NAIROBI, Kenya, July 25- Kenya finally opened her gold account at the World Junior Championships in Eugene, Oregon as Mary Wambui and Jonathan Sawe stormed to glory in the women 800m and men 1500m finals on Friday morning.
It could have been three in three had bulldozing American, Mary Cain, not powered past Lilian Kasait and Valentina Chepkwemoi to motor to the top medal over the last 200m in the women 3000m event in between Wambui’s and Sawe’s triumphs.
Having seen Ugandan and archrivals Ethiopian athletes beat them to the middle step of the podium on Days 1 and 2, the Kenyan distance running empire struck back emphatically in the space of 45 minutes at the Hayward Field track as the country rose to the top of the overall standings with 2 gold, 2 silver and 3 bronze medals ahead of hosts USA.
Wambui opens account
Wambui ran the race of her life, three seconds faster than her previous lifetime best which she set in Wednesday’s semi final, as she won over two laps of the track in 2:00.49 in a monumental upset at Hayward Field to land Kenya’s first gold.
In her first season of high level competition, the 17-year old sprinted away from Cuba’s pre-race favourite Sahily Diago, attacking from 70 metres out, to claim Kenya’s fourth junior title in the women’s 800m but the first one in 12 years.
Diago came home for second in 2:02.11, ahead of Australia’s Georgia Wassall, who came out on top of a duel with her compatriot Georgia Griffith for the bronze medal, stopping the clock in 2:02.71
Iceland’s World Youth and European junior champion, Aníta Hinriksdóttir went out astonishingly hard and broke the group into two as she hit the first 200 metres in 27.24 and covered the first lap in a blistering 56.33 as Kenya’s Maximila Imali bowed out of the fight for the medals after appealing to pull her hamstring 150 metres into the race.
Sawe delivers number eight
A closing lap of 53.97 was enough for Sawe to ascend to the World Junior title in the men 1500m as the powerfully built athlete motored to a 3:40.02 season’s best triumph.
Sawe became the eighth Kenyan man to win the world junior Metric Mile title when he kicked away from his team-mate Hillary Cheruiyot Ngetich on the homestretch to reach the finish in 3:40.02.
Ngetich, the silver medallist in 2012, was overhauled by Djibouti’s Abdi Waiss Mouhyadin for silver in 3:41.38; Ngetich finished in 3:41.61.
Ngetich took off fast from the gun but settled once he reached the front, going through 400m in 58.23 but 800m in a more pedestrian 2:01.31 with the whole field packed up behind him.
At the bell, Sawe came to the front and pulled Ngetich, Mouhyadin and Brazil’s Thiago Andre clear of the pack. Sawe reached full flight on the backstretch, and despite Ngetich’s best efforts to close the gap, he wouldn’t be challenged for the remainder of the race.
Of the 15 world junior 1500m finals, Kenyans have now won nine. Mouhyadin won Djibouti’s first medal of any kind at the World Junior Championships.
“I tried to finish as best I could. I expected myself to win. I liked the pace and I felt ready for it,” Sawe said after the race.
The one that went away
World Youth champion, Lilian Kasait and team-mate Valentina Chepkwemoi took silver and bronze respectively in the women 3000m having chased American revelation, Mary Cain home in 9:00.53 and 9:00.79.
After early pace-making by Japan’s Nozomi Takamatsu, Kasait took control of the race as they approached the first kilometre mark, throwing in repeated surges around the second bend to thin the pack.
Joined by Mateiko, Ethiopia’s Etagegen Woldu, Weini Kelati of Eritrea, and Cain, they reached 1000m in 3:03.84.
Chepkwemoi was credited with the second kilometre split of 6:07.39, then Rengeruk took over again. With a few more surges, the pack was narrowed to Rengeruk, Mateiko, Cain and Woldu as they approached the bell.
On the backstretch Cain was clearly itching to go, passing Mateiko on the inside and creeping up on Rengeruk’s heels. Finally with 150m remaining she burst to the front and simply ran away, increasing her lead all the way down the homestretch.
Cain, a finalist at the Moscow Worlds, won gold in 8:58.48 after a final lap of 62.93 to become the first US woman to win a world junior title in an event longer than 800m.
“The pace of the race wasn’t bad. I missed the moment to get Mary Cain. I still won the silver. It’s ok, but I didn’t win,” Kasait said with her compatriot, Chepkwemoi adding, “I am very proud of it. This is my first time and I got a bronze, so I am very proud. The race was not bad and I tried my best.”
Kenya’s medal prospects on Day 4 will come in the last event of the programme when Moses Mukono, a finalist in Barcelona, and Fredrick Kipkosgei take to the track.
-Material from IAAF used in this report