A stunning championships record by David Rudisha was the highlight of day three at the the 17th CAA Safaricom African Athletics Championships in Nairobi, Kenya on Wednesday (30).
It capped a successful day for Kenya who drew level with South Africa at the top of the medal standings - five gold, three silver, and two bronze - with two further victories for Nancy Langat in the women’s 1500m and Richard Mateelong in the men’s 3000m Steeplechase.
In the day’s other finals, South Africa’s Louis Van Zyl won his third African 400m Hurdles title, Botswana’s Amantle Montsho easily defended her women’s 400m title, and Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare won her second and third gold medals of the championships with victory in the women’s Long jump and 4 x 100m Relay.
Rudisha goes sub-1:43 at a canter
After his African record time of 1:41.51 in Heusden, Belgium, this summer and a series of consistent performances in the 800m this season, Kenya’s David Rudisha was the star of African athletics going into these biennial championships. But after his run-away victory here and a massive improvement on his own championship record (1:44.20) set two years ago in Addis Ababa, the 21-year old more than fulfilled his pre-race status.
The confident Kenyan was the overwhelming favourite after cruising through the heats, and without pacemakers and running at an altitude of 1700m above sea level, Rudisha chose bold front-running tactics from the gun. He took the starting pack through the first 400m in 51.59 and then effortlessly glided through the last lap to stop the clock in 1:42.84, a stadium and championship record. Compatriots Alfred Kirwa and Jackson Kivuva followed Rudisha across the finish line to complete the first ever clean sweep of the event.
“Even without a pacemaker, I knew that I was going to run very fast,” Rudisha said. “I was really focused on the race before the start. I was expecting 1.43, but I am surprised that I ran 1.42. I am also very happy that we won all medals for Kenya. It is something special.”
Despite his consistency this season, however, the African record holder wouldn’t be drawn to suggestions that he is within touching distance of Kenyan-born Dane Wilson Kipketer’s 1:41.11 World record. “I do not want to think about the world record,” he said. “I want to keep on running fast and hope it comes when it comes.”
Mateelong beats Kemboi in the steeplechase
Defending African champion Richard Mateelong kept up the momentum from Rudisha’s performance with gold in the men’s 3000m Steeplechase where he beat World champion Ezekiel Kemboi in a tactical contest.
After a slow opening half of the race, Mateelong, Kemboi, and Ugandan Benjamin Kiplagat pulled away from a trailing pack of five runners with two laps to go. But after they dropped Kiplagat 600 metres before the finish, the two Kenyans made it a race of their own going into the final lap. The World Championship bronze medallist kicked with 300 metres to go and continued to pull away from his illustrious compatriot before stopping the clock in 8:23.54. Kemboi held on comfortably to take silver in 8:26.13, while Ethiopian Roba Gari overtook Kiplagat midway through the last lap to take bronze in 8:27.15, surprisingly the first Ethiopian medal in the event since 1992.
“My target here was to retain my African title and make the African team [for the Continental Cup], so I am very happy about that,” confirmed the race winner. “My target this season is to hopefully improve my personal best and run under 8 minutes.”
Langat over Burka in tactical 1500m
The final gold of the day came in the women’s 1500m where Olympic champion Nancy Langat confirmed her impressive form this season with a commanding sprint victory.
Ethiopian Bertukan Feyessa took the leaders through 700 metres in a slow 2:04.25 and continued to lead until the 1000 metre point when Langat took over the front running. She took the pack through the bell in 3:12.11 and started to pull away at with 300 metres to go before Burka, running in the middle of the chasing pack, had to side-step a tiring pack before chasing the Kenyan.
Burka looked like she could close in on Langat, but after glancing back at with 250 metres to go the Kenyan pulled away before crossing the line in 4:10.43 with Burka (4:11.12) comfortably holding on for silver ahead of Moroccan Btissam Lakhouad (4:11.81).
“I expected the first two laps to be faster and when the pace was slow, I was confident of victory,” said Langat. “I was confident of my sprint and after looking back, I knew I can pull away from Burka. This victory gives me great confidence for the rest of my season. I hope I can get a fast race where I can run under 4 minutes and improve my personal best.”
Okagbare takes third gold
In a frantic day of finals, Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare added two more gold medals to her 100m crown from the previous day with victories in the Long Jump and 4x100m Relay.
And the 21-year old made use of her multi-tasking skills to complete the feat. After opening the women’s long jump with 6.55m, she then skipped her next two attempts to compete in the relays anchoring the Nigerian team to gold in 43.45.
She then cut short her lap of honor with the rest of her teammates to return to the jumping pit and produced a winning leap of 6.62m to take gold ahead of compatriot Comfort Onyali (6.42m) and Moroccan Jamaa Chnik (6.30m).
Third African title for Van Zyl
South African Louis Van Zyl had less of a busy day compared to Okagbare, but completed a hat-trick of African titles with a hard fought victory in the men’s 400m Hurdles.
The 25-year old may have been the prohibitive favorite, but after a bad start, he was forced to make ground on compatriot Cornel Fredericks before eventually using his experience to move clear in the final two hurdles. Despite clipping his final hurdle, the South African took victory in 48.51 ahead of Fredericks (48.79) and Senegal’s Mamadou Kasse Hanne (49.10).
“I did not expect that,” said Van Zyl when asked about Fredericks’ run. “I came here expecting to run 48 something and win my third African title. I am happy about that. It was not a good race. I did not have a good start and I messed up my last hurdle. My plan is to complete in two more Olympic games and hopefully win four more African titles.”
50.03 for Montsho in women’s 400m, Libyan Khawaja shocks in men’s 400m
Botswana’s Amantle Montsho, the defending champion and heavy favourite in the women’s 400m, had little trouble in the defense of the title she won two years ago. The 27-year-old was already clear off the field at 200m and put on a decent effort at cracking the 50s barrier before slightly coming up short in 50.03. Nonetheless, she was more than a second ahead of Senegal’s Amy Mbacke Thiam (51.32) and with Nigeria’s Shade Abdugan (51.63) taking bronze.
“I was looking to improve on my personal best from Addis (49.82) or at least run under 50s,” she said. “But it is a good performance and the second fastest time of my career and I am looking forward to Croatia to run in the Continental Cup.”
There was a shock, however, in the men’s 400m where Libyan Mohammed Khawaja took an unlikely victory in one of the surprises of the day. The 2009 Mediterranean Games champion clocked 44.98, a national record, to beat Sudan’s Rabah Yousif (45.18) and the Congo Democratic Republic’s 2006 African champion Gary Kikaya (45.28).
Khawaja’s astonishing effort, however, came at a cost. After rushing through the media/athlete mixed zone waving off all interview requests and pleas from his delegation to do a lap of honuor, he collapsed inside a tent used to store competing athletes’ kits and had to be stretched off to hospital after lying unconscious for a few minutes.
.. And the rest of the action
In the day’s other action, Lesotho’s Ts’oalei Selloane took victory in the women’s High Jump with 1.75m ahead of Seychelles’ Lissa Labiche (1.70m) and Kenya’s Cherotich Koech (1.55m). South Africa’s Elizna Naude defended her women’s Discus Throw title with a last round throw of 56.74m. And South Africa drew level with Kenya on top of the medals table with victory in the men’s 4X100m relays ahead of Nigeria and Ghana.
Ghana’s Margaret Simpson (3497 pts) leads the women’s Heptathlon after four events with South African Janet Wienand (3289 pts) and Nigeria’s Patience Okoro (3277 pts) following behind.
Elshadai Negash for the IAAF
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