Burundian teenager Francine Niyonsaba won the women’s 800m gold in a dramatic finish with a time of 1:59.11, edging out Kenya’s Eunice sum in what was only her third major race to clinch the country’s second ever gold medal at the African Championships.
After a rather slow start, Nigeria ended the championships at the Charles de Gaulle stadium on a high note snapping up five of the 13 gold medals on offer including a sweep of medals in the women’s Shot Put.
Mark Kiptoo added gold to his 10,000m silver medal as he led a 1-2-3 finish for Kenya in the men’s 5000m in 13:22.38, as Ethiopia finished the championships without a single gold in their three medal haul.
The 800m was one of the closely contested races on the final day of the championships with Niyonsaba outsprinting favourite Eunice Sum of Kenya for her PB which was also a new record for Burundi.
"I am so happy," said Niyonsaba.
"I came here knowing that the Kenyans and Ethiopians are the best in this race, and I was afraid to race them. But after yesterday’s race, I felt I was stronger than them and decided to go for the win."
Niyonsaba led Sum, Moroccan Malika Akkaoui and Kenyan Sylvia Cheseba to a fast 57.37 at the bell, in what was only her third competitive race.
Unlike the previous day when she opened a 30 metre gap between her and the chasing pack, they ran neck to neck this time, until they reached the 200 metres to go when Akkaoui attempted a surge but could not match the raw speed of the high school student from Royial Province, in east of Burundi.
As they approached the home stretch the three runners engaged in a thrilling race to the finish line but the teenager managed to hold off a spirited challenge from Sum who timed at 1:59.13, her PB. Akkaoui took the bronze in 1:59.90.
"After watching her yesterday I knew she would attempt to run the same way in the final, so I kept the pressure. But this was one of my best races and I think I will continue alternating between 800 and 1500m for now," Said Sum who will be joining the Kenyan Olympics camp at Kasarani after qualifying in the 1500m.
Burundi head coach Nizigama Salvator clarified that the new African champion, who ran within Olympic qualifying mark A of 1:59.90 was 19 and not 16.
"She was born in 1993 and turned 19 in May. She is not very fluent in French so she may have misunderstood the question yesterday."
"I know if I can get sometime to train and prepare well I can do even better at the Olympics," added Niyonsamba.
She became the second ever Burundian after 1992 men’s 800m African champion Charles Nkazamyampi to win gold for her country.
Caleb Mwangangi, former World Cross Country (2010) and World junior champion (2010) ran a tactical 1500m race setting a new championship mark of 3:35.71, which erased compatriot Asbel Kiprop’s two-year-old mark of 3:36.19.
Djibouti’s Souleiman Ayanleh ruined a likely Kenyan sweep as he outran Magut (KEN) for the silver in 3:36.34, the country’s first medal in 27 years. Magut timed 3:36.35.
"This is some consolation after losing out to Asbel Kiprop for the Olympic slot last week. But this was my last 1500 championships race as am switching to 5000m where I think I stand a chance in the Kenyan team," revealed Mwangangi, who also won the gold at the All-African games in Maputo.
Kenyan Mercy Njoroge warmed up for her 3000m Steeplechase Olympics race with a 9:43.26 victory as her compatriot Hyvin Jepkemoi (9:45.95) picked up from a nasty fall in the last water jump, which cost her the silver won by Ethiopian Ali Birtukan in 9:45.41.
Sweep for Kenya in 5000m as Nigeria rules women’s Shot Put
There was no denying Kenyans the sweep though in the men’s 5000m as Kiptoo, yet another late entrant in the race, brought in to counter the Ethiopian trio, won the gold, his second medal in Benin ahead of his teammates Jonathan Maiyo who clocked 13:22.89 while bronze medallist Timothy Kiptoo, the early pace setter, returned 13:24.67.
The other championship sweep of medals was in the women’s Shot Put, which Vivian Chukwuemeka who threw beyond 18.20m in all her five rounds, won with her best of 18.56m, an African record. She improved her nine-year record which stood at 18.43m.
Chinwe Okoro’s throw of 16.21m earned her the silver as Omotayo Talabi took the bronze in 15.63m.
Meite rebounds to win 200m
After he was false started in the 100m heats, Ben Youssef Meite bounced back with a 20.62 win in the men’s 200m despite a slow start off the blocks, relegating Egyptian Amr Saoud who clocked 20.76 to silver as Nigerian Noah Akwu settled for the bronze in 20.83.
"I am happy for this win but disappointed that I didn’t achieve my target which was to win two gold medals here," said Meite, who will also be doubling in London.
Gloria Asumnu of Nigeria went head to head with her compatriot Lawretta Ozoh but managed to dip just ahead for the gold as they both timed at 22.93.
Nigerian Muizat Odumosu claimed the 400m Hurdles gold in 54.99 as the country topped the medal standings with ten gold, six silver and five bronze medals.
Kenya finished second with nine gold medals and South Africa in third with six.
The 2014 edition of the African Athletics championships will be held in Morocco.
Evelyn Watta (www.sportsnewsarena.com) for the IAAF
Selected Results: Men - 200m 1. Ben Youssef Meite (CIV) 20.62 2. Amr Saoud (EGY) 20.76 3. Noah Akwu (NGR) 20.83