Addis Ababa, EthiopiaMeseret Defar, the IAAF female athlete of 2007 who had already begun to look unbeatable again this year, suffered a shock defeat on the second day of the 16th African Athletics Championships here tonight. Defar, who in 2008 has set a World indoor best time for two miles and won a third successive World Indoor 3000m title, had to settle for silver in a 5000m won by compatriot Meselech Melkamu.
Melkamu, only ninth, and Ethiopia’s last scorer, in the World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh four weeks ago, took advantage of a slow, tactical race to outgun Defar on the last lap and deny her a successful defence of the title she had won in Bambous, Mauritius, in 2006. It was a first senior international championship victory for the 2004 World junior cross country and 5000m champion.
Melkamu finally emerges from Defar’s shadow
Told many years ago by her father always to consider herself as having a chance, regardless of the opposition, Melkamu put the guidance into practice before a capacity 25,000 home crowd in Addis Ababa Stadium. She became the fourth successive Ethiopian winner of the title, each one with a different identity, following Berhane Adere (2002), Etalemahu Kidane (2004) and Defar (2006).
Melkamu, now 23, finished just outside the medals in Ethiopia’s historic sweep of the top four places in the 5000m at the 2005 World Championships, in Helsinki, following Tirunesh Dibaba, Defar, and Ejegayehu Dibaba. She was sixth in the 2006 African Championships and repeated that position at the 2007 World Championships, in Osaka, won by Defar.
Indoors these past two seasons, Melkamu has had an unobscured rear view of Defar, Running indoors in Stuttgart during Defar’s 2007 attempt on the 3000m world record, she pushed her all the way, finishing two hundredths of a second behind Defar’s new World record of 8:23.72. At the 2008 World Indoor Championships, in Valencia, she took the silver behind Defar, albeit nearly three seconds adrift.
Here tonight, it took only four laps for the lead pack to be trimmed to six athletes, comprising three Ethiopians and three Kenyans. Melkamu, Defar and Belaynesh Fekadu between them took the pace while the Kenyans, Grace Momanyi, Veronica Nyaruai and Esther Chemutai, seemed content to sit in. Chemutai briefly put in an appearance at the front with 1500m to go but the Ethiopians quickly restored order and, as the bell sounded (14:48.30), six contenders remained.
A 61.51sec last lap saw Melkamu edge out Defar, who only narrowly denied Momanyi the silver medal. The victor recorded 15:49.81, Defar and Momanyi sharing 15:50.19. With Fekadu fourth, Momanyi at least denied Ethiopia a second medal sweep after Gebregziabher Gebremariam, Ibrahim Jeilan and Eshetu Wondemu had dominated the men’s 10,000m on Wednesday.
As Melkamu went on her victory lap, Defar sat doubled-up on the track and the stretcher-bearers rushed to her side. Even after getting to her feet, she aborted two attempts to start jogging, apparently suffering stomach cramps, and resorted to resting her hands on her knees. Finally, with Melkamu’s lap of honour finished, Defar took a flag and managed a lap, much to the delight of the crowd.
"I was ill the whole day and I just competed because I made a promise to my people," said Defar.
Fusuba takes third 100m crown
Nigeria’s hopes of three sprint gold medals in one night evaporated when, in the first of the three finals in which they were hoping for victory, defending champion Toyin Augustus had to settle for silver in the women’s 100m Hurdles, beaten by Guinea’s Fatmata Fofanah. But at least Olusoji Fasuba and Damola Osayomi delivered a 100m double for Nigeria.
Fasuba clocked 10.10, with compatriot Emedolu Uchenne taking silver (10.21) and South Africa’s Hannes Dreyer bronze (10.24). In so doing Fasuba became the first man to win the title three times. Three other men had won it twice - Ernie Obeng for Ghana (1979/82), Chidi Imo for Nigeria (1984/85) and his countryman, Seun Ogunkoya (1996/98). How did Fasuba feel about his moment of history? “I’m aiming for five, three is too small for me,” he said.
The African 100m record holder, Fasuba achieved his victory here only eight weeks after taking the World Indoor 60m title in Valencia. “I came to this competition not prepared but just to see what I could do,” he said. “I know this is high altitude but I believe I can get better than this by the Olympics. It was very difficult to get ready for this so soon after the World Indoor Championships. Last week I was almost crying because my times were so terrible in training.”
In the women’s 100m, Anim arrived as the defending champion but knowing that she had been beaten by Osayomi to the All Africa Games title, in Algiers, last year. Tonight Osayomi recorded 11.22, Anim 11.43.
Fofanah captures first-ever title for Guinea
Fofanah’s narrow victory (13.10) and over Augustus (13.12) brought Guinea their first gold medal in the 29-year history of these championships. But it came from a woman who does not speak French and is none too fond of African food. “I was born in Sierra Leone but my parents were living in Guinea so I decided to represent Guinea,” Fofanah said.
“I train in Atlanta. My father decided to move us to the United States when I was about five years old, so that is how I ended up there. This is my biggest success by far. Previously it was the national championships in the United States. I have never done this well at an international competition and it feels so good. Guinea has been looking forward to this for so long. But the food has been a big problem for me here. I have been sick for the past few days.”
David Powell for the IAAF