IN GOLD COAST
African athletes closed Friday night’s track session in sensational style, shattering Commonwealth Games records in the women’s 800 and men’s 10,000 metres finals at the Carrara Stadium as the back-and-forth, cross-border rivalry between Kenya and Uganda continued.
And in doing so, South Africa’s Caster Semenya and Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei both completed unique doubles at these championships, Semenya having earlier won the 1,500m race and Cheptegei triumphant in the 5,000m.
The South African shattered the previous best in the two-lap race set 16 years ago by Joanna Houareau of Seychelles (one minute, 57.35 seconds) by winning in 1:56.68 while Cheptegei improved another 16-year-old record (27:45.39) held by Kenya’s Wilberforce Talel by taking the 10,000m gold in 27:19.62.
Both previous records were shattered at the 2002 Games in Manchester.
Nigeria also had guns blazing, winning the women’s 100m hurdles through Oluwatobiloba Amusan (12.68 seconds) in a fruitful night for Kenya.
After claiming the steeplechase sweep, Kenya had to watch in awe as Cheptegei fought off a late rally by rising Canadian-Somali star Ahmed Mohammed (27:20.56) for the gold, Kenya’s Rodgers Kwemoi (27:28.66) picking up the bronze.
Semenya's 1,500m and 800m double at these Commonwealth Games has been received with mixed feelings here.
Australia is a country that appreciates individual freedoms and even has bisexual toilets.
But the muted reception that greeted the controversial Semenya's 800m triumph Fridaylast night spoke volumes about the reservations fans and athletes alike still have for the South African competing in women-only races.
Semenya endures testosterone tests with world track and field governing body, IAAF, giving the athlete a clean bill of health to compete.
Kenya's silver medallist Margaret Nyairera's power has also raised a few eyebrows, but there's no-one capable of matching the South African for pace.
Semenya (1:56.68) won in a gun-to-tape performance, tagging silver winner Nyairera (1:58.97) and bronze medallist Nagoya Goule of Jamaica (1:58.82) both under the two-minute mark.
Semenya wasn't taking any chances, her incredible splits being 28.1 seconds at 200 metres, 43.3 (300m), 58.7 (400m), 1:56.68 (500m) and 1:28.9 (600m) before crushing to the finish, opening up a 10-metre gap with the chasing Nyairera.
And in the post-race interview, she was her usual confident self.
"I don't care what people say or think. My parents love me for who I am and it's always important to surround yourself with the right people with the right attitude," she said.
The 20-year-old Polokwane-born Olympic champion told Nation Sport that she will honour the Africa Championships in July, and that she would like to be "the best ever" in the two-lap race.
"I wanna be greater than (Mozambique's) Maria Mutola. She was around for two decades. I want to be the best."
Kenya's Eglay Nalyanya, who finished eighth in 2:03.08, said Semenya's pace was too fast at 400m and she couldn't respond.
“The season is still early and we are doing 54-56 seconds over 400 metres in training. When I saw Semenya had crossed 400m in 58, I knew I couldn’t match that pace,” said the athlete, who trains in Iten.
“But I draw a lot of positives from Semenya because she helped me attain my personal best,” she added, referring to the semi-finals of the two-lap race in which she finished third in 2:00.28 with Semenya winning in 1:59.26.
The 22-year-old silver medallist Nyairera said she gave it her all, but Semenya was too fast for her, but was happy for the silver.
“I still have many races coming up including the Africa Championships (in Nigeria in July) and the Continental Championships (in Czech Republic in September), so I will go back to Ngong and discuss with my coach the aspects of the race that I need to improve,” she said.
“I have won bronze before (at the 2016 Rio Olympics) and now I have silver, which means I can only go for gold next,” she added.
In the men’s 10,000m, Cheptegei was comfortable in the lead pack, slightly surging ahead at the halfway 5,500m mark (15:16), before letting Ahmed, silver medallist behind the Ugandan in the 5,000m, hit the front at 7,900m (21:49).
Knowing he had a strong finishing kick, he took charge at 9,700 metres to cruise to victory with Ahmed trailing in second place.
“It was a tactical race and you had to be mentally strong to win. I tried to make a few moves and the Canadian (Ahmed) responded, so I decided to relax and wait for the right moment,” said Cheptegei, who trains in Kapchorwa in the Mt Elgon region across the Kenyan border.
Kenya’s bronze medallist Kwemoi said as a junior athlete, he was happy with his bronze medal.
He said he still suffers stomach problems especially in the latter stage of his races.
“Every time at around 22 laps, I feel a burning sensation in my stomach… I opted to just settle for the bronze,” said Japan-based Kwemoi.
Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa said he would follow up and source medical attention for the athlete at the government’s expense.
Earlier, Stephen Wesonga finished fifth (12.47 seconds) in the 100 metres final of the special, T47 category.
Friday track results:
Women's 800m final result:
1. Caster Semenya (South Africa) 1:56.68
2. Margaret Nyairera (Kenya) 1:58.07
3. Nagoya Goule (Jamaica) 1:58.82 (PB)
4. Winnie Nanyondo (Uganda) 2:00.36
5. Alexandra Bell (England) 2:00.83
6. Focus Ajok (Uganda) 2:01.22
7. Emily Cherotich (Kenya) 2:01.74
8. Eglay Nalyanya (Kenya) 2:03.08
Men’s 10,000m final:
1. Joshua Cheptegei (Uganda) 27:19.62
2. Mohammed Ahmed (Canada) 27:20.56
3. Rodgers Kwemoi (Kenya) 27:20.56
4. Jacob Kiplimo (Uganda)27:30.25
5. Jake Robertson (New Zealand) 27:30.90
6. Stephen Mokoka (South Africa) 27:44.58
7. Timothy Toroitich (Uganda) 27:47.35
8. Jonathan Ndiku (Kenya) 27:56.24
9. Andrew Vernon (England) 28:56.94
10. Josephat Bett (Kenya) 28:56.94