IN ASABA, NIGERIA
Kenya’s 100-strong contingent burst into song and dance as University of Texas El Paso student Emmanuel Korir crossed the finish line to anchor Kenya to the 4x400 metres relay gold at the Stephen Keshi Stadium here on Sunday, and to the overall title at the 21st African Athletics Championships.
Korir completed a well-executed plan after first-change Alphas Kishioyan had run a race of his life to open up the gap on the battling Nigerians, handing the baton to hurdles specialist Haron Koech who kept the momentum before the brilliant Korir, otherwise an 800m specialist, coasted home to bring the curtain down on the five-day championships.
The first long relay gold (timed at three minutes, 00.92 seconds) since the 2010 continental championships in Nairobi crowned a successful outing for Kenya on a day that yielded six gold medals for a final tally of 11 gold, six silver and two bronze.
"This is something we have been training for over a long time, with special focus on the baton exchange each afternoon for three days a week,” Koech, a 400m hurdles specialist, said.
The gold medals were mined through Hellen Obiri (5,000m), Mathew Sawe (high jump), Julius Yego, (javelin), Conseslus Kipruto (steeplechase), Beatrice Chepkoech (steeplechase), 4x400m relay (men), Samuel Gathimba (walk), Elijah Manang’oi (1,500m), Edward Zakayo (5,000m), Winny Chebet (1,500m) and Stacey Ndiwa (10,000m).
The silvers were eked out by Alice Aprot (10,000m), Timothy Cheruiyot (1,500m), Emmanuel Korir (800m), Celliphine Chespol (steeplechase), 4x400m relay (women) and Grace Wanjiru (walk).
Bronze medals were in the 4x100m relay (women) and Fancy Cherotich (steeplechase).
South Africa (nine gold, 13 silver and eight bronze) were second with hosts Nigeria (9-5-5) third.
Kenya’s overall win came against the backdrop of serious logistical problems that saw the team delayed on transit in Lagos for two days after the Delta State hosts’ charter plane plans came a cropper with hundreds of athletes stranded at Lagos’ Murtala Mohammed Stadium.
“The team was highly determined, despite the hiccups, to represent the 45 million Kenyans,” head of delegation Abraham Mutai said as Kenya’s celebrations poured onto the track.
“We are now appealing for Kenyans to continue supporting Kenyan athletics even as we prepare for the world cross country championships and world championships next year. We need more corporate and government support.”
MWANIKI 'OVER THE MOON'
Head coach Stephen Mwaniki was elated.
He had led Kenya to 10 gold medals at the 2010 African Championships in Nairobi and was excited to have surpassed his previous haul.
“In Nairobi 2010, I had 10 gold medals as head coach, but this time round I have managed 11 which makes me quite excited,” the Kenya Prisons Service coach said.
“I’m particularly happy with our sprinters, which shows that with more exposure, they will do a lot better even at the global stage.”
The Kenyan women sprinters also shone on the final day, taking silver in the 4x400m relay behind the Nigerians (3:31.19).
The time clocked by Kenya’s quartet was 3:35.45.
The final day of action started off with a gold in the men’s walk through Commonwealth Games race walk bronze medallist Samuel Gathimba before world steeplechase record holder Beatrice Chepkoech took the steeplechase title.
Gathimba defended the title he won two years ago in Durban by winning the 20-kilometre walk in one hour, 25 minutes and and 13 seconds.
Chepkoech won in eight minutes, 59.88 seconds with Celliphine Chespol (9:09.61) second and Fancy Cherono (9:23.92).
Chepkoech said their race plan worked out well and she was happy to have kept her word.
"I promised my parents that I would go back with gold and I've done it," she said.
"Our race plan worked well and now that I'm going for the Continental Cup I'm so excited.
"Our training went very well save for the problems we had coming into Nigeria."
Gathimba, bronze medallist at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, in April, defended the title he won two years ago in Durban by winning the 20-kilometre walk in one hour, 25 minutes and and 13 seconds.
“I’m happy with my performance. After the bronze at the Commonwealth Games I worked harder and I’d like to thank my governor in Nyeri County, the people of Nyeri and Kenya as a whole for supporting me,” Gathimba said.
“The walk is never highly regarded but, hey, this gold medal is gold like any other.”
In Gold Coast, Gathimba finished third behind home athlete Dane Bird-Smith and Great Britain’s Tom Bosworth at the “Club” games in April.
Grace Wanjiru, a six-time Africa champion (1:35.5), finished second to Ethiopia’s Yehualeye Beletew (1:31.45) after the two had broken off early in the women’s 20km walk that circulated around the Stephen Keshi Stadium.
Simon Wachira (1:27.57) was fourth in the men’s race with the silver and bronze going to South Africa’s Lebogang Shange (1:25.24) and Hassana Sebei of Tunisia (1:25.39).
The women’s bronze was panned by Chahimez Nasri of Tunisia (1:31.2) with all these times yet to be ratified as the championships’ legendary slow results system continued to stagger on the final day of the five-day championships that have attracted 52 nations.
Kenya’s second athlete in the women’s walk, Emily Ngii, failed to start as she was still admitted at the St Luke’s Hospital, Asaba, after an attack of malaria and ulcers with Kenyan team officials assuring she was stable.
Yego, Olympic silver medallist and former world champion, reclaimed his javelin title with a second round throw of 77.34 metres with South Africa’s Philmar van Rensenburg (76.57m) taking silver and Nigeria’s Kure Adams (75.69) bronze.
Fresh from victory in the IAAF World Under-20 Championships in Tampere, Finland, last month, Zakayo ran a mature 5,000m race to take gold.
The form three student at the Kapsait Athletics Secondary School on the West Pokot-Elgeyo Marakwet border said he had reserved his energy for the final kick.
Maureen Jelagat (57.27) fell just outside the medals, finishing fourth in the 400m hurdles behind Nigeria’s Nathaniel Glory (55.53), Lamiae Lhabz of Morocco (56.66) and South Africa’s Wenda Nel (57.04).