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Shenzhen humidity slows favorites at Universiade Athletics

Shenzhen humidity slows favorites at Universiade Athletics

SHENZHEN, August 20, 2001 - Paul Tergat, Haile Gebreselassie, Kenenisa Bekele, Moses Masai, Imane Merga, Sileshi Sihine -- these are some of the names that come to mind when mentioning the 10,000 meters. These greats have put East Africa on the world map for the past two decades.

Growing up watching these athletes winning the races the Olympics, World championships, African championships and other meets, I often marveled how much their bodies could handle the pressure of going around the 400-meter track not once but 25 times and still have enough energy to step on the gas as the bell chimed to signal the final lap.

At the Shenzhen Universiade, much as I was aware that these big names would not be in attendance, I knew the athletes would be looking to follow in the footsteps of the greats and challenge strongly for the medals.

There was no doubt that the long distance masters-from the East African nations led by the Kenyans would definitely bring much excitement to the race. Russian, Sergey Rybin, had opened up a significant gap of about 50 metres ahead of the rest of the pack in the men's 10 000m race.

Halfway through the race one of the Kenyans, Kennedy Chemeitoi, had retired; the other, ObedTiony Kipkemboi, and another East African, Joseph Chebet of Uganda were clearly struggling as they trudged on and had already been lapped twice by the race leader, Rybin.

Tiony, a Shanghai University student, had been expected to weather the humidity that many of his competitors would be experiencing for the first time. He however lost that battle. His body simply gave in to the suffocating heat and humidity.

"I thought I had prepared well enough but I could not handle the humidity. Even jogging and pacing when I realized I was being affected did not help, " Tiony said.

With five laps to go, it seemed the race was all but over –with the Russian, racing away to victory. But alas he too began to fade.

The crowds urged him on but even that couldn't give him the stability he so much needed after racing for over 27 minutes in the heat.

Then with just over 200m to go Rybin legs gave in as he, literally, tumbled down in a heap, next to the steeplechase water jump.

Behind him, having run a solid, intelligent, well-paced race was Suguru Osako of Japan. He took advantage of the last minute drawback to win the race in a season best time of 28 minutes 42.83 seconds.

"It was tough. The humidity was getting me down but I held on to hope. I got renewed strength when I saw on the stadium screen that the leader had fallen down and went for the gold," said Osako.

Second place went to Stephen Mokoka of South Africa in a time of 28 minutes 53.09 seconds. Morocco's Ahmed Tamri was third in 29:06.20.

Both Rybin and Tiony had to be treated for heat exhaustion. The doctors' verdict was that their bodies had very little sugar and water and had they gone on with the race both would have been in grave danger.