Ethiopia’s Abersh Minsewo won Gold in 9:24.62, marginally beating the home favourite Emmaculate Chepkirui, on the water-flooded Moi Stadium track on Day 1 of the 2017 IAAF World U18 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya on Wednesday.
Her compatriot Yitayish Mekonene made it two Ethiopians on the podium, pushing Kenyan Beatrice Chebet out of the medals.
The race started at a slow pace, but Mekonene of Ethiopia injected just enough pace to split up the group in the fourth lap.
By the time the runners reached 2000m in 6:34.69, the leading group had been cut down to six. Only the two Ugandan runners, Sarah Chelangat and Esther Yeko Chekwemoi, were able to stay with the favoured Kenyans and Ethiopians.
That state of affairs did not last long and by the penultimate lap, it became clear the race would go down to a Kenya vs Ethiopia battle.
World U20 silver medallist Chepkirui, who had trailed the leaders until that point, moved to the front just before the bell, but as the girls entered the final lap, it was still anybody's guess which of the four leaders would take it.
Chepkirui tried to push the pace in the final 400 metres, but was unable to shake off her Ethiopian rivals. Half way through the final lap, it was Minsewo who moved up to her shoulder and momentarily took the lead. The Kenyan did not yield, stuck to the curb and gained a metre on the curve.
Chepkirui reached the final straight still in the lead, but by then the distance between the leaders was shrinking. It turned into a neck-and-neck battle between the two, but despite all the support from the crowd for the home athlete, Minsewo eventually started inching ahead.
She never really got away, but in the end, she reached the finish line first, arms aloft. The gap was only 0.07 between first and second.
Mekonene was well beaten over the last 200 metres, finishing nearly four seconds adrift, with the second Kenyan, Chebet, almost five seconds away from the podium.
"The race was good, despite the rain, " said Minsewo after the race.
"We trained in similar conditions back home so it was not difficult as you may think. I'm happy to have fulfilled my responsibility to win the first gold medal for my country.
"I want to be like Genzebe Dibaba; she is my role model and I look up to her a lot."
Despite the disappointment of her loss, Chepkirui was stoic about the end result. "My target was to win the gold, but I believe I ran a good race today despite the weather conditions,” she said. “My plan was to create a gap in the last stretch of the race, but the competition was stiff."
"I will now focus to work on winning my next races. Thank you the home fans for cheering us, it feels good to compete at home," she added.
(Additional reports: IAAF)