Emphatic wins by Kenya’s World junior champions Jonathan Ndiku and Mercy Cherono were the highlight on the opening day at the ninth Africa Junior Championships in Bambous, Mauritius on Thursday (30).
Their victories confirm Kenya’s intention to retain the team title earned in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, two years ago. 515 athletes from 31 countries have converged at the Germain Comaramond Stadium for the four day contest.
Ndiku illustrates strong mental strength
The famous adage ‘Tough times do not last but tough people do’ best describes Ndiku’s stoic performance in the 3000m Steeplechase. Barely 800 metres into the race, Ndiku’s spike flew off his right foot.
Undeterred by this setback, he maintained his challenge upfront. This even as the Ethiopia duo of Legesse Lemesso and Desta Alemi Mokona sought to work as a team to wear him down. Initially, Ndiku’s teammate Stephen Kiprotich held back.
With four laps to the finish, Ndiku made his move as first Mokona, then Lemesso fell off the pace. As the Ethiopian seemed to be struggling, Kiprotich who had held back for the first half of the race appeared rejuvenated.
Kiprotich caught up with the fizzling Ethiopian duo and then overtook them with 600m to the finish. Over the last lap the Kenyans coasted home in majestic style. Ndiku won the race in 8:28.83, and was followed by Kiprotich (8:35.97), Lemesso (8:39.53), and Mokona (8:44.40).
“I was initially ruffled by the incident of losing one shoe. But I was not going to let my country down,” Ndiku said. “I knew that the best out of this situation is to put pressure on the Ethiopians, thus preventing them from controlling the pace. Once I regained some balance I just went ahead and ran my own race,” Ndiku explained.
Cherono stamps her authority in women’s 3000m
Earlier Mercy Cherono set out to give a solid account of why she is the world’s best junior 3000m runner. Initially, Ethiopians Etenesh Diro Neda and especially Tsaga Gela Reta made the spirited challenge in the opening three laps.
When Cherono upped her pace, the contest for the gold medal effectively ended in the first half of the race. Cherono covered the distance in 8:54.96. Neda (9:09.22) followed ahead of Reta( 9:25.31).
“Today I was confident of victory as I have previously prevailed over my Ethiopian rivals,” says Cherono. Besides her 3000m world title in Bydgoszcz last year, she was a silver medallist in the junior women’s race at the World Cross country Championships in Amman in March.
“I think it is God’s blessing that I have done very well as a junior over the past two year. Winning accolades on the world stage is just as important as winning here at home in Africa. Now I am going to pay more attention to my school work,” Cherono revealed.
A third round 7.67m leap in the Long Lump, albeit wind assisted, was enough for Tunisia’s Alaeddine Ben Hassine to clinch the gold medal. A finalist at the recent Mediterranean Games in Pescara Italy, Hassine was pleased with his performance.
“It is Tunisia’s first medal at these championships and my first gold medal for my country. What more can my country ask from me at this event?” Hasssine asked with a broad smile.
The fourth gold medal of the day went to South Africa’s Lindie Liebenberg. She won the event courtesy of a modest 43.24m effort in the Discus Throw.
“We threw the implement against the wind. Therefore we did not expect a big throw today,” Liebenberg said.
Mark Ouma for the IAAF
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