Mixed fortunes for African athletes in opening events at World Athletics Championships

Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia won Africa’s first gold medal at this year’s World Athletics Championships holding off a late challenge by two-time world 5,000m champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya to claim the women’s 10,000m.

Gidey, the world record-holder, won the race in a world leading time of 30:09.94 while Obiri came in second in a personal best of 30:10.02. In what was a close finish to the race, Obiri’s compatriot Margaret Kipkemboi (30:10.07) edged defending champion Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands (30:10.56).

Kenya’s Hellen Obiri (L) and Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey cross the finish line in the women’s 10,000m final during the World Athletics Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. /CFP

Victory gave 24-year-old Gidey her first global gold and banished memories of the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha and last year’s Olympics in Tokyo when Hassan’s push in the final stretch saw Gidey end up winning silver and bronze, respectively.

While the continent celebrated a dominant showing in the women’s 10,000m, there was disappointment in the men’s 100m as the continent’s hopefuls failed to win a medal extending Africa’s wait for an elusive gold medal in the sprint race.

Firstly, African record holder Ferdinand Omanyala of Kenya failed to make the finals after finishing fifth in his semifinal in 10.14 seconds. Omanyala just made it to Oregon after a much-publicized delay in getting a visa that saw him arrive in the U.S. just hours to his heats.

In the final, South African Akani Simbine came in fifth in a time of 10.01, while Fred Kerley led an American sweep of the podium winning the race in 9.86 seconds. Marvin Bracy-Williams and Trayvon Bromell were second and third, respectively in 9.88 seconds.

It was Simbine’s fifth straight top-five finish at a global championships and afterwards the 28-year-old remained positive that Africa will one day reign supreme over the distance.

“We will keep on knocking on the door till it opens! Always a pleasure to represent my country and the African continent,” Simbine wrote on Twitter.

South Africa’s Akani Simbine (L) USA’s Fred Kerley (C) and USA’s Marvin Bracy cross the finish line in the men’s 100m final during the World Athletics Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. /AFP

Ethiopia is joint fifth on the overall medal standings with one gold while Kenya is joint-eighth with one silver and one bronze. Host nation the U.S. leads the table with two golds, one silver and two bronze medals.

Later on Sunday, African interest will be focused on the women’s 100m, men’s marathon and men’s 10,000m final, the latter which will feature 10,000m world record holder and Olympic silver medalist Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda who will be aiming to defend his world title.

The men’s marathon will feature defending champion Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and multiple world half marathon champion Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya.

In the women’s 100m semifinal, Côte d’Ivoire’s Murielle Ahouré-Demps, Niger’s Aminatou Seyni and Nzubechi Grace Nwokocha of Nigeria are set to compete for a play in the final.

Two-time world champion Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa will also be in action in the heats of the 400m as he aims to become just the second man after legendary American sprinter Michael Johnson (four) to win three world titles in the event

(Story compiled with assistance from wire reports)