Ethiopia's Addisu Yihune wins the men's 5000m at the World Athletics U20 Championships Cali 22 (© Oscar Munoz Badilla)
We have seen the future of distance running, and few will be surprised to learn that it comes from East Africa. On the opening afternoon of action at the World Athletics U20 Championships Cali 22 on Monday (1), the endurance superpowers showed their talent pipeline is still flowing as Ethiopia’s Addisu Yihune took the men’s 5000m title and Kenya’s Betty Chelangat won the women’s 3000m.
Yihune showed the vast range of gears synonymous with so many of his countrymen when powering to gold in the 5000m in 14:03.05, but Eritrea showed signs of a rising tide by taking silver and bronze through Merhawi Mebrahtu (14:03.33) and Habtom Samuel (14:03.67).
The race began at a relative jog, with 3000m reached in 8:45.57 – comically slow for athletes of this calibre. From there, things slowly started to heat up with pre-race favourite Yihune moving to the front and the fourth kilometre covered in a steady 2:45.27. The lead changed many times in the laps that followed and there were nine men in the front pack with just over a lap to run. But Yihune simply had too much for his rivals when every one of them went for broke in the last 200m, avenging his fourth-place finish in last year’s world U20 5000m final in Nairobi.
“I spent all that time preparing for this,” he said. “I was 100% sure I would win.”
Yihune is coached by Tewodros Hailu, the husband of Ethiopian great Meseret Defar, and he said he was “incredibly happy” with the title, which is so often a predictor of senior success. “The time doesn’t matter,” he said. “I was here to win.”
Mebrahtu was equally delighted with silver, having finished fourth over 3000m and fifth over 5000m last year in Nairobi, while Samuel added his bronze to the one he won over 3000m last year in Nairobi. More importantly, it helped him forget his 17th-place finish over 10,000m at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon.
“I was so sad after and I wanted to come to Cali to get a medal,” said Samuel, who trains with Mebrahtu in Asmara under coach Mechale Aberham. “I’m very happy (for) my friend.”
Earlier, in the women’s 3000m, Kenya’s Chelangat produced a powerful display to take the first gold medal of the championships, winning the women’s 3000m with a killer kick on the back straight, moving away from her two pursuers: Ethiopia’s Tsiyon Abebe and Kenya’s Nancy Cherop.
Chelangat stayed strong all the way to the finish, crossing the line in 9:01.03 ahead of Abebe (9:03.85) and Cherop (9:05.98). After an army-style salute to the crowd, Chelangat dropped to her knees, raised her arms in celebration, then clasped them in thankful prayer.
But she was just as quick to rise to her feet and take off with her teammate for a lap of honour that looked almost as fast as her last 300m, the effort clearly not taking much out of her.
Kenya's Betty Chelangat celebrates her 3000m win at the World Athletics U20 Championships Cali 22 (© Marta Gorczynska)
“I train hard, and that’s why I win,” said Chelangat, who is based in Iten under the guidance of coach John Litei. “I waited until three laps remaining, then I see that I have enough left. I thank God and also my coach.”
As for what the future holds? “I want to represent my country and run in the Olympic Games,” she said.
Abebe was pleased with her silver, saying: “This is the first time I've gotten to represent my country. Of course, I wanted to get gold, which didn't work out, but I am incredibly happy.” Cherop paid tribute to her coach, Peter Bii, saying she was “expecting to win the race” but was content with bronze.
At the halfway stage of the decathlon, event favourite Jacob Thelander of Sweden is sitting in second place on 4192 points behind Gabriel Emmanuel of the Netherlands, who had a breakthrough day, setting personal bests in the 100m with 10.68 (0.3m/s), 400m (49.46) and long jump (7.30m), leaving him well on track to break his current PB of 7405. He also threw 15.09m in the shot put and cleared 2.02m in the high jump.
Dutch decathlete Gabriel Emmanuel in action at the World Athletics U20 Championships Cali 22 (© Marta Gorczynska)
Thelander opened his day with a 10.90 100m and a PB of 7.53m in the long jump, followed by a 12.53m shot put, 2.08m in the high jump and he closed it with 49.24 for 400m. Sitting in third overnight is Canada’s Nate Paris on 4145. Britain’s Sammy Ball is fourth with 4046, Slovenia’s Jan Duhovnik is fifth on 4008 while Spain’s Pol Ferrer is firmly in the medal hunt in sixth with 4003.
The mixed 4x400m heats saw the US quartet of Charlie Bartholomew, Madison Whyte, Will Summer and Kaylyn Brown ease to victory in a championship record of 3:18.65, with Jamaica not far behind with 3:19.74.
India set an Asian U20 record in winning the final heat in 3:19.62, while Botswana won the first heat in 3:29.28. Germany, Britain, Czech Republic and Poland will join them in the final.
USA's Charlie Bartholomew, Madison Whyte, Will Summer and Kaylyn Brown celebrate their mixed 4x400m championship record (© Marta Gorczynska)
In women’s discus qualification, event favourite Emma Sralla of Sweden underlined her class with a throw of 54.51m – the only one to go over the automatic mark of 52.50m. Greece’s Despoina Areti Filippidou was next best with 52.48m, while Britain’s Zara Obamakinwa threw a PB of 51.99m to also march on. “In high-pressure situations like this, you never fully know what's going to happen, so it was definitely a big relief when I saw I passed the qualifying round,” said Sralla.
The big casualty was Jamaica’s Cedricka Williams, a 56.21m thrower this year, who was eliminated with a best of 46.20m. South Africa’s Mine de Klerk – who earlier in the day advanced to the shot put final – also qualified with 50.12m.
Matthew Sophia of the Netherlands looked ultra-impressive in the heats of the men’s 110m hurdles, clocking 13.10 to win his heat – a race where a wind speed wasn’t registered. “I visualised the race and tried to run as good as possible,” said Sophia. “There could have been a few more improvements but all in all, it was a great race.”
Antoine Andrews set a Bahamian U20 record of 13.36 (1.6m/s) to win his heat, while Australia’s Tayleb Willis was also a heat winner in 13.67 (0.5m/s).
In the men’s shot put qualification, three men threw over the automatic mark of 19.60m: Germany’s Tizian Noah Laura (20.15m), Jamaica’s Kobe Lawrence (19.85m) and USA’s Tarik O’Hagan, who set a PB of 19.65m. Jamaica’s Christopher Young, a 20.20m thrower, was eliminated after a best of 18.13m.
US twins Hana and Amanda Moll both advanced with ease to the women’s pole vault final with clearances at 4.05m and they could well win gold and silver in the final. France’s Elise Russis and Germany’s Chiara Sistermann, who on season’s bests are closest to the US pair, both also advanced.
Cathal Dennehy for World Athletics