Teresiah Muthoni Gateri celebrates her 3000m win at the World U20 Championships in Nairobi (© Dan Vernon)
The battle for superiority between East Africa’s athletics powerhouses, Kenya and Ethiopia, was reignited in full force as the men’s 5000m final, women’s 3000m final and men’s 1500m heats featured on Thursday (19), day two of the World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi.
After Ethiopia’s Tadese Worku stole the show on day one by inspiring a 1-2 for his country in the men’s 3000m, the host country came battle ready this time around, leaving no stone unturned to ensure they won both gold medals at stake in the men’s 5000m final and women’s 3000m final.
Despite the lack of fans at the stadium, the host team along with the volunteers and local media at the Kasarani Stadium ensured that the Kenyan athletes had more than enough moral support to push them to gold, starting with the 5000m which had an interesting formation of 10 athletes comprising two each from Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Eritrea, plus a South Sudanese athlete and one athlete from Burundi.
At the sound of the gun the athletes went out in pairs with Uganda's Rodgers Kibet and Martin Magengo Kiprotich leading the first two laps. By the third lap, Worku led the charge for Ethiopia and overtook the Ugandans, while his teammate Addisu Yihune kept close. By the fourth lap the Ethiopians and Kenyans had distinguished themselves from the rest of the field with a 10-metre gap between both sides.
An unrelenting Worku maintained the lead almost all the way through to the final lap, briefly losing the lead to Kenya’s Benson Kiplangat a couple of times, who had his compatriot Levy Kibet right behind him. Yihune faded with two laps to go, making it a three-man race when the bell went off. Worku tried to go all out but at the last bend was overtaken by Kiplangat who stormed to sweet victory in a personal best of 13:20.37 as Worku followed in 13:20.65. Kibet settled for bronze, also in a personal best of 13:26.01.
Speaking afterwards, Kiplangat expressed his delight at winning Kenya’s first gold medal of the competition. “I thank God and I feel good about this victory because I trained hard for this," he said. "I’m happy I defeated the Ethiopians because today I already made up my mind to beat them to the gold. Now I’ll go and train for next year’s World Cross Country Championships.”
Many were surprised to see Worku compete in the 5000m a day after winning the 3000m, but the middle-distance runner disclosed that he only made the decision to race the 5000m in the morning after his teammate withdrew, and he wanted to stand in for him so as to win another medal for Ethiopia.
Kenya’s second victory of the day was secured by Teresiah Muthoni Gateri who became the first woman from her country since 2012 to win gold in the 3000m. Ethiopia’s Melknat Wudu pushed hard but Gateri went past her in the final lap to win the race in 8:57.78, blowing kisses to her supporters as she crossed the finish line.
Fellow Kenyan Zenah Jemutai Yego followed in second, and she could hardly hide her delight, pumping her fists in the air as it dawned on her that she had won the silver medal. Wudu settled for bronze in a personal best of 9:00.12.
Celebrating her triumph, Gateri said: “Competing on home soil motivated me to go for gold because I don’t think I can host someone at my home and let them come and rule at my home so we were very ready. We hosted them well, we welcomed them well and we were ready to face the challenge and it has happened, we thank God."
Another event Kenya dominated was the men’s 1500m heats, with the four fastest in each of the two heats and the next four fastest advancing to the next round.
Vincent Kibet Keter gave a good account of himself and did enough to keep his Ethiopian rival Melkeneh Azize at bay to cross the line in 3:42.35, with the latter following with 3:44.81. Eritrea’s Abderezak Suleman finished third in 3:47.81 while Uganda’s Peter Maru also advanced to the next round with his time of 3:48.28.
It was another Kenyan dominance in heat two of the men’s 1500m. Ethiopia’s Wegene Addisu took the lead 200m into the race with his Kenyan counterpart Kamar Etiang overtaking him with two laps to go. The later took advantage of his longer strides to cross the line first in 3:44.75 while Addisu followed with a time of 3:44.86. Spain’s Pol Oriach and Frenchman Ylies Mihoubi were the other automatic qualifiers from heat two.
Meanwhile, it was a historic night for Botswana as the country won its first ever 100m medal at the World U20 Championships, or any global championship for that matter. Having clocked two national U20 records the previous day, Letsile Tebogo had already cemented his place as the man to beat and he did not falter, despite the harsh conditions caused by rainfall.
Although he left the blocks a little late, the 18-year-old had enough steam to power to his first global title with a time of 10.19. South Africa’s Benjamin Richardson won the silver in 10.28 as Cuba’s Shainer Rengifo Montoya was more than happy with his bronze medal which he claimed with 10.32.
“I had to finish what I already started," said Tebogo. "I’m really proud of myself because we need to change how the books are. Now Botswana has their first gold medal from the World U20 Championships.
"I know the people back home are very happy. This gold medal is for my mum, my coach and personal trainer. I can’t celebrate yet because I have the 200m tomorrow. Having the gold medal in the 100m is an advantage because some of my rivals are really scared since they do not know what I’m going to do in the 200m."
Jamaica’s 17-year-old Tina Clayton was in a class of her own in the women’s 100m final, maintaining her unbeaten run all through the championships to take the gold medal with a personal best of 11.09, bettering her former time of 11.17 set while racing to gold at the NACAC U18 Championships in San Jose last month.
Namibia’s Beatrice Masilingi took the silver in 11.39 while Switzerland’s Melissa Gutschmidt pipped Nigeria’s Praise Ofoku to the bronze medal, clocking a time of 11.51.
"The feeling is unexplainable," said Clayton. "It's really good to win this gold medal and register a personal best time.
"I am really grateful for the support offered to me by my parents and coaches and I know they are really proud of me after this result. It feels good to know that Jamaica has successfully defended this title after Briana Williams won it in 2018."
Yemi Olus for World Athletics