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Kenya loses World U20 overall title in Cali races

Noah Kibet in 800m action during last year's World Athletics U20 Championships at Kasarani Stadium. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Kenyan team failed to retain the overall title at the World Under 20 Athletics Championships that ended at Pascual Guerrero Olympic Stadium in Cali, Colombia, yesterday.

The squad finished fourth behind winners USA, Jamaica and Ethiopia –despite having won the overall title when Nairobi hosted the competition last year.

Yesterday, Kenya missed out on gold in all the four finals they competed in as they bagged silver and bronze in women’s 1500m. They could not win medals in men’s 800m and 3,000m steeplechase as well as women’s 5,000m.

Kenya won the overall title with 16 medals; eight gold, one silver and seven bronze last year in Nairobi. 

Nonetheless, it was a superb six days of hair-raising action, where almost 1500 of the world’s best teenage athletes competed with 136 medals handed out – with of course a promising bright future for the sports.

It was a huge disappointment in the 800m for Noah Kibet, who bagged silver in last year’s edition.

Kibet headed to Colombia with lofty dreams, having competed at the World Championships in Oregon. But his ambitions crash-landed inside Pascual Guerrero Olympic Stadium.

Ethiopia’s Ermias Girma avenged his defeat in the 1500m, powering to victory in 1:47.36 ahead of the fast-finishing Algerian Heithem Chenitef, who clocked a personal best of 1:47.61 for silver.

Britain’s Ethan Hussey took bronze with 1:47.65, just ahead of Poland’s Kacper Lewalski (1:47.84). 

Kibet launched his big attack with 250 metres to run, briefly hitting the front as they hit 600m in 1:21.53, but it was a move Girma was well able to respond to, the 17-year-old kicking it into gear around the final turn and pulling clear to win his first global title. Kibet paid for his effort and faded to seventh in 1:48.50.

The team also lost the 3,000m steeplechase title as Emmanuel Wafula and Haroun Kibet returned sixth and 10th. Ethiopia’s Samuel Duguna chalked up victory.

The performance adds salt to injury in Kenya’s quest to reclaim the 3,000m steeplechase dominance at the global stage.

The Ethiopians looked strong in women's 5000m, where Medina Eisa won in 15:29.71 ahead of teammate Melknat Wudu (15:30.06) as Uganda’s Prisca Chesang (15:31.17) settled for bronze.

Latvia’s Agate Caune was fourth in a personal best time of 15:43.56.

Kenya’s Jane Chacha and Maureen Cherotich stormed into the lead in the initial stages of the race but could not keep up the pace, disappearing off the radar in the last three laps. They finished sixth and seventh respectively.

The women’s 1500m final marked the start of an astonishing spell of track dominance by Ethiopian athletes, with Birke Haylom announcing herself as a potential senior star by taking gold in a championship record of 4:04.27, with Kenyans Brenda Chebet and Purity Chepkirui – the defending champion – following in personal bests of 4:04.64 and 4:07.64. 

The pace was quite swift from the start.