African Games - Ghana's sprint relay Gold medal winners (© Olukayode Thomas)
A Games record in the men’s steeplechase was the statistical highlight of the third day of competition in the National Stadium yesterday (13 October), though the Nigerian women’s sprint relay squad’s Games record was the result which did most to enliven the local crowd.
It was Kenya’s Ezekiel Kemboi, the World Championships silver medallist who established the new All Africa Games record in the 3000m Steeplechase. His winning time of 8:12.27 was some way off his season best of 8:02.49 which he had set when coming second in Zurich, but it was good enough not only to erase the old games record (8:15.82), but to beat his compartiot Paul Koech, who took the silver in 8:14.77. Ethopia’s Tewodros Shiferaw took the bronze in 8:27.33.
It was in a sense a surprise victory. After Koech’s 7:57.42 (PB) run in Monaco when he so nearly beat Qatar’s Saif Saeed Shaheen at the inaugural World Athletics Final title, Kemboi started the race as the slight 'under dog' despite both his World Championships performance and his 2002 Commonwealth silver medal. But as it turned out in Abuja Kemboi’s win was emphatically taken.
Kutre Dulecha, the 1999 World Championship 1500m bronze medallist beat Kenya’s Naomi Mugo in the women’s 1500m. The Kenyan, who had been sixth in both the Paris World Championships and World Athletics Final and had a season’s best of 4:01.80, was the outstanding favourite. Dulecha by comparison had been off-form during the summer, not making the Paris final and having a quickest of ‘only’ 4:02.74.
However, as a tactical and relatively slow race race unfolded - first 400m in 1:14.91, 800m 2:31.71, 1200m 3:39.54 – Dulecha was able to comfortably see off the Kenyan’s challenge, eventually crossing the finish line in 4:21.63.
Kenyan Jackline Maranga, the 1999 World Cross Country champion who came fifth in Paris at 1500m eventually took the silver medal in 4:22.69, while a distant Mugo had to settle for the bronze in 4:24.33.
With about 100m to go to the finish line in the men's 800m final, South African Hezekiel Sepeng believed he could still salvage something from the race which he started so badly. But with another 70 metres gone he finally resigned himself to his fate and jogged the remaining 30 metres to the finish. Sepeng’s defeat is one of the real surprises of this African Games.
In the vanguard of the 800m, it was Tanzania’s Samuel Mwera who won the gold medal in 1:46.13, South African Mbulaeni Mulaudzi the silver in 1:46.44, and Kenyan Justus Koech the bronze in 1:46.50.
Earlier in the women’s 400m, Falilat Ogunkoya, the defending champion was left in tears as team mate Bisi Afolabi whom she had tipped to win gold finished last in the final.
Afolabi went out far too hard from the gun and by 300 metres gone found herself with no strength left to carry her to the finish, and so her race began to die on its feet. Taking advantage of the Nigerian’s disarray Senegal’s Fatou Binetou Fall won in 51.38, Nigeria's Doris Jacob took the silver in 51.41, and Cameroon’s Mireille Nguimgo, the bronze (51.59).
In the men’s one lap sprint 400m, 25 year-old Kenyan Ezra Sambu who has a personal best at altitude of 44.43, won the gold medal in 44.98, Sudan’s Ali Nagm El Din was second (45.22), and Tunisian Laabidi Soufienetook the bronze.
Nigeria’s women’s 4x100m Relay team - Mary Onyali, Chinedu Odozor, Endurance Ojokolo and Emem Edem - won the sprint relay gold in 43.04 - a new Games record (43.28 old) - to much excitement from the local spectators.
Elsewhere on the third day, Ghana won the men’s sprint relay, Egyptian Omar El-Ghazaly the men’s Discus, and Tunisia’s Aida Sellem Aida the women’s Javelin.
Today (14 October), thousands of Nigerian athletics fans will troop to Abuja’s Stadium today to watch Namibia’s Frank Fredericks run in the men’s 200m. Fredericks who is being given the red carpet treatment where ever he goes in Abuja said he is here “to win and to have fun.”
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