African athletes have added glamour and excitement to the 10th edition of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) world championships in Helsinki, Finland.
Crowds of more than 30 000 have been treated to spectacular performances by the 2 000 athletes drawn from more than 200 countries, Africa being represented by no less than 30 countries.
By the end of day six (Thursday), Africa had collected a total of 13 medals, the bulk of which came in the long track events. The short sprints, both men’s and women’s events, remained the domain of the United States, with Olympic champion Justin Gatlin and Lauryn Williams illuminating the stage with sensational victories.
But the African stars shone brightly as they once again dominated the long track events.
The opening day of the competition saw spectators rise in honour of the national anthem of Ethiopia.
The 19-year-old Tirunesh Dibaba, 5 000m Olympic champion, led a marvelous one-two and three victory for the East Africans in the gruelling women’s 10 000m race.
Dibaba, who tactically spent most of the race monitoring matters on the back fringes, unleashed her blistering pace in the last lap to outperform her compatriot, Berhane Adere—the defending champion. The long strides of Adere did, however, see off the challenge of Dibaba’s sister, Ejegayehu, who claimed the bronze to complete a stunning hat trick and clean sweep of the medals.
The men’s 10 000m event too saw two Ethiopians on the winners’ podium, led by star athlete Kenenisa Bekele—Olympic champion and many times world cross-country hero. But the 25-lap race will be best remembered for the showing of Moses Mosop. So ecstatic was the gallant young Kenyan at slipping in behind Ethiopian Sileshe Sihine to claim bronze that he took a lap of honour wrapped in his country’s national flag.
The bitter rivalry between the two East Africa countries on the track is legendary. Kenya appears of late to be losing its grip as the best distance-running nation and has yet to bag any gold medals. Ezekiel Kemboi and Brimin Kipruto weighed in with silver and bronze respectively in the men’s 3 000m steeplechase and Yeruto Kiptum was third across the line in the women’s equivalent.
The frail-looking Ugandan, Dorcas Inzikuru, surprised all with her triumph in the inaugural women’s steeplechase event, clocking a championship record of 9mins 18,24s.
Magrette Simpson gave Ghana something to crow about by snatching a credible bronze in the heptathlon—an event made up of seven tough disciplines.
Southern and Central African countries have been unimpressive with South African field competitors in particular putting in below par performances. The unavailability of Hestrie Cloete—a one time IAAF Female Athlete of the Year—left the Russians to reign supreme in the high jump.
But the huge disappointment must be Mozambican Maria Mutola’s failure to even get among the medals in the 800m. She nonetheless remains a crowd favourite even though her star has been on the wane in the past year.