Jepkemoi, van Niekerk dazzle

Kenya's Yego wins javelin gold with the longest throw in 14 years; India's Lalita shines briefly

Jepkemoi, van Niekerk dazzle

Standing out from the crowd, Lalita Babar portrayed the bold face of Indian athletics to the world before bowing to the might of better prepared women on Wednesday night at the Bird’s Nest.

On the fifth night of the 15th World Championships in athletics, Lalita, the first-ever Indian to compete in the final of a track event, claimed the eighth place in the 3000M steeplechase, fading out after a front-running show.

The 26-year-old from Maharashtra timed 9:29.64 seconds in a race won in thrilling fashion by Kenya’s Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi after a slow start. In a splendid sprint to the finish, Jepkemoi (9:19.11) left behind Tunisian Habiba Ghribi (9:19.24) and Gesa Krause (9:19.25) of Germany, who were separated by one-hundredths of a second for silver and bronze.

Steeplechase was just one of the exhilarating contests to light up the night, with South African Wayde van Niekerk clocking the fourth all-time fastest time to win the men’s 400M and Julius Yego of Kenya uncorking the longest throw in 14 years for the gold in men’s javelin. But the Indian eyes were trained on Lalita as she battled hard to hold on to a highly creditable eighth position.

 “It feels nice to compete in front of such a big crowd. I have never run in such an atmosphere,” said Lalita. “My aim was to improve my personal best, I may not have succeeded in that but I tried my best and am happy for that,” said Lalita, who had set a national record of 9:27.86 in the heats.

The way she approached the task on the night, it seemed she might improve that. Leading from the front, she led the pack through the first 2000 metres before her much superior rivals began to move up, leaving the Indian at tenth spot at one stage. Despite weariness kicking in, Lalita fought gamely to climb to eighth and stayed there, but only having made her point.

“I have not run two races in three days like this and was feeling a bit tired. But I am happy, especially as I had started steeplechase only last year. After having run with these women, my confidence level has gone up. This was my normal pace and I can improve further,” said the JSW-supported athlete, adding that the focus will now shift to preparations for the Olympics.

van Niekerk shines
All season, Van Niekerk had served notice of his potential and he matched it with a superlative performance at the right time. The South African quelled an early fire by defending champion LaShawn Merritt and maintained his pace right till the end despite a strong comeback by the American nearing the finish. James (43.78) tried hard but was pushed to bronze position by Merritt, who clocked his personal best of 43.65, the sixth quickest of all time.

It was the first time that three athletes were dipping under 44 seconds in the same race. “It was crazy,” said Merritt. “I executed a race I was supposed to do, clocked a personal best and I just get to take the silver,” added Merritt on another gold-less day for the United States.

Saudi Arabian Yousef Ahmed Masrahi, who had set an Asian record of 43.93 in the first round, was eighth in 45.15.

Yego had hurled the spear to a 91.39M this season but the Kenyan was in danger of missing out on a medal after fouling his first round and reaching only 82.42 in the second. Then came the almighty heave that killed the competition – a 92.72, the third farthest of all-time.

“I am so happy, I can’t even express it,” said Kenya’s first medallist in this event, who is also the Commonwealth Games champion. Egypt’s Ihab Abdelrahman El Sayed made it a double delight for Africa, taking silver with an 88.99M effort.

Yarisley Silva of Cuba nailed the women’s pole vault after an engrossing contest, clearing 4.90 metres. Fabiana Murer of Brazil set a South American record of 4.85 for the silver. Meanwhile, Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin easily moved into the final of the 200M. In the semifinals, Bolt clocked 19.95 and Gatlin 19.87. The final is on Thursday.

Results: Men: 400M: Wayde Van Niekerk (South Africa) 43.48 seconds, 1; LaShawn Merritt (USA) 43.65, 2; Kirani James (Grenada) 43.78, 3.

Javelin throw: Julius Yego (Kenya) 92.72 metres, 1; Ihab Abdelrahman El Sayed (Egypt) 88.99, 2; Tero Pitkamaki (Finland) 87.64, 3.

Women: 400M hurdles: Zuzana Hejnova (Czech Republic) 53.50 seconds, 1; Shamier Little (USA) 53.94, 2; Cassandra Tate (USA) 54.02, 3.

3000M steeplechase: Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi (Kenya) 9:19.11, 1; Habiba Ghribi (Tunisia) 9:19.24, 2; Gesa Krause (Germany) 9:19.25, 3. Lalita Babar (India) 9:29.64, 8.

Pole vault: Yarisley Silva (Cuba) 4.90 metres, 1; Fabiana Murer (Brazil) 4.85, 2; Nikoleta Kyriakopoulou (Greece) 4.80, 3.

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