James Magayi in Asaba @PeopleSports11
Kenya closed the 21st edition of Africa Athletics Championships on a high after collecting six gold medals on the final day in Asaba, Nigeria to top the medal standing for the first time since 2010.
Beatrice Chepkoech lived up to her lofty status in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase as she steamrollered her way to the Africa crown, her first career gold medal. Race walker Gideon Gathimba set the day’s gold rush in motion with a stunning title defence on a cloudy morning.
Javelin star and African record holder Julius Yego then added to Kenya’s tally with a golden throw to win the country’s second victory in a field event at the festival.
World champion Elijah Manangoi then led compatriot Timothy Cheruiyot to a 1-2 sweep of the men’s 1,500m in an assured performance.
With South Africa and hosts Nigeria lurking around the medal table summit, newly-crowned world U20 champion Edward Zakayo defied great odds and upset the balance of 5,000m supremacy by trouncing threatening Ethiopians and Ugandans to further steer Kenya towards a fourth continental title.
The day’s surprise, however, came in the 4×400 men’s relay final in which Kenya upset continental sprint kings Botswana, South Africa and Nigeria to take gold.
The quartet comprising Jared Momanyi, Alphas Kishoyian, team captain Aaron Koech and the fastest 800m runner this year Emmanuel Korir ran superbly, passing the baton without flaw to ensure Kenya topped the standing. Perhaps the women’s 4x400m team set the tone when they surprisingly took silver in their race paving way for a golden performance from the men.
The day’s pick, however, remains the women’s steeplechase race won by an unrelenting Chepkoech. The world record holder led a clean Kenyan sweep of medals in this race as she clocked 8:59.88 for gold and trailed home by U20 world champion Celliphine Chespol and Africa youth champion Fancy Cherono who took silver and bronze respectively.
Chepkoech led from gun to tape, pausing after the finish line to urge her trailing colleagues to come along. Zakayo also set the stadium ablaze with scintillating dance after his victory. Upon noticing Zakayo’s theatrics, the stadium disc jockey allowed the championship signature tune to play on.