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Defar delights in her World record triumph in Oslo (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright
General News 18 July 2007 – Algiers, Algeria

Defar retains title, Kemboi upset - All Africa Games day 1

Algiers, AlgeriaOne Olympic champion, Meseret Defar, retained her 5000m title but another, Ezekiel Kemboi, was unexpectedly beaten by his young Kenyan team-mate, Willy Komen, in the 3000m Steeplechase on the opening day of the 9th All Africa Games this evening (18).  With Kenya going for a sweep of medals in the men’s Steeplechase, and Ethiopia attempting the same in the women’s 5000m, each was denied by the other nation.

Komen following the footsteps of the greats: 'I want to become famous like them'

Komen, the 20-year-old World Junior champion, left Kemboi trailing after the final water jump to maintain Kenya’s extraordinary sequence of success in the event at the Games. Kenya has now won all nine men’s Steeplechase titles since the Games began in 1965, each with a different winner. They include Henry Rono and Moses Kiptanui and, told of the athletes in whose footsteps he was treading, Komen responded:  “I want to become famous just like them.”

In a modest-pace tactical race, Komen triumphed in 8:15.11, followed by Kemboi in 8:16.93. But the third Kenyan, Elijah Chelimo, had to settle for fourth as Naham Mesfin gave Ethiopia the consolation of denying Kenya, their great rivals, a 1-2-3. Mesfin claimed the bronze medal in 8:17.21 and, later in the evening, Kenya reversed the process by denying Ethiopia the third medal in the women’s 5000m.

Five weeks after improving her world record to 14:16.63, at the IAAF Golden League meeting in Oslo, Defar cruised her way through 4,900m before delivering a blistering finish to win a second successive All Africa Games gold medal at the distance, following her victory in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2003. Defar recorded 15:02.72. Meselech Melkamu, her compatriot, took the silver medal in 15:03.86 and Sylvia Kibet was third place for Kenya in 15:06.39.

The reaction of the winners to their teams failing in the mission for a sweep of medals in the 5 July Olympic Stadium was directly opposite. “I am not disappointed – you cannot expect to win all the medals,” Komen said. “I expected a 1-2-3,” Defar said.  With three laps remaining, Defar glanced twice over her shoulder in quick succession to check the whereabouts of the third Ethiopian, Workitu Ayano, only to find that she had been dropped.  Ayano could manage no better than sixth at the finish.

Komen, who was a schoolboy watching on television when Kemboi won the 2004 Olympic title in Athens, said that he was surprised to win. He added that his triumph had given him “encouragement” in his attempt to qualify for the Kenya team to go to the IAAF World Championships in Athletics, in Osaka next month. 

As the race unfolded, Ruben Ramolefi, of South Africa, made an early break, leading by 20m after the opening two laps. It was a lead he held almost until halfway, when Kemboi and Komen hit the front, stretching the field. By 2,000m, the Kenyan duo had opened a small gap but, making no attempt to pull clear, they reached 800m to go with Chelimo and Mesfin in close attendance.

By the bell, Chelimo had begun to tail off and, down the back straight, Komen’s attempt to go past Kemboi accelerated the pace and left Mesfin detached. At the water jump, reached together, Kemboi’s fatigue was obvious as he stumbled upon landing. Komen’s momentum set him up for a comfortable run for home.

On the infield, titles for Aldama, El Ghazali

On the first of the six days, four gold medals were decided. The other two came in the field, where Yamile Aldama secured victory for Sudan in the women’s Triple Jump and Omar Ahmed El Ghazali retained his men’s Discus title for Egypt. Like Kenya and Ethiopia on the track, Egypt managed a 1-2, Yasser Fathy Ebrahim taking Discus silver. El Ghazali’s winning distance was  62.28m.

If the non-appearance of Francoise Mbango, Cameroon’s Olympic champion, was a disappointment, Chinonye Ohadugha made up for it. Ohadugha led from the fourth round to the penultimate jump of the competition, when Aldama ensured a dramatic conclusion. She jumped 14.46m to deny the Nigerian a victory with her fourth-round national record of 14.21.

Aldama triumphed despite the problems she has been having with the Achilles tendon on her take-off leg. Another athlete fighting off injury seems set to deliver gold for Nigeria today as Olusoji Fasuba starts as favourite to win the men’s 100m. Fasuba, who has been struggling with a back injury, was the fastest of the qualifiers from the semi-finals, the closest to him being Isaac Uche, his team-mate.

“I was not supposed to come but my coach said: ‘You are at 80 per cent, see what you can produce’,” Fasuba said. “The doctors treating me said that I might not have recovered to run properly.  It is a little bit sore [after the semi-finals] but it should be better tomorrow. “ A Nigerian 100m double is on the cards as Damola Osayemi and Francisco Idoko were quickest out of the women’s semi-finals for Thursday's final.

David Powell for the IAAF

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