NAIROBI, Kenya, July 14 – Edward Zakayo lived to his pre-race vow, stunning favorite Selemon Barega from Ethiopia to clinch the IAAF World Under-20 Championship title at the Ratina Stadium in Tampere, Finland on Saturday, leading a Kenyan 1-2 as Stanley Waithaka bagged silver in the men’s 5000m.
Barega had beaten Zakayo to the 3000m gold medal last year at the IAAF World Under-18 Championship in Nairobi and just after earning his ticket to Tampere late last month, Zakayo vowed he was travelling to Finland for revenge.
And the 17-year old Kenyan who won bronze at the 5000m Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia in March in his debut with the seniors kept to his word, working up a decisive partnership with Waithaka to win the race.
Zakayo clocked 13: 20.16 enroute to clinching the gold while Waithaka with whom he has close bonds with settled for silver coming home in a time of 13:20.57.
“Barega was the favourite, he was the guy to beat today,” acknowledged Zakayo. “I knew I was in good form and I raced tactically well. Next I have the African Championships.”
Barega missed out on a podium place, finishing fourth behind bronze medal winner Jakob Ingebrigtsen from Norway.
The quality of the final was such that reigning champion Barega from Ethiopia, considered one of the most watertight favourites across the championships, was run out of the reckoning altogether in an almighty sprint for medals on the last lap.
Barega crossed paths with the erstwhile little-known Kenyan duo of Zakayo and Waithaka at last year’s IAAF World U18 Championships in Nairobi and while Barega ran out victorious on away turf over 3000m, the Kenyans showed a lot of pace in the closing stages of the race and might have influenced their tactics.
Barega and his Ethiopian teammate Telahun Haile were the fastest on paper with lifetime bests of 12:55.58 and 13:04.63 respectively and they made it hard from the gun, passing through the first three kilometres in 2:38.04, 5:21.88 (2:43.84) and then 8:06.70 (2:44.82) with Barega doing most of the pacemaking.
The Kenyans were more than content to be dictated to in the early stages and didn’t seem unduly weakened by the fast early pace.
A leading quintet which included reigning world U20 cross country champion Jacob Kiplimo from Uganda began to settle and they were joined by Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen who took advantage of the pace slackening after starting conservatively.
After a fast and frantic start to the final, the race turned into a nervous and cagey affair with six athletes still in close contention –and running two abreast –heading into the bell lap
A grandstand finish was in store, although the lapped runners with some moving out and some not caused some heavy traffic for the leaders.
The last lap was fast and physical with Zakayo slingshotting himself to the front with only 50 metres remaining, crossing the finish-line with his arms outstretched –and with pace still to burn– in 13:20.16 with Waithaka pipping Ingebrigtsen for bronze, 13:20.57 to 13:20.78.
Kenya has already won the 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m at the championships on the men’s side with more chances to enrich their medal haul tomorrow in the 3000m steeplechase and the 800m finals.
By contrast, Ethiopia only won a bronze in the 10,000m and were shut out of the medals completely in both the 1500m and 5000m finals. First and second on paper, Barega and Haile had to settle for fourth (13:21.16) and fifth (13:23.24) respectively.
With a win over Barega under his belt, Zakayo will be favoured for medals at the African Championships in Assela, Nigeria next month. Ingebrigtsen will also take on the seniors at next month’s European Championships in Berlin where he will contest both the 1500m and 5000m.
-Additional reporting from IAAF-