An impressive finishing kick by Olympic 5000m and 10,000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba won Ethiopia’s first gold of the 17th CAA Safaricom African Athletics Championships at the Nyayo stadium in Nairobi, Kenya on Saturday.
In the other highlights of day four, Nigeria’s Oke Tosin leaped 17.22m to win the men’s Triple Jump, but missed the championship record by just one centimetre. Algeria’s Hadj Lazib took a surprise win in the men’s 110m Hurdles ahead of Nigerian favorite Selim Nurudeen. And Egyptian Abdel Mohsen Anani won the men’s hammer beating South African five-time champion Chris Harmse.
Dibaba saves the day for Ethiopia
With just two silver and two bronze medals from the first two days, traditional powerhouse Ethiopia started the fourth day of the championships without a gold and were in danger of returning home empty handed if they failed to reach the top of the podium in the women’s 10,000m.
There was also pressure on Kenya’s world 10,000m champion Linet Masai with a capacity home crowd expecting the host’s sixth gold medal of the championships.
But the athletes from the two distance running powerhouses had little interest in pushing the pace in the opening eight laps with Tanzanian Restuta Joseph opening a large gap of about 20m on a reluctant chasing pack composed of Kenyans Masai, Pauline Korikwang, and Doris Changeiywo and the Ethiopian trio of Dibaba, and World Championships silver and bronze medalists Meselech Melkamu and Wude Ayalew respectively.
The pack finally caught Joseph after eight and a half laps, but even then, none of the top contenders took an interest in taking up the pace before eventually reaching the halfway point in a tactical 16:39.01.
After urging her teammates to push the pace from the front, Masai moved to the head of the pack with 11 laps to go and picked up the pace on her own. She ran the next 1000m in 3:01 and the increased pace only helped to drop her compatriots Korikwang and Changeiywo, with the three Ethiopians hanging on without any problems.
Another searing 1000m, 3:03 this time, saw Ayalew drop off with five laps to go with Melkamu and Dibaba sticking behind the Kenyan with consummate ease. The trio ran shoulder to shoulder for the next four laps before both Dibaba and Melkamu kicked at 400m leaving Masai trailing behind. Dibaba started to move away from Melkamu at 200m before stopping at the finish line in 31:51.39 with Melkamu coming home in second for an Ethiopian one-two in 31:55.50 ahead of Masai, who ran a season’s best in 31:59.36. Dibaba’s final 400m was timed at 61 seconds, not as quick as her 58 second final lap at the 2005 World Championship 10,000m but good enough to send a small contingent of Ethiopian supporters based in Nairobi over the roof in ecstatic celebrations.
“All the injury troubles I had last year have gone away this season,” said Dibaba, who is now undefeated in all her seven career races over the 10,000m. “I knew that Linet would be strong at running laps and I prepared for that. I am very delighted about victory here. There was a lot of pressure coming into the race because we had not won gold. I did not want us to go home without gold.”
17.22m for Tosin in Triple Jump
Earlier in the day, Nigeria’s Oke Tosin won the men’s Triple Jump with a leap of 17.22m, a personal best which was just one centimetre shy of Ghanian Andre Owusu’s 17.23m championship record from Dakar, Senegal, set 12 years ago.
The 29-year-old, who holds a dual Nigerian and UK citizenship, was only one of two Africans (the other is South African Tumelo Thagane who led the African lists with 17.09m before the start of the championships) to have jumped beyond 17 metres this season with a leap of 17.05m in London in June. But after leaping 16.70 in his opening round and jumping 16.87 in both his second and third jumps, he unleashed his winning effort in the fifth round, but then skipped his last attempt knowing gold was secured.
Behind him, Thagane had a bad day on the jumping peat only managing 16.64m with his second attempt, which was only good enough for bronze behind Cameroon’s defending silver medalist Huge Lucien Schlek-Mamba, who jumped 16.78m for silver.
“I felt a bit tired after the fifth attempt and that’s why I passed my last one,” Tosin said. “I am happy about achieving a personal best and I hope to continue improving this season. The objective here was to do above 17 metres and I am happy with that.”
Anani beats Harmse in men’s hammer
The surprise of the day came in the men’s hammer where South Africa’s Chris Harmse, who has won the last four hammer titles in the African championships and overall has five victories in the event, suffered a rare defeat at the continental level to Egyptian Abdel Mohsen Anani.
In earnest, Harmse had a day to forget with only one throw beyond 70 metres and four fouls. But that should not take the credit away from Anani, the 2004 World junior silver and 2006 African championship bronze medalist, who threw better than 70 metres in all his six attempts and took victory with 74.72m. A disappointing Harmse won silver with 72.56m ahead of another Egyptian Mostafa Hesham El Gamel, who threw 71.40m for bronze.
Viljoen defends, Simpson returns
In the day’s other events, South Africa’s Sunette Viljoen defended her women’s javelin title with a championship record of 63.33m, five metres shy of the African record she set last month in Ostrava (66.38m). Compatriot Justine Robbeson was the only other thrower to manage above 60 metres with 60.24m ahead of Egyptian Hanaa Omar Hassan, who won bronze with 55.14m.
Ghana’s Margaret Simpson, the 2005 World championship bronze medalist, improved South African Junice Joseph’s championship record to take the women’s heptathlon with 6031 points ahead of South Africa’s Janet Wienand (5500 pts) with Lesotho’s Ts’oalei Selloane winning her second medal of the championships after the high jump gold taking bronze (5302 pts).
The men’s 110m Hurdles title went to Algeria’s Hadj Lazib in 13.77 with Nigeria’s Selim Nurudeen (13.83) and South Africa’s Ruan de Vries (13.98) taking silver and bronze respectively.
Kiprop and Jepkosgei fastest in qualifiers
In the day’s preliminary races, Olympic 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop was fastest in qualifying for the men’s 1500m in 3:43.33. South Africa’s reigning silver medalist Juan Van Deventer, Kenyans Silas Kiplagat and Nicholas Kemboi, Moroccan Amine Laalou, and Ethiopian Mekonnen Gebremedhin all qualified easily for Sunday’s final.
Kenya’s Olympic and world silver medallist Janeth Jepkosgei also looked impressive in qualifying for the women’s 800m final. Moroccan duo Halima Hachlaf and Btissam Lakhouad, bronze medalist in the 1500m, are also through to Sunday’s final.