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GOLD COUNT STARTS: Kenya sweep medals on offer in the 5,000m and men's steeplechase in Congo

ATHLETICS By Omulo Okoth | September 15th 2015
Kemboi Clement of Kenya celebrates as he wins the Gold medal in the 3000m mens steeplechase in the 11th Africa Games in Brazzaville on September 13, 2015. AFP PHOTO/MONIRUL BHUIYAN

The goose that lays the golden eggs did not disappoint. Athletics announced Kenya’s presence at the Africa Games loud and clear when the track and field competition started here on Sunday. Not only did the Kenyan girls sweep all the medals in the 5,000m, they predictably ran away with gold and silver in the men’s 3,000m steeplechase.

So dominant were Kenyans in the women’s race, which ended the evening programme, that they completely reduced Ethiopia, their would-have-been rivals, to also-rans.

Margaret Chelimo dipped into her reserve to snatch the gold from the grasp of compatriot Rosemary Wanjiru, winning in 15:30.15 as the latter followed in 15:30.18. Alice Aprot took bronze.

Halfway through the race, the three Kenyans and three Ethiopians separated from the pack, making it predictably a competition between the two athletics rival nations from East Africa. But it was Gotytom Gebreslsa, who tried very hard to push the pace. Wanjiru took the cue and pressed hard to exchange the lead with the pint-sized Ethiopian.

The pace was pretty much the same at the bell, where Wanjiru clearly took the lead, taking it through to the 200m bend when Chelimo closed the gap. On the home stretch, the race was reduced to a Kenyan affair.

Ten metres to finish saw Chelimo close the gap and she eventually won by the thickness of her vest, much to the excitement of the Kenyan crowd at the terraces who jumped up and down to celebrate the medal sweep.

In the steeplechase, where Kenyans were even more assured of medal sweep, things did not go their way, as Abel Mutai seemed to have a problem and lagged behind, to the surprise of keen observers.

He disappeared into the call room after the race, after finishing eighth in 8:38.10 as his compatriots, winner Clement Kemboi (8:22.96) and runners-up Hillary Kemboi (8:22.96) took a lap of honour.

Ethiopia’s Haile Maryam fought hard to spoil the Kenyan party, but soon reclined to third position with 8:24.19. This was Kemboi’s biggest achievement in his four years in top flight athletics competition. “This heralds even bigger things for me. It is an eye opener indeed. I want to remain at the top of the game now with my eyes on the Rio Olympics,” he told FeverPitch.

Hillary amused reporters when he said he “would rather have died than allow the Ethiopian to take the silver.” There was a scare among Kenyans when James Magut limped to the finish of the men’s first 1,500m heat.

He was comfortably leading when he suddenly slowed down towards the final bend, apparently having problems. He was, however, qualified for the final that was to be held last evening.

Ronald Kwemoi easily won the second heat. Eunice Kedogo also qualified for the 100m final, while Mark Otieno and Clement Otieno did not make it through. Sylvia Chesebe did not qualify for the 800m final, finishing fourth in 2:07.28 in the same heat as South African winner Caster Semenya who won easily. But Winnie Chebet, who was second in the second heat and Annet Mwanzi both qualified.

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