Caster Semenya en route to a 49.96 victory at the African Championships in Asaba (© Bob Ramsak)
Producing one of the most dominant displays at these championships so far, Caster Semenya sped to a 49.96 victory in the 400m to highlight the third day of action at the African Athletics Championships on Friday in Asaba, Nigeria.
After a relatively cautious first half, the world and Olympic champion at 800m left the field gasping over the second as she sped away towards the first sub 50-second performance of her career.
"It's always been a dream to go sub-50, I figured at the right time and with the right conditions in my favour, it would come," said the South African, who arrived in the capital of Nigeria's Delta State with a 50.40 lifetime best set in 2016. "This was one of those races that work in your favour."
Initially entered to chase the 800/1500m double here, Semenya opted for the one and two lap distances instead to work on her speed and rhythm for the 800m which remains her favourite distance, and focus of the remainder of her season.
"We're using this more for preparation for the 800. We ran a heat and a semi yesterday, which was more like a training session for me. Today was more of a one-off. I just had to focus on my start, maintain through the halfway and then see what I could produce in the last 150 metres, which I know I could do better there. I feel good, that's the main thing. I can't wait until the 800 tomorrow."
Christine Botlogetwe was a distance second in 51.19 with Ajayi Yinka of Nigeria clocking 51.34 for bronze.
Botlogetwe's medal set the tone for a strong afternoon for Botswana at Stephen Keshi Memorial Stadium, prefacing Baboloki Thebe's successful title defence in the men's 400m.
The 21-year-old moved confidently down the final straight to clock 44.81, well clear of South African Thapelo Phora, the runner-up in 45.14. Chidi Okezie was third in 45.65 to ensure that Nigeria wasn't shut out of the medals.
Amos retains 800m crown
The gold parade for the Botswana blue continued in the men's 800m where Nijel Amos defended his title in what was billed as one of the most anticipated races of the championships.
The lanky 24-year-old equalled the third fastest performance of all-time at the 2012 Olympics in London where he finished second in David Rudisha's world record wake clocking 1:41.72. He ran his fastest time since in the Monaco leg of the Diamond last month, clocking 1:42.14. Three days later, Emmanuel Korir, widely seen as the Kenyan ace's successor, lowered the world lead further to 1:42.05, to become the sixth fastest of all-time. Here, he was lined up in lane seven, Amos in three.
The field ran as a pack through the first lap, with Jonathan Kitilit leading Amos by a step at the bell, and Korir to his outside about half a metre back. Amos made his move with 250 metres to go, hoping to run the kick out of Korir’s legs. It worked.
The Kenyan pair gave chase through the turn with Korir the strongest of the two. But he ran out of steam and then out of room as he watched Amos spread his arms in victory some three metres ahead of him. Amos clocked 1:45.20 and Korir 1:45.65.
“To be able to defend my title is a great feeling,” said Amos, whose victory allows him a rare opportunity to defend his Continental Cup title next month as well. “It’s fantastic to be able to represent our beautiful continent again. I’m going there hoping to make it happen again.”
Mustafa Smaili of Morocco finished well to take the bronze in 1:45.90, edging Antoine Gakeme of Burundi by a scant 0.01.
Confident Kipruto kicks past El Bakkali
The men’s 3000m steeplechase was another eagerly-anticipated battle pitting world and Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto against Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco, the world leader at 7:58.15 who beat the Kenyan in their last meeting in Monaco.
But this time, their face-off was a somewhat elementary affair, with El Bakkali doing most of the leading until Kipruto made his decisive move at the water jump on the final lap. After taking the final hurdle with a clear lead, Kipruto began waving to the crowd, as El Bakkali struggled to not lose any more ground. Kipruto clocked 8:26.38 to win his first African title by more than a second-and-a-half. El Bakkali clocked 8:28.01 with Ethiopian Getnet Wale Bayabl third in 8:30.87.
Another Kenyan gold came in a tactical women's 1500m with Winny Chebet holding off a late race two-pronged attack by Moroccans Rabab Arrafi and Malika Akkaoui. Chebet, this year's Kenyan national champion over the distance, won in 4:14.02, 0.10 ahead of Arrafi. Akkaoui, a three-time African championships medallist at 800m, clocked 4:14.17 in third.
Three more wins for Nigeria
The highlight in the field events came courtesy of Ese Brume who claimed the first victory of the day for the hosts when she successfully defended her long jump title. The 22-year-old controlled the competition from the outset, reaching 6.50m in the opening round, improving to 6.74m in the second and sealing it with a 6.83m season's best in the third.
Marthe Yasmine Koala of Burkina Faso, the 2014 African champion in the heptathlon, came closest, hitting 6.54m in round four to take silver. Linque Beneke of South Africa was third with 6.38m.
Chioma Onyekwere led a Nigerian 1-2 in the discus throw, her 58.09m best topping teammate Chinwe Okoro's 57.37m. The 24-year-old took silver two years ago.
Another near-capacity crowd stayed until the final guns, urging on their 4x100m squads. The women's quartet of Joy Udo-Gabriel, Blessing Okagbare, Tobi Amusan and Rosemary Chukwuma took a solid victory in 43.77, well clear of the Ivory Coast squad anchored by 100m champion Marie Josee Ta Lou who clocked 44.40. An inspired Kenyan team took bronze in 45.58.
But men's 100m winner Akine Simbine repelled a host nation sweep by holding off the Nigerian anchor in the men's 4x100m, sealing South Africa’s 38.25 victory. Nigeria clocked 38.74 in second with Ivory Coast third in 38.92.
Back on the infield, Mathew Sawe of Kenya equalled his 2.30m national record to successfully defended his title in the high jump. South African Chris Moleya was second with 2.26.
Fourth decathlon title for Bouraada
Larbi Bouraada of Algeria dominated the decathlon, tallying 8101 points to win a fourth straight title. Collecting 4194 points on the first day, the 30-year-old carried a lead of 175 points into the second and then went on to win the pole vault, discus and javelin throws, finish second in the 1500m and third in the 110m hurdles to secure the lopsided victory.
Fredriech Pretorius of South Africa was a distant second with 7733 with Samuel Osadolor of Nigeria taking bronze with 7095.
Earlier in the afternoon, Algerian Abdelmalik Lahoulou clocked a national record 48.47 to take an upset victory in the 400m hurdles.
Competition continues on Saturday morning with the first day of the heptathlon.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF