A championship record by Mohamed Magdi Hamza in the men’s shot put and a 10,000m victory by world junior champion Joshua Cheptegei were the highlights of the opening two days (5-6) of action at the African Junior Championships in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Elsewhere, the hosts took the top two positions in the women’s 3000m steeplechase and 1500m with Kenya doing the same in the men’s 1500m, while on the field, Morocco’s Mouhcine Khoua leapt to 7.45m in the men’s long jump.
A capacity crowd of 30,000 filled the Addis Ababa stadium to catch a glimpse of the African stars of tomorrow on show. But despite a jovial opening ceremony and two gold medals by the hosts in the first two days, the highlight of the action so far came in a field event not popular in this part of the continent.
After a foul in the opening round, pre-event favourite Hamza went straight into the lead with a 19.87m heave in round two, breaking the championship record by 28 centimetres. He improved on that two rounds later with 20.32m, but saved his best for last, throwing 20.66m in the final round.
By the end of the competition, he had added more than a metre to the previous championship record set by fellow Egyptian Mostafa Amr Ahmed Hassan in 2013. He also moved to second on the African all-time list behind the 21.79m African junior record Hassan set in 2014.
With no non-Ethiopian having won a 10,000m race in Ethiopia in the past 20 years, there was huge pressure on Gurmessa Nega and Mulu Alemneh to continue that streak.
Eventual winner Cheptehei appeared at the front during the opening few laps, but opted to stay behind for much of the race, allowing the Kenyans and Ethiopians to exchange the lead.
Even though they started to accelerate from the seventh lap, there was no change except the two athletes from Rwanda who dropped back. With nine laps to go, the Ethiopians’ attempt to move on was not successful as the two Kenyans and Cheptegei refused to give into his breakaway attempt.
With five laps remaining, Kenya’s Edwin Lelgut and Ethiopia’s Mulu Alemne Alem lost their connection with the leading group, reducing the pack at the front to just Cheptegei, Davis Kiplangat and Gurmessa Nega Feksana.
World junior champion Cheptegei waited until the final 300m before making his move, kicking away to win in 29:58.70 over Kiplangat (29:59.32) and Nega (30:02.38).
“It’s my first time participating at the African Junior Championships, but I had experience from the World Junior Championships where I won gold,” said Cheptegei. “Although I’m a 5000m and 10,000m runner, I had also qualified for the World Cross in Guyang and thought my country would only take me to the World Cross. But finally they told me that I was going to run in Ethiopia.
“It was a surprise for me. Today’s race was difficult as the wind was against us. That’s why I remained behind [the leading group] for a long time.”
Nigussie wins first gold for host nation
In the first track final of the championships, a cheerful home crowd inspired youngsters Medina Nigussie and Shuru Bulo to the top two places in the women’s 3000m steeplechase. They clocked 10:31.37 and 10:34.48 respectively to take gold and silver with Kenyan Felis Chebet third in 10:38.60.
“It was my first win on the big stage,” said Nigussie. “I was a bit afraid and my aim was to be a good contestant, but finally I was able to win. So I am very happy.”
In the men’s event, the usual contest between Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes started just after the second lap. But it was only Abraham Kibiwott who managed to go along with the two Ethiopians who were buoyed by the home crowd.
Some 300m from the finish, the race turned into a two-man battle with Kibiwott shadowing Youth Olympic champion Wegene Sebsibe. The Ethiopian held on until the last water jump when Kibiwott broke clear to take victory in 8:47.43. Sebsibe (8:51.57) and team-mate Hailemariyam Amare (9:01.58) followed him to take silver and bronze.
In other races of the opening two days, Ethiopians Chaltu Shumi (2:09.20) and Kore Tola (2:09.61) took a one-two in the women’s 800m. Kenya repeated this trend in the men’s 1500m with Anthony Kiptoo (3:43.98) and Gilbert Kwemoi (3:44.59) taking the first two places.
Youth Olympic silver medallist Karabo Sibanda of Botswana, still just 16, set a PB of 46.33 to win the men’s 400m, while the 100m title went to world junior silver medallist Divine Oduduru, the Nigerian clocking 10.44 into a -1.1m/s headwind.
Commonwealth and African long jump champion Ese Brume made a successful debut in her new event, winning the triple jump with a PB of 13.16m, taking gold in the last round.
Egyptian hammer thrower Ahmed Tarek Ismail (74.46m) and South African pole vaulter Kaytlin Louise Sparks (3.40m) were the other winners.
Elshadai Negash (with the assistance of Bizuayehu Wagaw) for the IAAF