World Junior 3,000 metres champion Mercy Cherono and World Junior 3,000m steeplechase title holder Jonathan Muiya harvested Kenya’s first gold medals yesterday at the Africa Junior Championship in Bombous City, Mauritius.
Cherono, who won a silver medal at the World Cross Country Championships in Amman in March, thrilled a classy field which had two Ethiopians in a race run under windy conditions to win the 3,000m in eight minutes and 45.2 seconds.
She secured her ticket to the competition at the Nyayo National Stadium in 8:56.0 last month.
“The victory did not come as a surprise to me. I was well prepared for it only that the strong winds barred me from recording better times.
“I now call upon my Kenyan team to tighten their belts to enable us carry the overall title,” Cherono told the Daily Nation from Mauritius.
World Cross Country Championships runner, Valentine Kipketer, came in fourth as two Ethiopians (Etenesh Diro Neda 9:09.22 and Tsaga Gela Reta 9:25.31) grabbed silver and bronze.
Muiya, who won his specialty at the national trials in 8:28.1, confirmed his supremacy as he strolled to the Africa gold medal in a slower time of 8:29.4 as rising steeplechaser Stephen Kiprotich settled for a silver in 8:32.
World Junior 800m champion, Winnie Chebet, and 2005 World Youth 1,500m champion Sheila Chepkurui - who are classmates at Kiptere Secondary School in Kericho - easily won their heats to feature in today’s finals.
World Youth Championships 400m finalist, Betty Chelagat, another product from Kiptere Secondary, secured a place in the 400m finals today.
The 10,000m finals will also be staged today.
Moses Kosgei, who is one of the Kenyan coaches in Mauritius, said the juniors stood high chances of bagging more medals. “Our runners have maintained their form. We only expect challenge from Ethiopia and South Africa.
“I am certain they will still dominate the podium places if what they have displayed is anything to go by,” Kosgei said.
Kenya’s head of delegation in Mauritius, Joseph Kinyua, lauded the Kenyan champions saying their victory is significant in boosting the morale in camp. Winny Chebet, the 2006 World junior champion in 800m, is seeking her final medal before graduating next year to the senior ranks as she won in her heat yesterday in 2:07.72.
In heat two, Caster Semenya (South Africa) won after taking 2:04.97 ahead of Tizita Bogale Ashame (Ethiopia) 2:05.48 while Kenya’s Sheila Chepkirui was third to claim the final automatic qualification slot in 2:08.23.
Both William Mbevi and Shakameta Parmuma Tibape qualified for the finals of the men 400m hurdle race. Mbevi was third in heat one clocking 55.10 after winner Neil De Beer (South Africa) 53.84 and Algeria’s Mohamed Amine Attou 54.19.
Tibape 56.10 was fifth in the second heat, which was the fastest and still qualified. Cornel Fredericks (South Africa) won in 52.89 ahead of Hardus Maritz (Namibia) 54.22, Amadou N’diaye (Senegal) 54.40 and Faycal Mehdioui (Algeria) 55.66.
Betty Chelangat also qualified in women 400m race but it was a long shot for the World 3,000m steeplechase silver medallist Elizabeth Mueni. Chelangat was fourth in 56.88 in a race won by Folahshade Abugan (Nigeria) 53.86 with Racheal Nathula (Zimbabwe) second in 54.35 while Sylvie Zimbere (Cameroon) was third in 55.39.
Mueni 59.23 was fourth in her heat won by Bimbo Miel Ayedou (Benin) 56.22, Mlalazi Sokhuluhle (Zimbabwe) 56.33, while Charity Adegoke (Nigeria) was third in 56.88.
A total of 21 countries are taking part in the four five day championship.