History making Kenya’s Grace Wanjiru claimed her sixth consecutive title when she won women’s 20km race walk at the Africa Athletics Championships that were due to end Sunday at Kings Park, Durban.
The 37-year-old Wanjiru, who is also the reigning African Games champion, clocked 1 hour, 30 minutes and 43 seconds to triumph and officially seal a place at the Rio Olympic Games.
It was same script in men’s race walk when Samuel Gathimba atoned for his silver medal exploits in 2014 when he captured the men’s 20km race walk title that Kenya won last in 2006, clocking personal best and championships record time of 1:19:24 to also qualify for Olympics.
Ideally, Wanjiru and Gathimba had surpassed the Olympic qualifying time of 1:35:00 and 1:24:00 when they retained the national titles in May in 1:34:09 and 1:20:20 but the times could only be recognised if the competition had athletes from at least four different nationalities.
Another Kenyan, Linda Waweru failed in her quest, finishing fifth in 1:39:23 in women’s event where Yehualeye Beleew from Ethiopia settled for silver in 1:31.58 while Tunisian Chacinez Nasri went for bronze in 1:34:45.
Gathimba, 28, edged out Hassanine Sebei from Tunisia to silver in 1:20:57 as home walker Lebogang Shange claimed bronze in 1:21:41.
Wanjiru and Gathimba’s exploits brought Kenya’s tally to 13 medals; six gold, four silver and three bronze medals.
National race walk coach George Kariuki was elated with the results.
“I spend 45 minutes talking to them last night and I have no words,” said Kariuki adding that Gathimba’s performance was a strong indication that he has the potential of winning a medal at Rio Olympics considering that it is less than 0.2 seconds from what Chinese Wang Zhen posted (1:19:22) when winning Race Walk World Cup in May in Italy.
“It’s a welcome gift from Gathimba who is only on his third major outing,” said Kariuki.
Kariuki explained that Wanjiru has never had real challenge in Africa with her only test being the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth where she won bronze and at 2011 World Championships where she finished 38th.
Kenya should expect more medals later Friday evening when its athletes field in men’s javelin, women’s 3,000m steeplechase, women’s 400m hurdles, men’s 1,500m, women’s 800m, men’s 5,000m and men and women’s 4x400m finals.