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East Africans Dominate Distance Races As World Juniors Close

American Elise Cranny places fourth in the women’s 1500m.

American Elise Cranny places fourth in the women’s 1500m.

(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

EUGENE, Ore. — It was an afternoon of East African dominance here on the sixth and final day of competition at the IAAF World Junior Championships. Ethiopia’s Dawit Seyaum, and Kenyans Alfred Kipketer and Barnabas Kipyego claimed gold medals in the women’s 1,500 meters, men’s 800m, and men’s 3000m steeplechase, respectively, at historic Hayward Field Sunday.

Favorite Seyaum Wins Women’s 1500m

Dawit Seyaum, the favorite entering the women’s 1500m final, prevailed in a back-and-forth chess match that was won in 4:09.86. Whether in the lead or a step behind her teammate Gudaf Tsegay, Dawit kept herself in prime position for a push to the finish through 800 meters in 2:17.13. A step to her side was American Alexa Efraimson, looking very comfortable close to the lead.

Just before the bell rang signaling the final circuit, the real race began. Not to be denied, Seyaum elbowed her way past Tsegay into the lead, immediately taking control. Tsegay did her best to follow, while Kenya’s Sheila Chepngetich Keter and Efraimson battled for the final medal spot.

Entering the homestretch, Seyaum extended her lead, ultimately winning in 4:09.86. But, all eyes were on the battle that ensued behind. Tsegay held a firm grasp on second (which she’d take in 4:10.83), but Keter was fading fast in third, waving her arms and slightly staggering as if about to fall.

Charging hard to catch Keter was Efraimson’s American teammate, Elise Cranny. In sixth with 100m to go, Cranny kicked hard down the stretch, closing the gap while the Hayward faithful cheered loud. But the 18-year-old ran out of real estate, finishing two steps behind Keter, 4:11.21 to 4:12.82.

RELATED: 4 Ethiopians Go Missing From Eugene Worlds

“I wanted to be on the podium, so fourth is pretty disappointing,” said Cranny, who is coached by recently retired elite marathoner Jason Hartmann. Still, she sported a bright smile. “My coach always says just keep moving forward, and so I was glad that I could increase my pace a little bit at the end.”

Cranny admitted that if she started her kick 50 meters sooner, she may have earned bronze.

“I think part of the race I lost focus for a second and I kind of ended up being in the back. I had to make up a lot of space,” said the Stanford-bound athlete.

Efraimson wound up sixth in 4:13.31, sporting a large spike wound on her leg.

“What I wrote on the back of my foot today was ‘fearless,'” Efraimson said. “I just wanted to go out there and not be afraid of anyone or anything or not even be afraid of the pain.”

However, the day belonged to Seyaum.

“I am very happy and the finish was very good,” said Seyaum, speaking through Ethiopian team doctor and translator Gemechis Mamo. “My plan was to get gold and I have achieved it.”

When asked about the four Ethiopian athletes confirmed missing by authorities and University of Oregon officials, Mamo looked straight at members of the media and said a firm “No comment on that side.”

Race Results Weekly asked if Seyaum and Tsegay were worried or sad about their missing teammates, and Mamo once again shook his head signaling he would not answer the question.

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Kipketer Cruises To 800m Gold

It was a Kenyan sweep of gold and silver in the men’s 800m final, as Alfred Kipketer and Joshua Tiampati Masikonde established themselves from the break and never looked back. Cutting in from their lanes at the 100m mark, the tandem already had left the rest of the field well behind.

Looking like men among boys, the pair ran stride-for-stride through 400m in 49.42, Kipketer out in front. Last year’s world youth champion would never relinquish the lead, flailing his arms wildly like the University of Oregon’s own Edward Cheserek down the homestretch. Winning in a world junior leading time of 1:43.95, Kipketer becomes the ninth world junior 800m champion from Kenya.

“I am so so happy because I had made a promise the other day. I had made some promises and I have made it,” the very soft spoken athlete said, whose listed age is 17. “I have medaled, and the good news is our country now have a joyful time for they have seen my promises [fulfilled].”

Gritting his teeth down the stretch, Masikonde took silver ahead of Sweden’s Andreas Almgren. Their times were 1:45.14 and 1:45.65, with Almgren setting a Swedish national junior record in the process.

American Tre’tez Kinnaird was sixth in 1:47.13, a personal best time.

“It was aggressive and fast, real fast. I didn’t expect it to go out that hard,” said the Indiana University student-athlete. “I didn’t know how fast they were actually going and then I seen the guys cross in 1:43 and I was like ‘Oh my God. If I keep this up I’m going to run 1:46. To run 1:47, I’m happy with it.”

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Kipyego Wins 3000m Steeplechase; Roth Sets U.S. Record

It was only fitting that the 1970s chart-topping hit “Takin’ Care of Business” was playing over Hayward Field’s loudspeakers as Barnabas Kipyego cruised over the barriers with ease in the 3000m steeplechase. Kipyego, 19, led nearly the entire contest, racing with confidence and gusto out front.

Splitting 1000m in 2:53.56 and 2000m in 5:42.81, Kipyego knew he could fend off countryman Titus Kipruto Kibiego for the gold.

“I normally run in the front to maintain the pace, as I could today,” he said. “It is what we had planned with my friend Titus.”

Prevailing in a sprint down the finishing straight, Kipyego won Kenya’s 14th consecutive gold medal in the discipline. His time was 8:25.57.

“You know this event is for Kenyans. It was made in Kenya,” he said in a serious tone.

Kibiego was second in 8:26.15, followed by Bahrain’s Evans Rutto Chematot in 8:32.61.

As Kipyego was on the ground celebrating his win, charging down the last 60 meters was Bailey Roth. The American had glanced at the clock and recognized he had a chance at setting yet another national high school record, lowering his own mark from Friday’s prelim.

Finishing tenth in 8:47.04, Roth spread his arms out in jubilation and smiled.

“I’m happy with it. My goal was to come out here and improve on my time from Friday, and I accomplished my goal. I’m just so happy right now,” said Roth. “My goal was to just come back as strong as I could with the time I had to recover. It feels great to be able to come out and have such a straining race and come back and run a faster time than I had in the prelim.”

As host country, America took home 21 medals at these championships, including 11 gold. That is tied for the highest medal haul ever by the USA at the IAAF World Junior Championships, matching the mark set in 2002.