*South Africa, Nigeria edged to second and third spots respectively
By Femi Solaja
In spite of late gold medal rush by Team Nigerian athletes on the last day of competition, Kenya proved her dominance in athletics once again as the East Africans edged out defending champion, South Africa and host Nigeria to win the 21st African Senior Athletics Championships rounded up last night at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba, Delta State.
The Rainbow Nation won the last edition as host two years ago in Durban but Kenya lived up to pre-championship boast of coming to Nigeria to win the competition.
Team Kenya and South Africa with the array of star athletes in their folds, defied the thunderous support from the friendly crowd for the host nation to emerge winner and runner up.
The East African nation topped the medals table with 11 gold, 6 silver and 2 bronze medals while defending champions, South Africa secured 9 gold, 13 silver and 8 bronze. Host Nigeria place third with 9 gold, 5 silver and 5 bronze.
Nigeria could have snatched the second spot from South Africa if only Saliu Isah who anchored Nigeria’s second leg of the 4x400m relay last night had not slowed down towards the finishing line to allow other contenders to out pace him before the exchange of baton. It took extra push for Chidi Okezie who ran the last leg of the 1600 relay to salvage the situation for Nigeria to finish third behind Kenya and South Africa.
Crowd pleaser, Caster Semenya of South Africa won the women’s 800 meters final race in 1:56.06 secs ahead of Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi who returned 1:57.97 secs while Bayih Habitam Alemu Ethiopia picked the bronze in 1:58.86 seconds.
“I am glad to have won double for the first time on African soil and particularly delighted to have achieved this feat during my first time in Nigeria. I came second yesterday in the semi final of this race but it was my strategy to conserve my energy till the last day which worked to my advantage tonight,” Semanya remarked at the post race interview with THISDAY yesterday.
Africa’s fastest woman, Marie Josee TA Lou of Côte d’ Ivoire won the 200 meters final in 22:50 ahead of Abessolo of Cameroon who placed second in 23:36seconds. Janet Amponsah of Ghana won the bronze medal of the longer sprint in 23:38 secs. Nigeria’s Praise Idamadudu finished last in the race with a dismal 23:79 seconds.
Nigeria’s Glory Nathaniel gave the crowd something to cheer as she led the pack to win the 400 meters women hurdles in 55:53 seconds ahead of Lamiae Lhabz of Mauritius who clocked with 56:66 secs for the silver. Nel Wendel of South Africa picked the bronze in 57:04 seconds.
Nigeria’s quartet of Patience Okon George, Nathaniel Glory, Folashade Abugan and Yinka Ajayi were delightful before the full house as they powered home to win the 4×400 meters relay race in 3:13:04 minutes ahead of Kenya and Zambia in that order.
For the first time in the history of the African championships, athletes from Nigeria and other African countries will not just go home with their medals, but with monetary reward.
The Local Organizing Committee of the 2018 African Senior Athletics Championship yesterday revealed prize money for athletes who won medals in Asaba.
Speaking in Asaba, LOC Chairman, Solomon Ogba, announced that athletes who won gold medal will get a cash prize of $3000 each.
Ogba added that silver medalists will be rewarded with ($2000), while bronze medalists will smile home with ($1000).
Over 120 medals were won at the 2018 African Senior Athletics Championship, tagged Asaba 2018.
The next edition of the championship will be taking place in Algeria in 2020.