Kenya had a remarkable final day of competition on Sunday snapping up four gold medals, including a sweep in the men’s 5000m at the African Athletics championships in Porto Novo, Benin.
Julius Yego yet again conquered Africa with a Gold in Javelin, as Caleb Mwangangi(1500m) and Mercy Njoroge(3000m Steeplechase) wins boosted the teams’ medal haul.
But surprisingly it was not Kenya’s second sweep that thrilled the crowds at the Charles De Galle stadium, who may have witnessed yet another champion in the making in Francine Niyonsaba, whose holding sprint denied Kenyan Eunice Sum the gold and by large the overall team title.
The gold would have seen Kenya retain the overall team title that went to Nigeria who clinched 10 Gold, 6 silver and 5 bronze medals. Kenya managed 9 Gold, 9 Silver and 9 Bronze medals.
Burundian Teenager Niyonsaba thrills with 1:59.11.
After her gun to tape lead in the women’s 800m qualifiers, the spotlight was firmly on the Burundian and whether she would be able to challenge for the title in the final.
Eunice Sum, the pre-race favourite as the most experienced of the field, having raced at the World championships semi-finals, had a brief stint at the lead up until the 200m mark when Niyonsaba went past for a quick 57.37 at the first lap.
Moroccan Malika Akkaoui who had been lurking behind Sum and the Burundian, running in only her third competitive race, attempted to go past Niyonsaba.
But the young Burundian donning a large oversized white running vest and a flowered pair of shorts, was not letting go of her dream to win her country’s only medal in Benin. At the last bend, the three runners engaged in a thrilling race to the finish line.
Niyonsaba however beat Sum in a photo finish in 1:59.11, a new national record, and Burundi’s only second medal ever at the championships since the first in 1992. The previous record was 2:22.29.
Sum won the silver in 1:59.13 with Akkaoui grabbing the bronze in 1:59.90.
“When I came to Porto Novo I knew the best runners are from Ethiopia and Kenya and I was scared to race them,” said the form two student at the Communale Kayangozi in Royial, east of Burundi. “But after racing them yesterday(Saturday) I was not afraid today, I knew that I was strong and I can win the race.”
Sum too was pleased with silver and running her PB.
“After the qualifying I knew she would attempt to run the same way in the final, so I kept the pressure. But this was one of my best races and I think I will alternate between 800 and 1500m for now,” Said Sum who will be joining the Kenyan Olympics camp at Kasarani after qualifying in the 1500m.
Burundi Head coach Nizigama Salvator clarified that the new African champion, who ran within Olympic qualifying mark A of 1:59.90 may not have understood the question on her age, which she initially indicated was 16.
“She is 19, she turned in May,”he said in her defense of the teenager who is fluent in the local Kinyarundi.
“We had a chat after yesterday’s race and I advised her to race in the inner lane.”
“I know if I can get sometime to train and prepare well I can do even better at the Olympics,” she added confidently. Prior to Benin she had raced once at the Uganda National championships that served as her qualifying race.
Soi leads another sweep in 5000m
Late entrant Mark Kiptoo was the toss of the second Kenyan sweep of medals in Benin winning the men’s Gold in 13:22.38. Jonathan Maiyo was second in 13:22.89 while bronze medallist Timothy Kiptoo returned 13:24.67.
Looking to boost the team medal prospects, Kenya entered three runners to counter the three Ethiopians in the race.
The tactic seemed to work with Kiptoo(Timothy) setting an early pace exchanging with Kiptoo(Mark), after his 10000m silver from Thursdays race.
Timothy, who finished just outside the medal bracket at the African Cross country in March, looked set for his first major championships win after the National championships, but seasoned Mark Kiptoo would not let the gold slip away again like in 2010, when he had to had to settle for bronze in Nairobi.
“I wasn’t sure of winning the gold in this race though it’s my speciality race. But it is good I raced because my decision to switch to the road /marathon racing will have to hold for a while,” offered the 36-year old.
Mercy Njoroge warmed up for her 3000m-steeplechase race in her 9:43.26 victory as Hyvin Jepkemoi picked up from a nasty fall in the water jump which cost her the silver won by Ethiopian Ali Birtukan in 9:45.41.
“This was a good test for me though there was no one who gave me a strong challenge apart from Hyvin.
But I still need to work on speed work,”said Mercy. Jepkemoi picked up and determined to get the silver but it was a little too late and she had to settle for bronze in 9:45.95.
Ndiku rules 1500m
Former World cross country and World junior champion Caleb Ndiku ran a tactical 1500m,racing to the front in the last two laps, before sprinting ahead for the gold in 3:35.71, a championship record.
The battle in this race was for the silver between Djibouti’s Souleiman Ayanleh and Kenyan James Magut , with the North African dipping first in 3:36.34. Magut timed 3:36.35 with the fourth Kenyan Abednegoo Chesebe in fourth in 3:36.76.
“This is some consolation after losing out to Asbel Kiprop for the Olympic slot last week. But this was my last 1500 championships race as am switching to 5000m where I think I stand a better chance in the Kenyan team,” revealed Mwangangi, who also won the Gold at the All-African games in Maputo.
Yego wins first African championship Javelin gold, Sawe gets High Jump bronze
Barely a year after winning the All African Games Javelin throw, Julius Yego, added the African crown to his name with a second round throw of 76.68, the best of the day.
Ghanaian John Ampomah was the only thrower to pass the 70m mark at 70.65, his fourth attempt which won him the silver ahead of Kenechukuw Ezeofor(69.58) .
“Am really proud of myself though not happy with the throw,”said Yego, whose PB of 79.95, is the Kenyan record.
Mathieu Sawe won his bronze in the men’s High jump leap of 2:15m behind Bostwana’s Kabelo Kgosiemany who scaled 2.25m for his fourth African title and silver medallist Sudanes Younis Mahammed(2.15).
Kenya however struggled in the 4 x 400m losing their gold to Nigeria (3:02.30) while South Africa earned silver (3:04.01).
Kenya’s quartet included Vincent Koskei, Vincent Mumo, Bernard Mucheru and Mark Mutai(3:04.12). 2010 African bronze medallist Maureen Jelagat placed sixth in 56.79 behind the winners Muizart Odumosu(54.99).
The Kenyan team arrives back home early Tuesday.
Morocco,will host the 2014 edition of the championships.