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Triple track joy for Africa in Bird's Nest PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 25 August 2008

REUTERS, BEIJING - Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele completed the long distance double and Kenya won two more golds as Africa dominated the last evening of Olympics sport in the Bird's Nest on Saturday.

There were rare sour notes, though, when a Ukrainian weightlifter was suspended for doping and a Cuban, Angel Valodia Matos, banned from taekwondo for life after kicking the referee in the head when his bronze medal bout was stopped.
For the most part, though, the penultimate day of the Games was about athletes pushing themselves to the limits of endurance in the quest for gold.
It was also about Africa.
Day 15 had begun in the space-age National Stadium with disappointment for Nigeria, losing the soccer final by a single goal to Argentina in the blazing midday sun.
The Bird's Nest transformed itself back into an athletics stadium in the evening and African honor was restored.
First, the continent achieved a clean sweep of the men's 800 meters; gold for Kenya's Wilfred Bungei, bronze for compatriot Alfred Kirwa Yego and a first medal for Sudan, silver for Ismail Ahmed Ismail.
Kenya got its fourth track gold of the Games through Nancy Jebet Lagat in the women's 1,500 meters.
The highlight, though, was Bekele's triumph in the 5,000 meters, which made him the first man since 1980 to win both long distance track races.
Victory meant complete a clean sweep of the track distance golds for Ethiopia, matching Jamaica's extraordinary sprint performance. Tirunesh Dibaba became the first woman to win both distance golds when she won the 5,000m on Friday night.
Later, the United States got some joy after a disappointing Games on the track with victory in both the men's and women's 4x400m relay.
Relief was magnified after U.S. athletes had dropped the baton in both men's and women's 4x100m sprint relays.
The pressure of Olympic competition led to an extraordinary outburst of anger in the taekwondo tournament and exhaustion in the kayaking races.
Matos was leading his bronze medal heavyweight bout but needed time out for an injury and the referee awarded the decision to his opponent.
The furious Cuban was joined on the mat by his coach and then Matos kicked both the referee—in the head—and another official before he was escorted away amid chaotic scenes.
Officials later announced to the crowd lifetime bans for Matos and the coach.
Canoeists and kayakers pushed themselves to the limits of endurance in a flood of sprint finals on Lake Shunyi, a Spanish silver medalist sick on the podium and a Ukrainian bronze medal winner fainting on the finish line.
The noon kick-off for the soccer final was the price paid for holding it in the Bird's Nest which was booked up in the evening for the athletics but it sapped the life out of the game, and both coaches said it had affected their players.
"We don't make the rules," said Nigerian coach Samson Siasia. "They said we had to play the game at 12 o'clock, which I didn't think was a very good idea."
Despite boasting the skills of Lionel Messi and orchestration of Juan Roman Riquelme, the Argentines never found their stylish best. But they were well worth the win thanks to a delightful second-half chip from striker Angel Di Maria.
The start time also underscored the second-tier place the "beautiful game" has at the Olympics.
Governing body FIFA, wary of creating a rival to its own World Cup, restricts the Olympic tournament to under 23 year olds, with each team permitted three over-age players.
Mountain bikers also struggled with the heat, as well as mud and boulders, with riders from France and Germany picking up golds but many others failing to finish the challenging course.
The International Olympic Committee has worked to eliminate drugs cheats from these Games and disqualified Ukrainian weightlifter Igor Razoronov after he tested positive for drugs.
Despite regular testing, sections of the media have expressed skepticism about Jamaica's sensational sprint performance at these games, after the Caribbean island won all the individual sprint golds and the men's relay.
Triple sprint champion Usain Bolt, though, told a news conference the extraordinary improvement in his country's performance was down to hard work and not doping.
"I've been tested so many times in the competition I've lost count," he said. "We know we're good, we know we're clean. We work hard and any time you want to test us, it's okay."
Jamaica does not have its own accredited anti-doping system like those of its major track rivals but had been working with the help of athletics global governing body to conduct more than 90 tests before the Games.
As one of the busiest days of the Games neared its conclusion, Russia overtook Britain to claim third place in the medals table, reaching 20 golds with wins in canoeing, synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics.
Nevertheless their haul is still below their 27 Athens golds.
Russia's fall is more than matched by China's rise, and the hosts are now assured top spot in the medals table, with 48 golds to 32 for the United States.

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