Ayanleh Souleiman celebrates his victory (© Getty Images)
The 2014 African Championships in Marrakech drew to a close on Thursday (14) as no fewer than 15 titles were decided. One of the most hotly contested of those, the men’s 1500m, was the last individual event on the programme and it did not disappoint.
World champion Asbel Kiprop had won his semi-final just 24 hours prior, finishing ahead of world junior record-holder Ronald Kwemoi and world indoor champion Ayanleh Souleiman. That same trio filled the top three spots in the final, only this time it was a different order.
In a tactical race, everything was left to a final dash for the line in the home straight with four athletes still in contention. At the end, though, Souleiman got the upper hand and crossed the line in 3:42.49, just 0.09 ahead of Kiprop with Kwemoi just 0.01 further behind in third. Ethiopia’s Mekonnen Gebremedhin missed out on a medal by just 0.06.
Having made history for Djibouti earlier this year at the World Indoor Championships by becoming their first global champion, Souleiman once again broke new ground by becoming his country’s first African champion in a track event. Before today, Djibouti’s sole gold medal at the African Championships was Ahmed Salah’s marathon title in 1985.
While Kenya missed out on a medal in the metric mile, they more than made up for it in the 5000m, filling three of the top four places.
World indoor champion and Commonwealth champion Caleb Ndiku added another African title to his collection, having won the 1500m two years ago. In Marrakech he won the 5000m by one-and-a-half seconds, crossing the line in 13:34.27 from team-mate Isiah Koech. Eritrea’s Abrar Osman, the 2012 world junior silver medallist, took the bronze medal.
Double gold for Ivory Coast in 200m
In the space of 10 minutes, Ivory Coast tripled their gold medal haul at the championships, taking the men’s and women’s 200m titles.
Earlier in the week, double world silver medallist Murielle Ahoure had taken silver in the 100m, but in the absence of Blessing Okagbare she cruised to victory in 22.36, just 0.12 outside her own national record.
Team-mate Marie Jose Ta Lou, who took bronze in the shorter sprint, also went one better this evening, earning the silver medal with a PB of 22.87.
Moments later, fellow Ivorian Hua Wilfried Koffi won the men’s half-lap sprint in 20.25. Just like his 100m victory, he improved on the national record too. He became just the fifth man in the history of the championships – and the first since 2002 – to win the men’s sprint double.
Isaac Makwala, the 400m champion, clocked 20.51 for the silver, just 0.02 ahead of Kenya’s Carvin Nkanata.
Makwala ended on a high note though, as Botswana took gold in the 4x400m with a national record of 3:01.89, winning by more than a second from Nigeria (3:03.09).
Nigeria, with three of the top-four finishers from the individual 400m, took gold in the women’s event, winning by more than three seconds in 3:28.87.
Yego successfully defends as Kenya sweep 800m
Kenya’s Commonwealth champion Julius Yego won his second successive African title in the javelin, but he was made to work for it.
African record-holder Ihab Abdelrahman El Sayed opened with 81.09m to Yego’s 80.57m. Yego then went into the lead in the following round with 82.77m as El Sayed improved to 82.35m. In the penultimate round, Yego sent his spear out to 84.72m. El Sayed saved his best for the final round, but his 83.59m wasn’t enough to challenge Yego’s lead.
On a good night for Kenya, world champion Eunice Sum led a Kenyan sweep of the medals in the women’s 800m; the first time one nation had achieved the feat in the women’s two-lap discipline at the African Championships.
Silver medallist two years ago, this time Sum was in complete control and won in 1:59.45 from 2007 world champion Janeth Jepkosgei. Their younger team-mate Agatha Jeruto improved on the PB she set in the heats with 1:59.84 for the bronze medal.
Historic fifth title in a row for Kgosiemang
Botswanan high jumper Kabelo Kgosiemang made history by becoming the first athlete in the history of the African Championships to win five titles in succession.
A few athletes have won five or more titles in the 35-year history of the event, but none had managed to win five consecutively. Until today.
He had first-time clearances up to and including his winning height of 2.28m. Before that bar, Cameroon’s Fernand Djoumessi had an identical record, but he failed once at 2.28m and twice at 2.30m, eventually settling for silver.
Hiwot Ayalew broke the championship record to win the women’s 3000m steeplechase, taking the gold medal in 9:29.54 ahead of fellow Ethiopian Sofia Assefa. Morocco’s Salima Alami was third.
Nel and Shange boost South Africa’s medal count
South Africa topped the medals table with 10 gold medals, two of which were won on the final day.
Wenda Nel made up for her disqualification at the recent Commonwealth Games by winning in 55.32, 0.14 ahead of Nigeria’s Amaka Ogoegbunam, who took exactly a second off the PB she set six years ago. In third, Kenya’s Francisca Koki set her second national record in as many days, clocking 55.84.
South Africa’s other title came in the men’s 20km race walk, which was won by Lebogang Shange in 1:26:58. In doing so, he became his nation’s first winner of this event since 1992.
In the women’s event, African record-holder Grace Wanjiru Njue won her fifth African title in 1:37:04 from Kenyan team-mate Emily Ngii. In third, Askala Tiksa set an Ethiopian record of 1:40:05.
Late gold rush for Cameroon
Before today, Cameroon hadn’t won any events in Marrakech. But almost simultaneously, two gold medals came along at once.
Auriol Dongmo improved on her national record she set at the recent Commonwealth Games, taking the shot put title with 16.84m. Discus champion Chinwe Okoro had to settle for the silver on this occasion, 44 centimetres in arrears.
In another corner of the stadium, Dongmo’s team-mate Joelle Mbumi Nkouindjin – who, like Dongmo, also finished seventh at the Commonwealth Games – was similarly producing the best form of her life to win the triple jump title.
She added 54 centimetres to her previous best to take the gold with 14.02m, becoming just the second woman from Cameroon to surpass the 14-metre barrier, behind two-time Olympic champion Francoise Mbango.
The African Championships doubled up as Africa’s selection event for next month’s IAAF Continental Cup, which will be held in the same Grand Stade de Marrakech.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF