The 2015 IAAF World Championships held between August 22 and 30 in Beijing, is one event Africa won’t forget in a hurry. Going by the groundbreaking achievements of some of its athletes, it was a moment that proved that the continent had indeed come of age in the world of track and field.
Here are our top six African performers at this year’s World Championships. And they’re the ones to look out for during the All-Africa Games happening in Brazzaville right now.
The 26-year-old Kenyan won the world title in style after recording a massive throw of 92.72m to stun his rivals in Beijing. His mark is the furthest thrown by an athlete in about 10 years, and is the African and Commonwealth record. He also inspired a 1-2 for the continent as former African record holder, Ihab El-Sayed of Egypt took silver with a distance of 88.99m. It was the first time in the history of the championships that two Africans made it to the podium in the javelin event.
This was a huge breakthrough for the athlete who narrowly missed out on a medal in Moscow two years ago where he was placed fourth. Yego, who is fondly referred to as ‘Mr. YouTube’ (he honed his skill by watching YouTube videos of former champions), has been in incredible form this year. He set a national record of 86.88m in Ostrava earlier this year, before erasing it with a superior throw of 91.39m at the Birmingham Diamond League.
Yego’s feat makes him the first Kenyan to win a world championship title in a field event. This follows the wonderful performance he put up at the Commonwealth Games last year where he won the javelin throw, also a first for Kenya. Yego becomes the second African to win a world title in the event after South African Marius Corbett set the pace at the 1997 World Championships in Athens with an area record of 88.40m. He is a two-time African Championships gold medalist and reigning All-Africa Games champion.
2015 has been a breakout year for Van Niekerk! The South African earned the respect of the world with his mind-blowing performance at the World Championships where he ran the race of his life, clocking a scorching time of 43.48s to win the 400m ahead of defending champion, USA’s LaShawn Merritt and 2011 gold medalist, Kirani James. So burnt out was he after the race that he was unable to do a customary victory lap that should have accompanied such an exploit. Instead, he had to be wheeled off the track and taken to the hospital.
He is Africa’s first world champion in the men’s event, having stormed to the title in a world lead and African record, which propelled him to fourth position on the all-time list. The only athletes who have gone faster are the USA’s trio of World Record Holder Michael Johnson (43.18s), Harry Reynolds (43.29s) and Jeremy Wariner (43.45s).
Van Niekerk had already set the stage for a record-breaking performance prior to the championships. He ran a personal best of 44.24s in New York, before lowering the time to an African record of 43.96s at the Paris Diamond League in July, thus becoming the first African to break the 44s barrier. However, Botswana’s Isaac Makwala erased the record the following day with a faster time of 43.72s, making it one of the shortest-lived records in the history of the sport. That notwithstanding, it was Van Niekerk who eventually had the last laugh.
Not many people can make world record holder in the women’s 1500m Genzebe Dibaba look ordinary, but that was just what Ayana did when she raced to the world title with a Championship record (CR) of 14:26.83. She is the only African to have done a CR in Beijing. She erased the previous mark of 14:38.59 set by the great Tirunesh Dibaba in 2005, inspiring a 1-2-3 for Ethiopia just as it happened 10 years ago in Helsinki.
Her compatriot Senbere Teferi returned a time of 14:44.07, out dipping Genzebe at the finishing line at the Bird’s Nest Stadium, thus relegating her to 3rd place in 14:44.14. Ayana came to Beijing as the world leader, having set a time of 14:14.32 in Shanghai in May which places her in third position on the all-time list, only behind Tirunesh, who is the world record holder (14:11.15), and Meseret Defar (14:12.88). At the Paris Diamond League in July the younger Dibaba came top.
As such, Ayana was out for revenge at the World Championships, leaving no one in doubt as to her capabilities. In fact, her sterling accomplishment over Dibaba saw her win the highly coveted ‘Performance of the Championships’ award, beating other nominees like world record holder in the Decathlon, Ashton Eaton and 200m world champion, Dafne Schippers. To show that her achievement in Beijing was no fluke, she went on to beat Dibaba for the second consecutive time at the Diamond League in Zurich a week later.
He came to Beijing unheralded, but that did not stop Nicholas Bett from stamping his authority at the World Championships where he caused an upset to win GOLD ahead of USA favourites Bershawn Jackson, Michael Tinsley and Johnny Dutch. So competitive was the men’s 400m hurdles that even 2013 champion, Jehue Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago stood no chance as he was eliminated in the heats.
The final was a historical moment for Kenya as Bett and team mate, Boniface Mucheru Tumuti both made the final – the first time the East African country had two athletes making it that far in the competition. Despite being drawn in lane nine for the second time in the course of the tournament, Bett dug deep to sail past his opponents, taking gold with a world lead and national record of 47.79s, while Tumuti finished fifth with 48.33s. Russia’s Denis Kudryavtsev and Jeffery Gibson of the Bahamas both clocked NRs of 48.05s and 48.17s to follow in second and third place respectively.
The 23 year old is Kenya’s first world title owner in the event, and the continent’s second. African record holder, Samuel Matete of Zambia first won gold at the 1991 World Championships with an astonishing time of 47.64s, and then went on to claim silver medals at the 1993 and 1995 championships. He handed over the baton to South Africa’s Llewellyn Herbert who took silver in 1997, while compatriot L.J. Van Zyl took the bronze medal in Daegu 2011.
At a time when most of his peers are still trying to find their feet in life, Eritrea’s Ghirmay Ghebreslassie is already rewriting the history books and making a name for himself on the global scene. Incidentally, the men’s marathon was the very first competition at the 2015 World Championships. The 19-year old held his own despite going against an accomplished field that had defending champion and reigning Olympic gold medalist, Stephen Kiprotich in action.
However youth overcame experience as the teenager secured victory in 2:12.28, with Ethiopia’s Yemane Tsegay following in second with 2:13:07, while Solomon Mutai of Uganda settled for bronze with a time of 2:13:29. Kiprotich finished in sixth place, while former world record holder Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich didn’t make it to the end of the race.
Ghebreslassie’s triumph in Beijing puts him in the exclusive class as his country’s first and only World Championships gold medalist. He is the youngest winner of a road event at the worlds and is only the second Eritrean to win a medal in the biennial competition, joining Zersenay Tadese who took silver in the 10,000m at the championship in Berlin in 2009. He looks forward to replicating the same feat at the Rio Olympics next year.
It’s no mean feat making it to the podium in a race that includes the world’s fastest man. Nevertheless, competition from Usain Bolt and former world leader Justin Gatlin provided the right motivation for Jobodwana to lower his personal best to an impressive 19.87s – the South African record – and to snatch the bronze.
Jobodwana squeezed past Panama’s Alonso Edward, who clocked the same time with the African, to the Bronze medal. The medal more than made up for his disappointment in the 100m where he was disqualified for a false start. The London 2012 finalist has been in good form this year and has been quite active in the Diamond League, leading the standings for the better part of the series. However Edward exerted revenge from the South African by winning the Diamond League trophy in Zurich a week after the championships, denying Jobodwana the $40,000 star prize at stake.
Watch out for all these athletes at the All-Africa Games in Brazzaville happening right now.