Blessing Akawasi Afrifah Sets u20 200m World Record in Cali
Eyes fixed firmly ahead, shoulder to shoulder as they stormed down the home straight, Blessing Akawasi Afrifah and Letsile Tebogo pushed each other to the limit. At the end of a tremendous 200m clash, there was just six thousandths of a second in it.
Both clocking 19.96 (-0.1m/s) – a championship record that moves them to joint third on the world U20 all-time list – the rising sprint stars brought track action on day four of the World Athletics U20 Championships Cali 22 to a thrilling crescendo, Israel’s 18-year-old Afrifah getting gold to deny 19-year-old Tebogo of Botswana a second world U20 title in Colombia after his 100m win two days earlier.
They had both been impressive through the rounds, Afrifah running three consecutive PBs – 20.37, 20.17 and then 19.96 – and Tebogo following his 100m victory with a championship record of 19.99 in the heats. But given the manner in which he won the 100m title, breaking the world U20 record despite celebrating before the finish, the majority of attention was on Tebogo, to see what he could do over the double the distance.
There was no time for celebrations in this final. Lining up alongside each other, Tebogo in lane four and Afrifah in lane five, they both got a strong start. Tebogo was narrowly ahead at the bend, but as they powered off it, Afrifah wasn’t giving up. He drew level with his rival and they were evenly matched, until Afrifah reached the finish line a fraction ahead, despite a dip from Tebogo.
“I’m so emotional. I’m out of words,” said Afrifah, who finished seventh in the final at last year’s World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi. “For a second, I thought ‘OK, I’m second, but I am very happy to be second to Tebogo’. I achieved my dream.”
After six races in four days, Tebogo said: “This is the best race that I have ever run in my life so far. I’m really grateful for the performance and it’s not everybody who can run these fast times, four days in a row.”
Before last year, Israel had never gained a gold medal at the World U20 Championships. Now the nation has two, Afrifah joining the 2021 men’s high jump champion Yonathan Kapitolnik in achieving the feat.
Never before had two U20 athletes broken 20 seconds for 200m in the same race. It was a European U20 record for Afrifah and an African U20 record for Tebogo. Such was the standard, the rest of the field was more than half a second behind them, Australia’s Calab Law capping a breakthrough season with 20.48 for bronze, two weeks after reaching the semifinals at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22. South Africa’s 100m bronze medallist Benjamin Richardson was fourth in 20.55 and USA’s Brandon Miller fifth in 20.64.
Pillay overcomes odds for one-lap wonder
There was no shortage of sprint excitement on day four in Cali. In the men’s 400m, South Africa’s Lythe Pillay avenged his fourth-place finish in last year’s world U20 final, overcoming illness and injury to do so, while Britain’s Yemi Mary John won the women’s crown, and later wore one of her own.
Like Tebogo in the 100m final, Pillay even had time to celebrate on his approach to the finish. With such a strong end to his race, he eased down the finishing straight, pumping his arms as he went, and crossed the line in a PB of 45.28 to triumph ahead of USA’s Steven McElroy in 45.65 and Bahrain’s Yusuf Ali Abbas in a lifetime best of 45.80. Canada’s Tyler Floyd also ran a PB, his 46.01 seeing him finish fourth ahead of Thailand’s Joshua Atkinson (46.31).
“It was a difficult journey after coming in fourth last year,” said Pillay. “My hope was to come back and challenge for the title this year. I got covid in February and was hospitalised. It was a difficult year emotionally as well, trying to keep my hopes and faith up.”
In the women’s final, John was narrowly ahead off the final bend and looked in control as she held off Kenya’s 16-year-old Damaris Mutunga and India’s Rupal. Once over the line, she looked into the crowd and pointed at her head, receiving a crown in return. First putting it on her own head, she later shared it with Pillay as they celebrated their successes on a victory lap.
Running 51.50, 19-year-old John achieved her third PB from as many races in Cali to win. The race was also another huge breakthrough for Mutunga, who went into the championships with a PB of 53.71 set at the Kenyan trials for the event in Cali, and leaves with a national U20 record of 51.71 to go with her silver. Rupal also ran a PB of 51.85 for bronze, to go with her mixed 4x400m silver.
“I didn’t run many races this year, so I felt this was the one to run a personal best in,” said the winner. “I have this crown because I am a queen.”
In the 400m hurdles final, USA’s Akala Garrett timed her run to perfection – the 17-year-old blasting away early before easing back and leaving enough at the finish to surge ahead for victory. A world U20-leading time, her 56.16 gained her the win by more than half a second, silver going to Sweden’s Hanna Karlsson with 56.71. Garrett’s compatriot Michaela Rose stumbled off the penultimate barrier but held on to get bronze in 56.86, while South Africa’s Anje Nel finished fourth in 57.47 and Michelle Smith of Virgin Islands fifth in 57.48. The top five finishers all set PBs, with the mark a national U20 record for Smith.
From bronze to gold for Cherotich
Kenya’s Faith Cherotich meant business. That much was clear as the 18-year-old blasted away at the start in the women’s 3000m steeplechase final. It was a lead she would never relinquish. Bronze medallist last year, when the World U20 Championships was held on her home soil in Nairobi, she was determined to get gold this time and put in a dominant display to leave Ethiopia’s world U20 leader Sembo Almayew with no response.
Almayew had run 9:09.19 in June, a second consecutive world U18 best. But Cherotich had clocked 9:12.04 in Nairobi in May and went quickest in the qualifying round in Cali. In the final, Cherotich led an early breakaway group of five that was quickly strung out. Almayew reacted straight away and remained just a step behind, until she could hold on no longer. Cherotich had build around a five-second lead with two laps remaining and was 11 seconds ahead at the bell. She only increased that further and went on to win in 9:16.14, with Almayew second in 9:30.41 and her Ethiopian teammate Meseret Yeshaneh third in 9:42.02. Outside the medals there was a battle for fourth, Tunisia’s Rihab Dhahri pipping Kenya’s Pamela Kosgei, 10:06.42 to 10:06.46.
In the heptathlon, Finland’s Saga Vanninen became the fifth champion from Nairobi to retain their title in Cali, scoring 6084 points. After finishing the first day in the lead on 3666 points, 28 up on her day one score from last year’s World U20 Championships, she returned on day two to leap 6.24m in the long jump and throw 46.21m in the javelin before a 2:28.91 800m sealed her victory. It saw her become the first athlete to win two world U20 heptathlon titles since Carolina Kluft 20 years ago.
A strong first day featuring PBs in three of the four events saw Germany’s Sandrina Sprengel in second spot and she maintained a podium place. It was another German athlete who secured the silver, though – Serina Riedel moving up from fifth on day one to second at the conclusion of the seven events, scoring 5874 points to finish runner up, just ahead of Sprengel with 5845. Riedel soared farthest in the long jump (6.30m) and then threw 41.47m in the javelin followed by a 2:25.56 800m, while Sprengel jumped 6.03m, threw 42.33m and ran 2:30.82. Estonia’s Liisa-Maria Lusti finished fourth with 5731 and Latvia’s Gerda Kerija Dreimane fifth with a 5721 PB.
World-leading wins for Ammirati and Korakidis
He was the last one to enter the pole vault final, and the last one remaining, to win it – Anthony Ammirati of France clearing a world U20-leading national U20 record of 5.75m to win a competition that concluded in thrilling fashion.
After being unable to make it over his opening height in the world U20 final in Nairobi last year, this time the 19-year-old made no mistake. He entered at 5.35m – 5cm higher than in Nairobi – but soared clear on his first attempt. From there, he decided to skip every other height, clearing all he tried on his first goes, before one failure at 5.70m, after which he moved straight to 5.75m in a bid to beat Finland’s Juho Alasaari. It worked. Ammirati managed the height – 3cm higher than he had ever achieved before – on his first go and with victory secured he had three attempts at a championship record height of 5.83m. Alasaari’s silver – a second after his runner-up finish in Nairobi last year – was secured thanks to his 5.60m national U20 record, while Poland’s Michal Gawenda got bronze with a 5.45m PB.
A fifth-round throw that was initially judged to be a foul proved to be the winning mark for Ioannis Korakidis of Greece in the hammer final. And it wasn’t only the best of the competition, but the top mark in the world so far this year, his 79.11m being a world U20-leading PB.
Just a single centimetre separated Finland’s Max Lampinen from Iosif Kesidis of Cyprus – Lampinen thowing a 76.33m PB in the fifth round and Kesidis recording a 76.32m lifetime best in the sixth, but when Korakidis’ foul was reviewed it was considered a valid mark, and one that clinched him the title by almost three metres. In a close battle for the other podium places, Korakidis’ compatriot Nikolaos Polychroniou finished just off it with a best of 76.12m for fourth.
Lyston and Clarke advance
The women’s 200m final is shaping up to be a highly-anticipated affair, especially after seeing the ease with which Jamaica’s Brianna Lyston breezed through the 200m semifinals, winning her race in 22.83 as fastest overall. The 18-year-old led the entries going into the championships thanks to her 22.53 PB set in April, with USA’s Jayla Jamison and Mia Brahe-Pedersen joining her in having PBs under 23 seconds. They join her in leading the qualifiers for the final, too, with Brahe-Pedersen running 22.95 behind Lyston and Jamison winning her heat in 23.01. South Africa’s Viwe Jingqi came through to win the first heat in 23.12 ahead of Polyniki Emmanouilidou with a Greek U20 record of 23.20. Completing the line up for the final are Lyston’s compatriot Alana Reid (23.16 PB), Britain’s Sophie Walton (23.24) and Cuba’s Yarima L. Garcia (23.40).
Seven of the eight eventual men’s 400m hurdles finalists had the races of their lives to make the final, led by Jamaica’s Roshawn Clarke with 49.35 to win the third semifinal. Puerto Rico’s Yan Manuel Vazquez has gone quicker with every round in Cali, running 50.66 to win his heat and 50.37 to take his semifinal, and he’ll now look to carry that form through to the final, where he’ll line up alongside Turkey’s Ismail Nezir, winner of the second semifinal in 50.12, plus Qatar’s Ismail Doudai Abakar (49.48 PB), Matic Ian Gucek with a 49.72 Slovenian U20 record, Belgium’s Mimoun Abdoul Wahab (50.45 PB), France’s Sonny Gandrey (50.59 PB) and Japan’s Sojiro Moritaka (50.62 PB).
Jamaica’s women launched the defence of their world U20 4x100m title on a strong note, clocking 43.28 to win their heat and go quickest overall in the first round. Serena Cole, individual 100m champion Tina Clayton, Alexis James and Tia Clayton combined to safely secure a spot in the next round for the world record-holders along with heat two winner USA with 43.66 and heat three victor Great Britain with a 43.78 national U20 record.
There were big cheers from the home crowd as Colombia secured the runner-up spot in that third heat in a national U20 record of 44.34 and joining them in the final will be Germany (44.34), Italy (44.69) and Australia (44.83). With Switzerland and Czech Republic running the exact same time down to the thousandth, the eighth place in the final was decided by a draw, pulling team bibs out of a bag, and that was won by Switzerland.
Japan went quickest in the men’s 4x100m heats, anchored by Hiroki Yanagita who formed part of the nation’s team at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon last month. He crossed the line in 39.12 in the third heat, while other heat winners were South Africa (39.50), Nigeria (39.41) and USA (39.78). Also making the final were Jamaica (39.24), Italy (39.63), Spain (39.79) and Netherlands with a national U20 record of 39.85.
It wasn’t necessary for athletes to attempt the automatic qualifying height of 1.85m in women’s high jump qualification, with the top 12 decided by those managing to clear 1.80m. That included Estonia’s Karmen Bruus and Serbia’s Angelica Topic, who have both equalled the world U18 best of 1.96m this year – Bruus achieving hers when placing seventh in the world final in Oregon last month. European U20 champion Britt Weerman of the Netherlands also booked a place in the final, as did Estonia’s Elisabeth Pihela and Australia’s Erin Shaw.