Prior to Beijing, no Kenyan woman had struck Olympic gold. As the Games conclude, they’ll be taking home two. The first, by 800m sensation Pamela Jelimo wasn’t a big surprise. Bu their second, Nancy Jebet Langat in the 1500m, certainly was.
Only third at the Kenyan Trials early last month and just one victory under belt this season, the 27-year-old, whose only note of distinction came at the 2000 World junior championships where she won the 800m title, wasn’t even included in the Olympic preview stories of veteran Kenyan journalists. But she won’t be omitted any more.
Passing World champion and heavy favorite Maryam Yusuf Jamal with 220 metres to go, Jebet Langat stormed to an overwhelming 4:00.23 victory.
“I’m very proud I was able to win,” said Jebet Langat, who stopped the clock in a personal best. “”I was not expecting it that much.”
Apparently, neither was Jamal.
Forced into pacing duty from the gun, Russian Anna Alminova brought the field through the first lap in 1:05.90 and 800 in 2:13.70, setting up the race as a kicker’s battle. Jamal, clearly not happy with the sluggish pace, made the first significant move with about 500 metres to go, upping the tempo to jump to a two step lead at the bell. But Langat followed. When she moved to the front with just over half a lap to go, she remained in Jamal’s sights, the Bahraini seemingly waiting to strike again down the homestretch. But Jamal was unable to respond. Indeed, clearly struggling, she wasn’t even able to defend her runner-up position.
Osaka bronze medallist Iryna Lishchynska of Ukraine was the first to pass the fading Bahraini to take claim silver in 4:01.63. Looking to her outside, Jamal watched in disbelief as she was then passed by Natalya Tobias, whose 4:01.78 career best secured two podium finishes for Ukraine. Briton Lisa Dobriskey also went by taking fourth in 4:02.10, also a PB, before Jamal finally crossed the line in 4:02.71.
“It just makes me feel great,” Langat said, because I wasn’t expected to win.” Langat’s was not only the first Kenyan medal in the event. She was the first from the east African powerhouse to ever finish in an Olympic final’s top-8.
Lischynska too was satisfied with a runner-up finish that vividly illustrated that she is at the moment, one of the finest big-meet contenders in the world.
“I sacrificed a lot for this event,” she said. “Second place at the Olympics is beautiful.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF