False start for Team Kenya in Asaba

 James Magayi in Asaba

The chaotic travel ordeal Team Kenya underwent just prior to the 21st edition of Africa Athletics Championships took a huge toll as the country missed out on 10,000m podium on the opening day of a shambolic festival in Asaba Nigeria. Neighbours Ethiopia and Uganda feasted on the podium, the old Kenyan rivals taking gold and silver while Uganda proudly hang on to bronze.  Kenya’s representatives in the race Kipsang Vincent, Temoi Kipsang and Kiptonui Bett had arrived in the city just six hours before the race but gave their best, contending for podium from gun off. However, the sweltering Asaba heat sapped their depleted energy and one after another they fizzled out. Vincent Kipsang finished highest among the trio, clocking 29:14.52 with Temoi behind him in 29:25.54.

The 11-man field took off slowly at Stephen Keshi stadium cheered by a packed crowd. From the onset, it was an East African affair as Kenyans and Ethiopians huddled in a leading pack Uganda’s Timothy Toroitich and Ibrahim Ismail in tow.

Ismail raised early cheers when he pulled 70 metres clear of the field but was soon back with the rest after three laps of hair raising moves. Eventual silver medallist Belihu Berta then assumed race leadership before the Kenyan trio swung in.

In an earlier race, sprinter Mark Otieno defied huge odds to book a semi-final berth in men’s 100m. Otieno managed third place in heat four won by trail blazing South African Akani Simbine.

The Postal Corporation of Kenya runner, who like his 10,000m compatriots jetted into Asaba six hours prior, clocked 10.61 to book a straight path into the semis. Otieno is hopeful for doing better in subsequent races after settling in.

“Despite the drama and difficulty of our journey, I had targeted a 10.2 but I’m content with what I got here today. It was difficult and the climate is different but I’m glad to be through. Perhaps running in the same heat as Akani helped push me because sincerely I was ill-prepared for this. Now I have to build on from this and post a better time in the next race. The competition will get stiffer and so must I,” he said afterwards.

Two other Kenyans who took part in the opening day bore the brunt of poor organisation as they failed to progress in the women’s 100m. Eva Cherono clocked 12.20 to finish sixth in a heat won by Bessant Hamida of Egypt. Her race companion Fresha Mwangi ran a slower 12.33 for a seventh place finish.

Team manager Abraham Mutai thanked the athletes for giving their best and urged the rest to fight for glory. “What is done is done but we cannot dwell on it. We are here to fight and that is what we did today and we’ll keep doing. We may have fallen short of expectation but will fight in every race,” a bullish Mutai said.

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