Four days ago, Souad Ait Salem was training in France, looking ahead to her attempt to win a gold medal for the host nation on the closing day of the 9th All Africa Games on Monday. Then a phone call came through from her club president in Algiers telling her to get here quickly - the schedule had changed and she would be racing on Friday (20).
But, compared to the surprise awaiting Mbulaeni Mulaudzi in the men’s 800m, Ait Salem’s was easy to deal with. “My coach panicked but I was a lot more relaxed about it,” Ait Salem said of her reaction to a schedule alteration made as recently as Monday. A hurried change in travel plans and Ait Salem was here, running away from the field from 10k to win in 1:13:35, delivering Algeria’s first gold on the athletics programme of this multi-sports festival.
Unknown Kaki upsets Mulaudzi in 800m
For Mulaudzi the surprise was an opponent he had barely heard of before the 800m first round on Wednesday. Mulaudzi, the 2004 Olympic silver medallist and World Indoor champion that year, had to settle for silver as 18-year-old Abubaker Kaki gave Sudan a second gold medal after Yamile Aldama’s in the women’s Triple Jump on Monday. Like Aldama, who won in the last round, Kaki stole a late victory.
Mulaudzi, from South Africa, made his move 300m out and led until the last 20m when Kaki – sixth in the World Junior Championships in Beijing last year – demonstrated electrifying speed to snatch the win in 1:45.22. The 26-year-old Mulaudzi, whose achievements also include the 2002 Commonwealth Games title, had to settle for a second successive All Africa Games silver, having finished behind Samwel Mwera, of Tanzania, in Abuja, in 2003.
But, if Mulaudzi was disappointed, he disguised it well, saying that a quadriceps injury he had suffered in May had left him short of speed training. He was pleased, however, to have shown that his endurance is not lacking and he expects to be ready to contest the gold medal at the 11th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, in Osaka, next month.
“I think it is going to come, there is still time before Osaka,” Mulaudzi said. “I wanted to see how I could handle the championship before I go to Osaka and I have done well coming through the rounds without getting tired. I wanted to win but I have to accept coming second and look forward to the next championship in Osaka.”
Osaka tune-up for Ait Salem
The changing of the schedule to run the Half Marathon races Friday morning, rather than on Monday, reduces the programme from six days to five, now ending on Sunday. The decision was taken to avoid morning work-day traffic on Monday as opposed to Friday, a non-working day. The change meant that Ait Salem not only had to move quickly from Versailles, where she was training, but she would be lining up only five days after racing 5000m in Metz, rather than eight as planned.
Ait Salem, 28, holds the full set of Algerian women’s records from 3000m to the marathon and, having won the Rome Marathon in March in 2:25:08, she will run that distance in Osaka. Today’s win was an important psychological boost, according to Abdallah Mahour Bacha, her coach, who added that a World Championship medal was now her objective.
Nigeria rolls on, 400m swep for Botswana
In a day of rich variety, Botswana secured a 400m double and Nigeria surged further ahead in the medals table. In a 15-minute spell, Botswana doubled their total of gold medals from previous Games. Amantle Montsho recorded a personal best 51.13 to take the women’s title and California Molefe, inspired by watching Montsho win, added the men’s gold medal in 45.59.
Nigeria, who began the day with four golds, now have six after Olutoyin Augustus won the women’s 100m hurdles and Olusoji Fasuba, the individual 100m champion, anchored his team to victory in the men’s 4 x 100m Relay. Augustus (13.23) won the hurdles from her team-mate, Jessica Ohanaja (13.27), to extend a sequence of one-nation dominance of a single event bettered only by Kenya’s men in the 3000m Steeplechase.
On the opening night, on Wednesday, Willy Komen had won a ninth Steeplechase title in succession for Kenya, originating from the first All Africa Games in 1965. Tonight Nigeria made it eight sprint hurdles golds in a row, having lost out only in 1965, when Rose Hart took the honours for Ghana.
The rival distance running nations of Kenya and Ethiopia added a second gold each from the Games, with Deriba Merga taking the men’s Half Marathon (1:02.34) and Ruth Bosibori the women’s 3000m Steeplechase (9:31.99).
David Powell for the IAAF
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