TOKYO (Reuters) – Peruth Chemutai became the first Ugandan woman to win an Olympic gold in any sport when she triumphed in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase on Wednesday (August 4th).
The 22-year-old clocked 9:45 to finish more than three seconds ahead of US silver medalist Courtney Frerichs, while Kenyan Hyvin Kiyeng won bronze.
“I’m so happy and proud of myself. It was a good race – I had fun and enjoyed the weather,” said Chemutai, referring to the heat in Tokyo.
Chemutai’s triumph was only Uganda’s third Olympic gold medal in all sports – following John Akii-Bua’s 400m hurdles victory in 1972 and Stephen Kiprotich’s victory in the 2012 marathon.
She took the lead at the start of the race before Frerichs took the initiative with three laps to go, pulling away from the peloton.
But Chemutai rose to the challenge and passed the American on the final lap before crossing the line 3.34 seconds ahead of her.
Kenyan world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech finished seventh, leaving her country still without a gold medal in the women’s event.
The Kenyans dominated the Olympic men’s 3000m steeplechase, winning nine straight gold medals before losing their crown to Moroccan Soufiane El Bakkali in Tokyo.
Chepkoech said she was far from looking her best physically.
“I have an injury and it was so tight. I didn’t even react, it’s painful,” she said.
“My goal was to win the race, but due to the injury my mind was not there. It was so painful.
“I have issues with two tendons and a hamstring, lower back and stomach. I injured myself before our trials in Kenya and it’s so tight since I tried to breastfeed it, but he could not react, “she added.
Frerichs became the second American to win an Olympic steeplechase medal after Emma Coburn won bronze in Rio in 2016. Coburn fell with two laps to go and was 14th before being disqualified.
Bronze medalist Kiyeng won silver in Rio.
While there was joy for Chemutai, it was a miserable day for world heptathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson, whose Olympic bid ended abruptly when she collapsed on the track for the 200m, months after suffering an Achilles tendon injury.
The Briton won her hurdle race and climbed 1.86m in the high jump before stopping in the fourth event, collapsing to the ground and grabbing her right ankle as volunteers offered her a wheelchair to pull her out of the track.
Johnson-Thompson waved them off, bravely rising and limping to the finish line as the few spectators inside the Olympic Stadium applauded him.
Dutch Anouk Vetter led the first day of competition, Belgium’s Noor Vidts second in the standings and her compatriot, reigning Olympic champion Nafissatou Thiam, third.
The heptathlon resumes Thursday, starting with the long jump.