NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 8 – Kenyans Conseslus Kipruto, Emmanuel Korir and Winny Chebet stormed to victories to hand Team Africa maximum points in the IAAF Continental Cup held in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
However, it was not a good day for world champion Hellen Obiri who finished third in the women’s 3000m in a season’s best of 8:36.20 in a race that was won by Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands in a Course Record of 8:27.50 while Ethiopian Senbere Tefferi was placed second in a personal best of 8:32.49.
World and Olympic 3000m steeplechase champion Kipruto clocked 8:22.55 to add another crown in his titles.
But that was the only predictable result in a dramatic race where Africa’s decision to play the joker for double points in the event of an overall win – which looked a banker given the presence of Soufiane El Bakkali, the Moroccan whom Kipruto narrowly beat to the world title last summer – went horribly awry.
And overall victory went to Team Europe.
All the African plans came to grief as the field approached the line ahead of the first elimination in a race where the last man was scheduled to drop out on each lap after the first three.
Because Evan Jager, the Rio Olympic silver medallist who was due to represent Team Americas, scratched from the race, the first elimination did not occur until the field approached the three laps to go marker.
In his apparent desperation to make the cut, Team Asia’s Japanese runner Kosei Yamaguchi began to stagger with the effort, and appeared to veer into El Bakkali, who was cruising along just ahead of him.
Yamaguchi succeeded in his immediate object as his team-mate John Koech was first to be eliminated, but within a few steps El Bakkali, injured, had collapsed onto the infield, requiring to be taken away on a stretcher. The bearers carried away Africa’s hopes of a points bonanza.
Ironically the unhappy loss of El Bakkali meant that no elimination needed to take place at the two-lap marker, so the Japanese athlete was able to struggle along until he accepted his destiny at the bell.
By that point Kipruto, yellow-shirted and in a sunny mood, had turned the final 400m into a lap of honour, exhorting the crowd to up the noise with upward motions of his arms before crossing, miles clear, in 8:22.55 to collect the eight points due to the winner.
“I am always happy to represent my country and especially my continent at international events,” said Kipruto, winner last weekend of the IAAF Diamond League trophy in the event.
-Korir wins 800m-
Korir lived up to his billing as favourite in the men’s 800m as he and his Team Africa team-mate, Nijel Amos of Botswana, ensured overall victory in finishing first and third respectively.
Korir, who clocked the fastest time of the season so far, 1:42.05, at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London on 22 July and took the IAAF Diamond League title in Brussels on 31 August, won in 1:46.50, but he was pushed to the line by Team Americas’ Clayton Murphy.
The United States runner, bronze medallist at the Rio 2016 Games, took second place in 1:46.77, with London 2012 silver medallist Amos – who has a best of 1:42.14 this year – being given the same time as the American but finishing three thousandths of a second slower according to the photo-finish.
“I was fighting until the last metres with Clayton, and did not want to give it up to Americas,” Korir said. “It did not feel weird to work with Nijel as a team member because we are friends, and we both want to bring the trophy to Team Africa.
“I had fun here because it was my last championship of the season and it was an entertaining one.”
-Chebet takes 1500m title-
Chebet emerged as the winner in the women’s 1500m at the IAAF Continental Cup Ostrava 2018 after leading for most of the race. The African champion thus became only the second African winner of this event in the World/ Continental Cup history after Hassiba Boulmerka in 1994.
Shelby Houlihan of the US was the runner-up for the Americas, as the Moroccan Rababe Arafi completed the podium to give Team Africa maximum points in the team competition.
Chebet took to the front in the early stages and her rivals seemed content to follow her at a leisurely pace, with the opening lap run outside 73 seconds. The leader and the pace remained constant for another 500 metres, before Houlihan made the first move.
She moved into the lead, but not for long. To the delight of the Ostrava crowd, the Czech Simona Vrzalova put in a burst of speed on the last straight of the penultimate lap to move past everyone.
Vrzalova’s lead lasted some 200 metres before she began to fade, while those behind her started to sprint for home. Once again it was Chebet in the lead, with Houlihan doing the chasing.
The American appeared to close down the gap somewhat in the final metres, but that was not enough. Chebet emerged victorious with a time of 4:16.01, with her final 300 metres taking just over 42 seconds. Houlihan reached the line 0.35s later, with Arafi third in 4:17.19. P.
Unnikrishnan Chitra of India was the unexpected fourth for Asia-Pacific, while Vrzalova ended up sixth and the Pole Sofia Ennaoui, one of the pre-event favourites, a distant seventh.