IN ASABA, NIGERIA
What a day! Kenya endured a roller coaster ride to end the day with three gold medals, one silver and a bronze as the 21st African Athletics Championships reached the halfway stage at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba on Friday.
World, Commonwealth and Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto added a gold to his stellar collection in the steeplechase with perennial bridesmaid Winny Chebet finally striking gold in the 1,500m.
Mathew Sawe, who recently shattered the Kenyan high jump record clearing 2.30 metres, defended his Africa record but the official results were yet to be obtained at the time of going to press.
The quartet of Eunice Kadogo, Millicent Ndoro, Joan Cherono and Freshia Mwangi dug in for Kenya’s first ever 4x100m relay medal at this level by settling for bronze in the 4x100m relay in 45.58 seconds as Blessing Okagbare-inspired Nigeria (43.77) took gold and Cote d’Ivoire (44.40) silver.
There was a major mix-up in the men’s 800 metres final which ought to have been recalled after a chaotic start with pre-race favourite Emmanuel Korir finishing second behind Botswana’s defending champion Nigel Amos.
Amos, who occasionally trains in Kenya, won in one minute, 45.20 seconds with Korir timed at 1:45.65.
Ferguson Rotich (1:45.91) and Jonathan Kitilit (1:46.88) finished fifth and sixth in the race that saw the starter blast off before the athletes were ready, prompting some of them to stand still only to take off after the rest of the field was away.
“The race should have been recalled. The organisation at these championships has been terrible but I’m still focused and will move on,” said a disappointed Korir, a student at the University of Texas El Paso in the US.
Athletics Kenya officials along with Korir’s coach at the Utep, former Olympic 800m champion Paul Ereng, lodged an appeal with the championship’s jury which was overruled with the pedestrian argument that “all the athletes were affected by the false start.”
“We first made an oral appeal and then made the formal written appeal that was overruled by the officials who argued that although it was a false start, all the athletes were effected,” Peter Angwenyi, the assistant team manager here said.
“This is quite unfair because if it indeed was a false start, the race should have been recalled,” added head coach Stephen Mwaniki.
Athletics Kenya chief executive Susan Kamau also said they were extremely disappointed by the turn of events at these championships that have been rocked by problem after problem.
“I’ve never seen such terrible organisation in my life,” said Ereng, Olympic champion at the 1988 Seoul Games.
Earlier in the afternoon, Alphas Kishoyan (46.08 seconds) and Jared Momanyi (46.83) finished fourth and seventh, respectively, in the 400 metres final won by Botswana’s Baboloki Thebe (44.81).
South Africa’s Phora Thapelo (45.14) and Nigeria’s Okezie Chidi (45.65) completed the podium positions.
In the women’s 400m, South Africa’s Caster Semenya was in a class of her own, winning in 49.96 seconds with Kenya’s Veronica Mutua seventh in 53.27.
“The fact that we had a lady for the first time after a very long time in the 400m final is a good sign. Veronica ran a great race,” coach Mwaniki added.
The men’s short relay team of Peter Mwai, Mike Mokamba, Alphas Kishoyan and Mark Otieno finished fifth while Priscilla Nasimiyu (6.00 metres) was seventh in the women’s long jump won by Nigeria’s Brume Esee (6.74 metres).
In the 1,500m, Chebet, who has won four silver medals at various continental and global competitions, was elated at taking gold, finally, with a time of 4:14.02.
“I thank God. I’m very excited because I’ve been trying for very long and now I finally have a gold medal,” the previously 800m specialist from Kericho County said.