NAIROBI (July 16) – Jackline Wambui and Lydia Jeruto Lagat won gold and silver in the girls 800m to salvage Kenya’s reputation as middle distance running country as the hosts of the final IAAF World Under 18 Championships finished fourth on the table, their worst ever in the history of the youth competition, on the final day on Sunday.
South Africa topped the medal table with five gold, three silver and three bronze medals, with China second (5-2-4) and Cuba third (5-2-1). Kenya had four gold, seven silver and four bronze medals.
Kenya has traditionally finished among the top two, with the exception of 2003 when they finished third behind United States and Russia in Sherbrooke, Canada.
“I feel great after the race and I thank God for having reached this far. Coming into the final, I was thinking of nothing, but just a win,” said Wambui.
The medal haul was boosted by another number one and two in the 2,000m steeplechase where Leonard Kipkemoi Bett led Cleophas Kandie Meyan home to grab gold and silver in a race they dominated from start to end, doubling Kenya’s gold and silver in both boys and girls steeplechase after Caren Chebet led Mercy Chepkurui to a gold and silver on Friday. Bett crossed the lane in 5:32.52 followed by Meyan in 5:33.07. Alemu Kitessa and Girma Diriba from Ethiopia finished third and fourth respectively.
“The race went as planned and I am happy our strategy for me to kick in the last 200 metres worked well. We were not worried about the Ethiopians at all,” said Bett.
“The fans were awesome, they really motivated us,” he said.
Kandie was happy with the silver. “Our plan worked well. We knew we had to kick early and maintain the lead. I thank God for this medal,” said Meyan.
Edward Zakayo and Stanley Mburu Waithaka handed silver and bronze in the boys’ 3,000m, falling to Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega who won in 7:47.16. Zakayo timed 7:47. Zakayo crossed the finish line in 7:49.17 and Waithaka in 7:50.64.
“My target was to win the gold medal in the race but the Ethiopians beat us in the finish. Our team strategy was to go for the two top medals. I must thank the home fans for the support, we promise to give them better results next time,” said Zakayo after the race.
Waithaka said he was disappointed with the bronze.
“I am disappointed in finishing third in the race, we were going for gold and silver in this race with my teammate Zakayo. I take the bronze for now, but I will focus to better y time,” he said.
Girls’ 400m silver medallist Mary Moraa and her team mates missed the podium finish in the 4x400m medley, which could have catapulted the hosts to the top of the table, but they finished fourth behind winners, Brazil, Jamaica and South Africa.
The crowd was bigger than those who thronged the stadium on Saturday, which was put at 53,500. On Sunday, fans started streaming into the stadium as early as 9am. By 4pm, people were being turned back from the Thika Superhighway because of security and safety reasons. Conservative figures estimated the Sunday crowd at 70,000 inside a stadium whose capacity is 60,000. “All the seats were occupied and another approximately 10,000 people either sat down on the lower ground, squeezed between seats or just stood the catch the action.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) reported no such crowd has ever turned up at a junior championships anywhere around the world.