Siblings hand Kenya first Paralympic Games medal

Finally, ‘Chela’ and ‘Kip’ hand Kenya first Paralympic Games medal… a bronze

Nancy Chelangat Koech, guided by her brother Geoffrey Kiplangat Rotich, broke Kenya’s duck at the Paralympic Games at the National Stadium here on Monday, bagging a bronze medal in the 1,500 metres’ T11 final to end the agonisingly long wait for silverware.

The T11 class is for athletes with a certain level of visual impairment.

Mexico’s Monica Olivia Rodriquez Saavedra took gold in a world record time of four minutes, 37.40 seconds, beating the previous mark of 4:39.92 held by China’s Jin Zheng from the last Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

South Africa’s Louzanne Coetze settled for silver in 4:40.96 with Chelangat’s bronze coming in 4:45.58.

Just as Kenya was headed for a medal-less championship, Chelangat took to the start line at 9.38am knowing well that the weight of a nation rested on her 26-year-old shoulders, and those of her elder brother-guide.

Despite the fact that Chengat, with a personal best time of 4:42.12 was the fastest in the field, it was always going to be a difficult final with Rodriquez Saavedra and Coetzee in red hot shape.

Kenya’s Nancy Chelangat Koech goes down in celebration after winning the bronze medal in the 1,500 metres T11 final at the National Stadium in Tokyo on August 30, 2021./Pool

In fact, Coetzee spent the most part of her training last week focusing in 200m speed intervals at the Yoyogi Park Stadium, an indication that she wanted to enhance her kick for the medals.

And everything went as per script with the South African and Mexican throwing down the gauntlet.

A few were willing to take up the challenge.

“Chela” and “Kip” remained tucked behind the early pacemakers who crossed 400-metre mark in 74:66 with Coetzee in the lead before Rodriquez Saavedra hit the front to pass the 800m mark in 2:28.87.

At the bell, it was clear that gold and silver was Mexico’s and South Africa’s with the Kenyan siblings bidding their time patiently behind Poland’s dance champion Joanna Mazur guided by her coach Michal Stawicki.

With about 80 metres to go, the Kenyan pair danced past the Poles with Chelangat dropping down on her knees in celebration after crossing the finish line, her brother covering her with the Kenyan flag in celebration.

She had added a bronze medal to the silver she won over the distance at the Rio 2016 Games in her current personal best 4:42.12.

“It was a tough race,” Kiplangat explained.

“I saw ‘Chela’ was tiring and I told her to be strong because we needed to save Team Kenya,” he added, alluding to the fact that in the run-up to their race, Kenya was yet to win a medal at these Games.

“I told her we must get any medal.

“In the last lap, we had almost lost hope, but I spoke to her and told her that we still have 400 metres, and then 200 metres.

“We got to 200 metres and I told her the girl in front wasn’t far, although I could see a gap between us.”

“Chela” corroborated the game plan, thanking her brother for the tactics and motivation that guided her to the her second Paralympic Games podium.

Kenya’s Nancy Chelangat Koech and her brother Geoffrey Kiplangat Koech celebrate after winning the bronze medal in the 1,500 metres T11 final at the National Stadium in Tokyo on August 30, 2021./Pool

“At 200 metres, he told me we can catch up with the ones in front of us and then I had to go for it.

“I had told myself that I must get a medal of any colour,” she added.

There was drama in both heats of the men’s 1,500m T11 class with Kenya’s Wilson Bii (guided by Robert Tarus) disqualified for an infringement on a rule touching on eligibility of the tether (string that ties runner and guide together).

And then in the second heat, guide David Korir was tripped by Brazilian Julio Cesar Agripino dos Santos just as he and Eric Kiptoo Sang were starting to kick for the finish.

The Kenyan camp successfully lodged an appeal and Sang now will be among the frontrunners in Tuesday’s final to be run at 9.38am local time (3.38am Kenyan time).

Kenya’s Erick Kiptoo Sang and his guide David Korir (front) are tripped by the Brazilian pair of Julio Cesar Agripino dos Santos and Lutimar Abreu Paes during their heat of the 1,500 metres T11 race at the National Stadium in Tokyo on August 30, 2021). The Kenyans appealed and were reinstated into the final on August 31, 2021.

Sang looked strong and is a strong prospect for a medal on Tuesday.

“We had calculated the race well and were targeting the Brazilian,” he said.

“But we were tripped from behind which was an infringement of the rules. We hope our management appeals so that I can run in the final.”

His wishes were granted by the successful appeal and he will most certainly hit back with a medal of any colour in Tuesday’s final.

Results in the final of the women’s 1,500 metres T11:
1. Monica Olivia Saavedra (Guide: Aguilar Perez Kevin Teodoro), Mexico 4:37.40
2. Louzanne Coetzee (Guide: Erasmus Badenhorst), South Africa 4:40.96
3. Nancy Chelangat Koech (Guide: Geoffrey Kiplangat Rotich), Kenya 4:45.58
4. Joanna Mazur (Guide: Michal Stawicki), Poland 4:52.67
5. Susana Rodriquez (Guide: Celso Comesana Pereira), Spain 4:52.72
6. Ziqin Huang (Guide: Shanshan He), China 4:52.72

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