Kenya’s flying start at the IAAF World Under 20 Championships in Tampere, Finland suffered a slight setback yesterday as Japanese and Ethiopian runners conspired to scoop the first four positions in the women’s 3,000m final.
Zenah Jemutai Yego could only muster a fifth place finish of 9:00.76 in a race completely dominated by Asian champion Nozomi Tanaka. The other would be representative from Kenya Mercy Kirarei failed to run. Ethiopians Meselu Berhe and Tsige Gebreselama finished second and third to leave Kenya with just two gold medals won on the opening day of the championships.
Save for a brief spell in the last lap when Ethiopian runners took temporary race leadership, Tanaka who started as a clear favourite and flaunting the only sub nine minutes performance among the 19 runners exerted her control.
She led the field past the 1,000m mark in 3:00.55 and clocked 6:03.19 while in the lead at 2,000 metres. The sole Kenyan, Yego, struggled with the intense pace and trailed the four race leaders as it increasingly became clear that Kenya would struggle to even make the podium.
Earlier, sensational sprinter Mary Moraa booked another date with destiny as she powered into today’s 400m women’s final with a commendable 52.98 performance. The Kenyan Under 18 silver medallist finished second behind Australian Ella Connolly who led the race throughout, finishing within 52.78 seconds. Moraa will this evening fight for another global medal against a strong field comprising favourites Hima Das of India and Taylor Manson of USA. Moraa registered the fourth fastest time in yesterday’s semi-finals and must find extra energy to break into the medal bracket. She reacted to the gun slowest in her heat but composed herself and finished strongly from lane five.
In the male equivalent, Kenya’s sole representative Laban Kiplangat failed at the initial stage after an awful outing in the morning.
The 19-year-old, running in heat six alongside one of the championship favourites Christopher Taylor of Jamaica, reacted third fastest off the blocks and took off swiftly but choked midway, turning up fifth in 47.69. His performance in Tampere was slower than the personal best time of 46.46 clocked during the qualifiers in Nairobi, a repeat of which would have seen him into the next stage.
In the women’s 800m semi-finals, Jackline Wambui barely made the cut while Lydia Lagat failed to progress as she finished fourth in Heat 2 with a time of 2:04.59. Wambui finished third in Heat 1, just outside the automatic qualifying spot but her 2:03.44 pushed her into the final as the second fastest loser.
Ethiopians Diribe Welteji and Fireweyni Hailu powered to impressive 2:01.89 and 2:01.96 to win both heats and head into the finals as clear favourites.