NAIROBI, August 23 – Kenyans ruled the roost on the penultimate day of the Olympics with two gold medals in Beijing on Saturday.
Team captain Wilfred Bungei ended years of near misses and heartache by winning the men’s 800 men gold and a few minutes later Nancy Jebet Lagat stunned the world by winning Kenya’s first ever Olympic 1500 metres women’s title in a personal best time of 4:00.24.
And with that the Bird’s nest reverberated with the national anthem twice in less than a half an hour as Kenya asserted her place as the top nation in middle distance running.
No one was more deserving of gold than Bungei. The 28 year old had worked in vain for the last five years to win a medal for Kenya but always fell short at the crucial hurdle.
In Athens four years, ago he was favourite to win but finished a poor fifth. Then last year at the World championships, he again made the final but had to settle for fifth place.
This year did not start too well for Bungei as he missed out on a chance to defend his World Indoor title World Indoor championships due to injury.
A 1:48.79 in May had him doubting whether he would make the team leave alone win in Beijing but he upped his training and at the brutal national trials, he surprised himself by winning.
Once in Beijing, his experience and know how came to good use. Add the fact that he had no pressure and Bungei was straining at the leash as his time of 1:44.90 in the heat showed.
On Saturday, he finally got the medal he craved for in a thrilling final. The father of one led from the start and with 250 metres to go, he made his move increasing the lead as they came to the final bend. Normally this is where he loses ground but not this time as he kept the lead to win in a season best time of 1:44.65.
"I came here as the underdog because of the times I ran so far this year. “It’s been a good night for Kenya. We have done something good here for our country," said Bungei.
Behind him, Kirwa Yego fought hard to clinch bronze in 1:44.82.
But if Bungei’s win was unexpected, the Jebet Lagat’s win will stand out as Kenya’s stand out performance at the games. The mother of one who turned 27 on Friday only resumed running early this year after missing most of 2006 and 2007 due to injury and work commitments.
But she turned on the style in Beijing with astonishing win in the women’s 1500 metres race.
She had been quickest in the semifinals but with Turkey’s Maryam Jamal in the field, few gave her chance. How wrong we all were, as Jebet made her move at the bell, and then on the final straight, she applied the coup de grace to win by a metre gap.
"I’m very proud I was able to win gold," said Lagat adding, "The race was tough. It was not expected but I’m very happy."
No such good news in the men’s 5,000 metres as Eliud Kipchoge clinched silver and Edwin Soi bronze as Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele won his second gold of the games in a new Olympic record of 12:57.82.
Fully aware of Soi’s devastating kick, the Ethiopians set a furious pace early in the race with Bekele taking over in the last five laps with brilliant front running before applying his fabled finishing kick.
Behind him, the Kenyan duo struggled to keep up with pace which removed the sting from Soi’s finish.
Saturday’s results saw Kenya regain her spot as Africa’s most successful nation with four gold, five silver and four bronze. There is hope of increasing the tally with the men’s marathon set for early Sunday morning.