchmyd went over 5.10 on his second attempt and then tried to win the tactical battle after failing his first attempt at 5.20. He took his two remaining efforts at 5.25 but did not come close.

Russian high jumper Anna Tschitchirov dominated her event in similar fashion to Homo, clearing 1.89 on her second attempt for victory. She added a centimetre onto not only her personal best but also to the best in the world this year for a 17 year-old, before failing at an ambitious 1.93, a height only four under-18 girls have ever bettered.

Another to reach new territory was Chinese long jumper Yapeng Shang who produced a massive 7.80 leap in the fourth round of the long jump. It added 26cm onto his personal best and gave him an unexpected gold medal. Cuba's Yoelmis Pacheco took the silver with, 7.62, another personal best.