This Was Not Africa's Olympics: African Male Athletes Came to the Olympic Games in Athens and Stamped Their Authority on the Track with Four Gold Medals and a Cluster of Silver and Bronze-But Where Were the Ladies? Clayton Goodwin Traces Africa's Disappointment at the Just-Ended Olympics in Athens
Goodwin, Clayton, New African
There was an African one-two-three shut-out in the men's 3,000m steeplechase and 5,000m, and double-champion Hicham El Guerrouj (Morocco) proved himself to be the "champion of champions". Yet there were disappointments among the triumphs--especially in the marathons: it was that sort of competition.
In the men's 800m and the women's 10,000m, at least, African athletes battled each other to the line only for another competitor to pass them in the final strides.
While performances on the track came generally up to expectation, only two medals were won by the Continental Africans in the field events--gold for triple-jumper Francoise Mbango Etone (Cameroon) and silver for high-jumper Hestrie Cloete (South Africa).
Mbango's success was the sweetest. Two years ago, I was among the tens of thousands moist-eyed spectators at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester (UK) who willed her to lose--we really willed her rival, the local favourite Ashia Hansen, to win, but it was much the same thing and I have suffered a pang of conscience ever since.
Now with Ashia absent in Athens, that guilt can be assuaged. Here once more, Francoise faced a local favourite in Devetzi Hrysopiyi of Greece, urged on by a throng of partisan voices, and this time the Cameroonian soared above the circumstances to win with 15.30m to Hrysopiyi's 15.25m.
On the final full day of the Games, Hestrie Cloete jumped 2.02m to win gold in the women's long jump.
Meseret Defar (Ethiopia) was the only other African woman to win gold in an intriguing contest for the 5,000m with her compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba and Isabella Ochichi (Kenya) in which all took the lead in turn. Defar, however, wore down the opposition to finish in 14min 45.65sec, with Ochichi and Dibaba in 14min 48.19sec and 14min 51.83 sec respectively.
It was early in the schedule and promised well for the projected confrontations in the days ahead. Who could have foreseen then that no other Continental African woman would take centre place on the podium?
Several came close to it, though. In the marathon, Catherine Ndereba (Kenya), who seemed to have dropped out of contention some way from the finish, came back strongly to cut away at the advantage of the runaway leader, Mizuki Noguchi of Japan. She ran out of time and distance--finishing second in 2hrs 26.32min to Noguchi's 2hrs 26.20min. Elfenesh Alemu (Ethiopia) raced in and out of the medal positions before finishing fourth in 2hrs 28.15min. Elsewhere, the late surge of Hasna Benhassi (Morocco) brought her within a vest's width of snatching the 800m crown from Britain's new golden girl, Kelly Holmes. Benhassi finished in 1 min 56.43sec to Holmes 1 min 56.38sec. The once invincible Maria Mutola (Mozambique), for whom these Olympic Games had indeed come a year too late, closed out of the medals in fourth place in 1 min 56.51sec.
Perhaps the most frustrating finish was in the 10,000m. The Ethiopians appeared to have victory "sewn up" as Werknesh Kidane who eventually placed fourth in 30min 28.30sec, and fifth-placed Lornah Kiplagat (the Kenyan who runs for The Netherlands,) set a cracking pace. But they were soon overtaken by the fast-running Ejegayehu Dibaba (who eventually came second in 30min 24.98sec) and the third-placed Derartu Tulu, the former twice Olympic laureate (who was added to the team after being omitted initially), only to be overtaken on the line by China's Huina Xing in 30min 24.36sec.
Now, enter El Guerrouj, the master "miler" who had failed in the last two Olympic Games in Atlanta and Sydney in which he had been expected to win. Some commentators were concerned prematurely that he lacked "what it takes when it matters most". Bernard Lagat (Kenya) seemed ready to take over the honours, and he almost did so. In a thrilling duel, El Guerrouj held on to win in 3min 34.18sec to Lagat's 3min 34.30sec.
That set up a mouth-watering "champion of champions" showdown with Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia) in the 5,000m. Bekele had set out his marker by winning the 10,000m in 27min 05.10sec, and in doing so had put the final finish to the illustrious international career of his popular compatriot and mentor Haile Gebrselassie, who had dominated the track for so long and was fifth here in 27min 27.70sec.
Although Boniface Kiprop (Uganda) had challenged strongly before finishing fourth in 27 min 25.48sec, the 10,000m contest devolved into a run-in between Bekele and Sileshi Sihine (Ethiopia) who was second in 27min 09.39sec. Zersenay Tadesse (Eritrea) was third in 27 min 22.57sec.
So, the 5,000m was keenly awaited. Luckily it lived up to its "champion of champions" billing in spite of the slow pace in the early laps which played into the hands of El Guerrouj with his faster finish to the disadvantage of the longer-distance Ethiopian and Kenyan specialists.
Bekele appeared to be reluctant to pick up the pace, and the 19-year-old Eliud Kipchoge who had beaten both of his more celebrated competitors at the World Championships in Paris a year ago, threatened to repeat his success. However, El Guerrouj strode into the lead in the last lap to win in 13min 14.39sec, with Bekele second in 1 min 14.59sec and Kipchoge (Kenya) third in 13min 15.10sec. The Kenyan domination of the 3,000m steeplechase was so complete that as the runners came into the final straight, the leader Ezekiel Kemboi, who won in 8min 05.81sec, turned round and beckoned to his compatroits Brimin Kipruto and Paul Kipsiele Koech to hurry up lest they should be overtaken by the pursuing pack. They finished behind him in 8min 06.11sec and 8min 06.64 respectively.
Mbulaeni Mulaudzi (South Africa) and Wilson Kipketer (the Kenyan competing for Denmark) who, in spite of his many victories elsewhere has not won an Olympic gold, were caught almost cold on the line of the 800m, which they finished in 1 min 44.61sec and 1 min 44.65 sec respectively. The Russian, Yuriy Borzkovskiy steamrollered from "somewhere behind" to rob them of the gold in 1 min 44.45sec. In the 100m blue-riband race, Francis Obikwelu (Portugal via Nigeria) was perhaps a surprise silver-medallist in 9.86sec to the 9.85sec of the equally surprising winner Justin Gatlin (USA).
The Nigerian men's relay team won the bronze medals in both the 4 X 100m and 4 X 400m, finishing with 38.23sec (4 X 100m) behind the British winning time of 38.07sec, and 3min 00.90sec (in the 4 X 400m) to the first-placed USA who clocked 2min 55.91sec.
The African Diaspora achieved honours "across the board" in track and field. Kelly Holmes (UK), whose earlier career had been hampered much by injury, matched the "double" achievement of El Guerrouj by winning the 800m in 1 min 56.38sec and the 1,500m in 3min 57.90sec.
Sadly, the euphoria that has greeted Holmes' victory back home in Britain has omitted the part played in her triumph by her friend and training partner, and the just-dethroned 800m Olympic champion, Maria Mutola, who over the past several years had given Holmes great help and inside knowledge about the middle distances.
Inside the Olympic stadium, the cheers for Holmes' triumph had scarcely died away when the British men's 4 X 100m team of Jason Gardener, Darren Campbell, Marlon Devonish and Mark Lewis-Francis sped to an unlikely victory. Their baton-changing, which had been appalling in the semifinal, was outstanding in the final. And as the heavily-favoured Americans stuttered, Lewis-Francis held off the fierce challenge of Maurice Greene to win in 38.07sec to the Americans' 38.08sec.
In the field, the Cuban women threw powerfully in the discus and javelin competitions, while their Jamaican counterparts were impressive in both track and field.
Osleidys Menendez (Cuba) out-threw the field by a substantial margin to win the javelin gold with 71.53m. The nearest woman to her was Germany's Steffi Nerius (six clear metres away) who came second with 65.82m.
Another Cuban woman, Yumileidi Cumba, was awarded the shot-put gold with 19.59m after the initial winner had been disqualified for failing a drugs test.
Cumba's compatriots, Yipsi Moreno and Yunaika Crawford were second and third in the hammer with 73.36m and 73.16m respectively, finishing behind Olga Kuzenkova (Russia) who won the gold with 75.02m. From Jamaica, Veronica Campbell led an impressive team performance by winning the 200m in 22.05sec. She had earlier finished third in the 100m in 10.97sec. The impressive Campbell also teamed up with Tayna Lawrence, Sherone Simpson and Aleen Bailey to win the 4 X 100m relay in 41.73sec.
Tonique Williams-Darling (Bahamas) won the eagerly-awaited 400m showdown with Ana Guevara (Mexico), who had dominated the distance for so long, with 49.41sec to Guevara's 49.56sec.
Felix Sanchez (Dominican Republic) had been similarly dominant in the 400m hurdles and he remained so in beating Danny McFarlane (Jamaica) to second place. Sanchez clocked 47.63sec to McFarlane's 48.11sec.
The Americans carried much before them on the track--and considerably less so in the field. Justin Gatlin outran several more favoured sprinters to win the 100m in 9.85sec, and Shawn Crawford, who placed fourth in the 100m won the 200m in 19.79sec ahead of Bernard Williams in 20.01sec. Gatlin was third in 20.03sec, while the veteran Frankie Fredericks (Namibia) came fourth in 20.14sec and Obikwelu fifth in the same time.
The American men's 4 X 100m team were edged into second place by only a whisker, but after an abortive baton-change the equivalent quartet of American women failed to finish their race.
Interestingly, Jeremy Wariner, (unusually) a Caucasian--coached by the great African-American Michael Johnson--led an American shut-out of the 400m in 44.00sec with Otis Harris second in 44.16sec and Derrick Brew third in 44.42sec.
In the women's 100m hurdles, the American Joana Hayes won in 12.37sec after her long-serving compatriot Gail Devers had crashed out in the heats, and the much-favoured Perdita Felicien (Canada) had hit the first hurdle in the final, stumbled and brought down Irina Shevchenko (Russia) in the next lane. The American women's 4 X 400m relay team also won in 3 min 19.01sec.
Elsewhere, Dwight Phillips (USA) achieved his country's only gold medal in the field by beating fellow-American John Moffitt by 8.59m to 8.47m in the long-jump.
Now bring on Beijing in four years time--there is still some unfinished business for Africa to complete.
Meanwhile, the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) World Rankings--which are measured on performances over the last year--have been published (immediately after the Olympic Games). It shows the most spectacular change coming in the women's 200m with the winner in Athens, Veronica Campbell (Jamaica), advancing from 13th place to top, and the bronze-medallist Debbie Ferguson moving from 2nd to 11th.
Among other female athletes mentioned in the Rankings, Kelly Holmes came from 4th to 1st in the 1,500m, Ejegayehu Dibaba and Derartu Tulu (Ethiopia), though pipped at the post in Athens, climbed from 7th to 3rd and 10th to 6th respectively in the 10,000m.
Joanna Hayes (USA) came up from 12th to 3rd in the 100m hurdles and Yunaika Crawford 10th to 5th in the hammer-throw.
For the men, the Americans Shawn Crawford (2nd to 1st), Justin Gatlin (6th to 2nd) and Bernard Williams (7th to 3rd) moved up in the 200m. Bernard Lagat came from 2nd to 1st in the 1,500m--by a quirk of statistics edging the gold-medallist in Athens, Hicham El Gerrouj, from the top. Sileshi Sihine moved from 6th to 5th in the 10,000m.
Danny McFarlane, silver in the 400m hurdles in Athens, progressed from 4th to 2nd, while Paul Kipsiele Koech who was only 3rd in the 3,000m steeplechase, has been raised from 2nd to 1st, and the winner Ezekiel Kemboi from 3rd to 2nd.
World steeplechase champion, Saif Saaeed Shaheen (the Kenyan who now runs for Qatar) was not allowed to take part in the Athens Olympics because of his recent change of citizenship.
The World Rankings are achieved by replacing the result of this time last year with the most recent result. Consequently, it is possible in exceptional circumstances for a winning athlete to lose position if their time was not as fast as that a year ago. Sometimes, too, they may not have competed last year due to injury or other reasons, and may not have enough "races" to qualify.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: This Was Not Africa's Olympics: African Male Athletes Came to the Olympic Games in Athens and Stamped Their Authority on the Track with Four Gold Medals and a Cluster of Silver and Bronze-But Where Were the Ladies? Clayton Goodwin Traces Africa's Disappointment at the Just-Ended Olympics in Athens. Contributors: Goodwin, Clayton - Author. Magazine title: New African. Issue: 433 Publication date: October 2004. Page number: 62+. © 2005 IC Publications Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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