The final day of action at the World Athletics U20 Championships Cali 22 on Sunday (6) saw a plethora of precocious youngsters again light up the track at the Pascual Guerrero Olympic Stadium, and in a programme littered with middle- and long-distance races, one nation shone brightest of all.
Ethiopia won four gold medals in the space of 65 minutes, taking victory in the women’s 1500m, men’s 800m, women’s 5000m and men’s 3000m steeplechase, while the standout individual performer of the day was undoubtedly Jamaica’s Kerrica Hill, who powered to gold in the women’s 100m hurdles in a championship record of 12.77 (0.2m/s).
After Tina Clayton’s 100m victory, Brianna Lyston’s 200m win and Friday night’s world U20 4x100m record for Jamaica, it was proof that the sprint superpower is replete with a rising generation of star female sprinters capable of carrying the baton once Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson-Herah have stepped aside.
Hill, a student at Hydel High School, produced a near-flawless performance to smash her personal best with 12.77, moving fifth on the world U20 all-time list. She was followed home by teammate Alexis James, who set a PB of 12.87 to put previous injuries to her “toe, hamstring, shin, knee, shoulder and back” firmly in the rear-view mirror.
Hungary’s Anna Toth claimed bronze in a national U20 record of 13.00, which left her “so happy and shocked.”
The feeling was much the same for Hill, who had run the third leg on Jamaica’s world-record-setting 4x100m team on Friday night. “I did not expect a championship record, I expected some record but I was just focused on winning,” she said. “My success last night was inspiring because it helped me come out here and do my very best.”
The women’s 1500m final marked the start of an astonishing spell of track dominance by Ethiopian athletes, with Birke Haylom announcing herself as a potential senior star by taking gold in a championship record of 4:04.27, with Kenyans Brenda Chebet and Purity Chepkirui – the defending champion – following her home in respective PBs of 4:04.64 and 4:07.64.
The pace was a swift one from the start, with Chebet taking them through 800m in 2:09.76, then leading Chepkirui through 1200m in 3:19.34. But at that point Haylom started changing gears, moving from fourth to first up the back straight.
She struck for home around the last bend and built an advantage of several metres, but Chebet came again in the home straight, forcing Haylom to dig deep to hold her at bay. “It’s the first time winning a medal for my country,” said Haylom. “It’s a huge honour for me.”
In the men’s 800m, Ermias Girma closed out a great week by avenging his defeat in the 1500m, powering to victory in 1:47.36 ahead of the fast-finishing Algerian Heithem Chenitef who clocked a PB of 1:47.61 in second. Britain’s Ethan Hussey took bronze with 1:47.65, just ahead of Poland’s Kacper Lewalski (1:47.84).
The early pace was a steady one, with Girma’s compatriot Mersimoi Kasahun taking the field through the first lap in 54.96. Kenya’s Noah Kibet launched his big attack with 250 metres to run, briefly hitting the front as they hit 600m in 1:21.53, but it was a move Girma was well able to respond to, the 17-year-old kicking it into gear around the final turn and pulling clear to win his first global title. Kibet paid for his effort and faded to seventh in 1:48.50.
Ethiopia was even more dominant in the women’s 5000m, where the only doubt down the home straight was which of their athletes – Medina Eisa or Melknat Wudu – would strike gold. In the end Eisa proved the stronger, clocking 15:29.71 to edge Wudu (15:30.06), with Uganda’s Prisca Chesang taking bronze in 15:31.17. Latvia’s Agate Caune was fourth in a PB of 15:43.56.
Eisa said the victory was “a really big deal” for her while Wudu said it was a “dream come true.”
The men’s 3000m steeplechase also saw Ethiopia go 1-2, with Samuel Duguna sprinting clear of teammate Samuel Firewu to win in 8:37.92 to Firewu’s 8:39.11. Morocco’s Salaheddine Ben Yazide took bronze in 8:40.62.
“I am beyond elated,” said Duguna. “The weather conditions made the race a bit difficult. It was a bit hot, so when the race picked up it was challenging but this is for my country, all the Ethiopian people.”
The race proved cagey early on, with the chief contenders allowing Japan’s Asahi Kuroda to build a sizable lead. It was only in the last four laps that the African contingent began to get serious and hunt him down, closing the gap to 20 metres as Kuroda passed 2000m in 5:49.16. Heading out on the final lap, Duguna and Firewu had control up front and the pair never relinquished it, with Duguna dropping the hammer on his teammate as he approached the final water jump and surging clear thereafter.
In the men’s discus, Germany’s Marius Karges caused an upset by winning gold with 65.55m ahead of teammate Mika Sosna (63.88m), who had set the world U20 record in June. But that 71.37m effort, as great as it was, is ultimately what cost him here in Cali.
“On my world record throw, I injured my adductor and it still isn’t ready yet,” said Sosna, who only took one throw in the final due to the injury. “I arrived as the U20 world record-holder and to bring the silver medal back is a little disappointing. (The adductor) was grabbing during the competition, it was really rough.”
But Sosna’s misfortune was ultimately an opportunity for Karges, who overtook Sosna in the fourth round with 63.91m and then threw 65.55m to crown his win in the final round. Ukraine’s Mykhailo Brudin took bronze with a PB of 63.30m, while Greece’s Dimitrios Pavlidis took fourth in a national U20 record of 61.77m.
The women’s high jump saw Estonia’s Karmen Bruus live up to her favourite’s billing by soaring over 1.95m to take gold, with Britt Weerman taking silver in a Dutch U20 record of 1.93m and Serbia’s Angelina Topic third, also clearing 1.93m.
Bruus endured some nervous moments after first-time failures at 1.85m and 1.93m left her trailing Topic and Weerman when the bar went up to 1.95m, and after two failures there it looked like she might have to settle for silver or bronze. But with her last attempt she nailed it.
“That third attempt was a lot of pressure, but I didn’t change anything on it, I just gave all I had,” she said. “And that was enough.”
The women’s triple jump title went to Uzbekistan’s Sharifa Davronova, the 15-year-old’s second-round effort of 14.04m a PB and world U20 lead. France’s Sohane Aucagos took silver with 13.38m while bronze went to Tiana Boras of Australia with a PB of 13.30m.
In traditional fashion, the championships ended with the 4x400m finals and, also in traditional fashion, USA dominated. Their women’s team of Mekenze Kelley, Shawnti Jackson, Akala Garrett and Roisin Willis proved a class apart from their rivals, clocking 3:28.06 to come home well clear of Jamaica (3:31.59) and Britain (3:31.86).
With both Jamaica, Ethiopia and USA all having six gold medals at that point, it meant there was more at stake than usual in the men’s 4x400m final that wrapped up the championships.
That went much the same way as the women’s race, even if the US quartet of Steven McElroy, Ashton Schwartzman, Charlie Bartholomew and Will Summer wasn’t quite as dominant, Summer bringing them home well clear in 3:04.47, with Jamaica second in 3:05.72 and Canada taking bronze in 3:06.50.
It meant USA topped the medal table with seven golds and 15 medals overall, while Jamaica was second and Ethiopia third.
Cathal Dennehy for World Athletics