2019 in Review: Juniors held their own to light up African Games

2019 in Review: Juniors held their own to light up African Games

  Review, Gilbert Kiprotich

With many elite athletes opting out of this year’s African Games in favour of the World Athletics Championships, junior athletes grabbed the opportunity and announced their entry at the senior category in style.

At the championship held in Rabat, Morocco from August 19-31, Kenya finished sixth overall with a total of 31 medals; 11 gold, 10 silver and an equal number of bronze.

Of course, it may not be considered as the best performance for Kenya having sent a large contingent of close to 300 athletes to the continental event. However, the extravaganza created an avenue for the youngsters to graduate to the senior level.

First and foremost, it is prudent to mention that Kenya had to wait for close to a week to bag her first gold medal which finally came through Benjamin Kigen in the men’s 3,000m steeplechase.

Actually, apart from the gold medal bagged by the women’s volleyball team, Malkia Strikers, all the other nine medals came through the track and field events.

Other gold medalists were won by team captain Julius Yego (Javelin), Lilian Kasait (5,000m), Samuel Gathimba and Emily Ngii (20km Walk Race), Titus Ekiru (Half marathon), Vanice Kerubo (400m hurdles), Robert Kiprop (5,000m), Qualine Kiprop and George Manangoi (1,500m).

Immediately after Kigen bagged Kenya’s first gold, Kasait,22, added the second in quick succession as she clocked 15:33.63 to bag her maiden gold medal in the senior category which subsequently set her on path to the World Championships in Doha, Qatar where she finished fifth in a Personal Best of 14:40.47.

The little known Robert Kiprop would later lead a Kenyan trio including World Under-20 champion Edward Zakayo and Richard Kimunyan to a podium sweep in the 5,000m.

Kiprop, an alumnus of Chewoyet National School clinched gold in 13:30.96 followed by Zakayo, a student at Kapsait Secondary School who bagged silver in 13:31.40 with Yator claiming bronze in 13:31.41.

“We had a good plan ahead of this race. It was always going to be us (Kenyans) and the Ethiopians but we managed to stick to our plan to win the three medals,” observed Kiprop after the race.

Even without the Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon, Kenya maintained her dominance over the 1,500m race thanks to youngster Qualine Kiprop. The youthful athlete who trains at Torongo in Baringo County clocked 4:19.33 ahead of compatriot Mary Kuria who settled for silver in 4:20.19.

In the corresponding men’s race, George Manangoi followed in the footsteps of his elder brother Elijah, the then world champion, as he stormed to victory in 3:38.27 to also bag his maiden gold medal at the senior category.

He was trailed by Ayanleh Souleiman of Djibouti who claimed silver in 3:38.44 with another Kenyan Charles Simotwo settling for bronze in 3:38.51.

“This was my first ever gold at the senior category and definitely this has opened the way for me and I thank God for this milestone,” said Manangoi junior in his post-race interview.

True to his word, less than a month after his heroics in Rabat, George would finish third at the trials for the World Championship to earn a ticket at the Doha extravaganza although he was unlucky to proceed past the preliminary stages.

The greatest shock of the championship however came through the 20-year-old Vanice Nyagisera Kerubo who defied the odds to bag gold medal in the women’s 400m hurdles.

It was Kerubo’s first assignment in Kenyan colours and the Mogonga High School alumnus silenced the Prince Moulay Abdellah stadium as she beat home girl Lamia Labhz to gold in 56.95 with the former settling for silver in 56.97.

According to Kerubo’s coach at Mogonga High, they were not surprised with Kerubo’s heroics having spotted her potential early.

“We spotted Nyagisera (Vanice) while she was very young and have seen her grow to become a very good athlete. I can assure you more is yet to come from her,” said Onchong’a who also doubles up as the Principal of Mogonga High School.

It is also worth noting that it was not only the track events that junior athletes shone as the dominance extended to other disciplines in the multi-discipline competition.