IN ASABA, NIGERIA
Julius Yego is primed to complete a hat-trick of javelin victories on the continent as the curtains draw on the 21st African Athletics Championships at the Stephen Keshi Stadium here on Sunday.
Before Saturday night’s 10,000 metres women’s final, Kenya were third on the log with four gold (Hellen Obiri, Mathew Sawe, Winny Chebet and Conseslus Kipruto), one silver (Emmanuel Korir) and a bronze (women’s 4×100 metres relay).
Kenya will also be favourites for the 1,500 metres men’s title on Sunday with world champion Elijah Manang’oi leading training mate Timothy Cheruiyot and Charles Simotwo through in Saturday’s semi-finals.
Maureen Jelagat also made it through to the women’s 400 metres hurdles final, but only after a protest by Kenyan officials.
With the first three across the line in the semis joined by the two fastest losers, Jelagat had secured an automatic ticket with a third-place finish in the semis.
But when the results and start list for the final was unleashed, the Kenya Prisons Service runner’s name was missing, prompting coach Julius Kirwa and assistant team manager Peter Angwenyi to protest after which officials rectified the error.
“Maureen was a silver medallist at the last African Championships in Durban and I expect her to either retain that or do better this time,” Kenya’s head coach and sprints specialist Stephen Mwaniki said.
But Kenya lost former world champion Eunice Sum after she failed to make the cut with Olympic 800 metres bronze medallist Margaret Nyairera qualifying with a small ‘q’ as one of the fastest non-automatic qualifiers.
Kenya will also field fresh world under-20 champion Edward Zakayo in the 5,000 metres final alongside Cyrus Ruto and Samuel Chebulei.
There was doubt on Saturday that Emily Ngii will feature in the women’s walk after she was taken ill, but coach Kirwa said they were hopeful she could recover in time to join multiple champion Grace Wanjiru.
Africa champion Samuel Gathimba and Simon Wachira will don Kenya colours in the men’s walk which starts at 7.15am, local time (9.15am, Kenyan time), 15 minutes after the women are flagged off.
Beatrice Chepkoech, fresh from breaking the world steeplechase record with a time of eight minutes, 44.32 seconds at the Monaco Diamond League meeting last month, is a sure bet in her speciality where Kenya also has Celliphine Chespol, the second fastest woman steeplechaser of all time, and the promising Fancy Cherono.
EGYPT STAGE CLEAN SWEEP
On Saturday, Egypt swept the podium in the men’s hammer through Mostafa Elgamel (73.50 metres), Islam Mohammed (70.32m) and Hassan Abdelgawad (69.90m) with Kenya’s Dominic Abunda finishing seventh.
But Abunda’s throw of 62.57m was motivating as it was a new Kenya national record, an improvement from the previous record of 59.90m hurled by Patrick Njoroge in 1993.
Yego’s meteoric rise in the field has been rewarded with a global title at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing and a silver at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The National Police Service athlete from Nandi County has won two African titles at the 2012 games in Porto Novo, Benin, and the 2014 competition in Marrakech, Morocco, and will be chasing a third one on Sunday when the competition gets underway at 5.10pm, Kenyan time, which is 3.10pm Delta State time.
Yego holds the Africa record at 90.72 metres which he hurled on his was to the world title in Beijing and will be looking for a huge performance on Sunday before deciding on his plan for the rest of the season.
Technically, Yego has already won three continental titles although the third one was recorded at the All Africa Games in Maputo in 2011.
“I’m feeling good and my aim tomorrow (Sunday) is to get a hat-trick of titles at these African Championships,” Yego said as he prepared for the straight final.
“I’m focused on winning and having a good throw, after which I will confirm my programme for the rest of the season.”
World and Commonwealth champion in the 1,500m, Manang’oi, will also be chasing an African title and after qualifying for the final, he anticipates a Kenyan sweep.
“I hope it will be a Kenyan sweep. Today’s race was a bit slow and so I had to dance around and get into good a position,” he said.
His coach at Rongai Athletics Club, Bernard Ouma, was equally confident that his athletes will deliver the goods after Winny Chebet, who Ouma also trains at Rongai, won gold in the women’s 1,500m race on Friday.
“Winny motivated us by winning gold and that’s why we had to make sure we are in the final to emulate her,” Manang’oi added.
“Timothy and Elijah are focused and not leaving anything to chance, though not without challenges on where to train,” Ouma said.
“There’s no warm-up track and they have been using a murram track in one of the schools for training and haven’t had any speedwork for the last one week. But they are determined to deliver.”
Head coach Mwaniki will also have no doubt that Beatrice Chepkoech will rule the steeple.
“When I spoke to Beatrice today, she told me there will be no monkey business and the rest will follow her. That tells you what her mental state is. I’m not worried,” Mwaniki, who has handled the team here impeccably, said.
Sunday’s programme (Kenyan time, all finals):
9.00am: 20km walk (women)
9.15am: 20km walk (men)
5.00pm: 3,000m steeplechase (women)
5.05pm: High jump (women)
5.10pm: Javelin (men) final
5.20pm: Triple jump (women)
5.30pm: 400m hurdles (women)
5.40pm: Shot putt (women)
5.45pm: 200m (women)
6.00pm: 200m (men)
6.15pm: 800m (women)
6.30pm: 5,000m (men)
6.55pm: 1,500m (men)
7.15pm: 4x400m (women)
7.30pm: 4x400m (men)