Asaba, Nigeria Diary: YIMER TAKES 10,000M CROWN AS AFRICAN CHAMPIONSHIPS BEGIN, (Day One) by Bob Ramsak for the IAAF

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This is Bob Ramsak's column on Day 1 of the African Athletics Championships. Bob is covering the event live for the IAAF and the sport. Bob Ramsak is a long time observer of the sport and journalist traveler. Bob will be covering the African Championships for many of us, from Asaba, Nigeria. We thank him for his observations on many of the stars we will see in Doha 2019 and Tokyo 2020.

Jemal Yimer is an energetic and talented young athlete. In February 2018, my brother, Brian, my son, Adam and I covered the RAK half marathon. We witnessed Yimer's debut over the half marathon distance, at the ripe old age of 21. Yimer ran a World best for a debut. In 2017, Jemal had finished fifth in what many consider was one of the best 10,000 meters championship races ever run! Jemal's PB for 10,000m is 26:56.11. The difference with Jemal Yimer is that this guy can race, as Bob Ramsak witnessed in Asaba, Nigeria on night one of the African Athletics Championships.

Kicking away from a lead group of four with just over half a lap to go, Jemal Yimer Mekkonen cruised to victory in the 10,000m at the 21st edition of the African Athletics Championships which began today in Asaba, Nigeria.

Yimer bided his time in the early stages before finally making his decisive move on the final lap to cross the line, arms held wide, in 29:08.01.

"This wasn't easy," said Yimer, who was fourth at these championships two years ago and fifth over the distance at the World Championships last year. "There was a lot of competition from my teammates and the humidity made it difficult."

The 21-year-old has kept busier on the roads this year than on the track, finishing a strong fourth at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in March and improving his lifetime best over that distance to 59:00 in February. But he's hasn't fully put his track ambitions behind him, finishing third in the 10,000m at his national championships in April.

Near capacity crowd at Stephen Keshi Memorial Stadium in Abasa for the opening day of the 2018 African Championships (Bob Ramsak)
Near capacity crowd at Stephen Keshi Memorial Stadium in Abasa for the opening day of the 2018 African Championships (Bob Ramsak) © Copyright

"My secret is just to work tirelessly," he said. "My wish now is continue winning gold medals."

Time-wise, it was a modest performance, nearly two minutes slower than Kenneth Kipkemoi's 27:19.74 championships record set in Porto-Novo, Benin, six years ago. But given the 28 C temperatures and humid conditions, along with unanticipated fatigue that followed several of his competitors to Asaba this morning, the times were never expected to be fast. But the racing, especially in the second half, was fierce. And that suited the near capacity crowd at the Stephen Keshi Memorial Stadium just fine.

After a lumbering 76-second opening lap, Yimer's teammate Andamlak Belihu Berta decided to shake out the cobwebs by taking off midway through the second lap to open a massive gap on the rest of the field. They reeled him in less than two laps later with Kenyan Vincent Kipsang taking to the front.

Kipsang, the national champion over the distance, shared much of the leading over the next ten laps with Belihu, Ibrahim Ismael of Djibouti and Ali Mahamat of Chad also chipping in with the pacing chores. Little changed until the 16th lap when the field was finally reduced to six.

Transportation and logistical challenges in recent days forced a massive revision of the competition timetable, this morning reduced to just three events in total for the opening day to allow time for the last remaining athletes who were stranded in Lagos Airport --some for nearly three days-- to be transported the final 450 kilometres to the capital of Nigeria's Delta State. That group included the Kenyan 10,000m trio of Kipsang, Josphat Bett and Kipsang Temoi, who finally arrived at their hotel just three hours before the gun sounded.

The men's 10,000m final at the 2018 African Championships in Asaba (Bob Ramsak)
The men's 10,000m final at the 2018 African Championships in Asaba (Bob Ramsak) © Copyright

That wait took its toll.

Bett was the first to drop off the pace, leaving his teammates, the Ethiopian pair, Uganda's Timothy Toroitoch and Awet Habte of Eritrea to duke it out in the late afternoon heat. That sextet remained largely intact until five laps remained, when Habte was the next to fall back. Three laps later, Temoi faded out of contention.

Kipsang continued to control the pace but was clearly labouring when the bell sounded. When Yimer made his break, Belihu and Toroitich followed. The last battle of the day witnessed the 19-year-old Belihu, who was tenth at the World Championships last year, hold off the Ugandan to secure an Ethiopian 1-2.

Belihu clocked 29:11.09, Toroitich 29:11.87. Kipsang was fourth in 29:14.52, 11 seconds ahead of Temoi, who held on for fifth.

To read the entire Day 1 column by Bob Ramsak, please go to this link at the IAAF: https://www.iaaf.org/news/report/jemal-yimer-african-championships-asaba-day-o

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