Kikaya relishes African 400m record - World Athletics Final
Saturday 9 September 2006
Stuttgart, Germany - Although he finished a close second to World and Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner in the 400 metres today, the happiest man at Gottlieb-Daimler Stadium this afternoon was Gary Kikaya.
“Wow! African record? Wow!,” said the 26-year-old from the Democratic Republic of Congo after his 44.10 performance eclipsed the African record of 44.17 set by Nigeria’s Innocent Egbunike 19 years ago.
Gark Kikaya celebrates African champs gold
Building on the momentum that brought him a pair of national records this season, most recently in Berlin where he clocked 44.43, Kikaya is suddenly on the doorstep of the event’s all-time top-10.
“It’s one of my last meets of the year so I’m glad I peaked at the right time,” he said. “It’s been my best season by far.” Indeed, Kikaya has finally followed through on the potential he showed when he took the NCAA one-lap title in 2002 with a then-national record 44.53.
Born near Kinshasa, the Congolese capital, Kikaya moved to Johannesburg as a 12-year-old when his father, a career diplomat, was stationed there as the Ambassador to South Africa. Like most southern African youth, his sporting interests began with rugby and soccer, and he only turned to track as a senior at Queens High School in 1999 after watching the World Cup in Johannesburg the year before.
“When I saw the World Cup in South Africa, and saw all these great athletes, I was moved by that, and started taking track more seriously. Watching Michael Johnson, Frankie Fredericks, seeing people running 44 seconds. At that time I thought it was impossible.”
His exploits on the track eventually earned him a pair of scholarships, first to Rand Afrikaans University in South Africa and then again later to the University of Tennessee, arriving in Knoxville for the 2001-02 academic year.
He won the 2003 NCAA title indoors with a 45.71 national indoor record, but couldn’t repeat his outdoor triumph, finishing a distant fourth in 45.02. Later that summer, he reached the semi-finals of the World Championships in Paris, where he clocked a season’s best 44.99.
In 2004 he reached his first international success, taking the bronze medal at the World Indoor Championships in Budapest and produced an ourdoor season’s best of 44.80 at the Super Grand Prix in Madrid. He also competed in the Olympic Games for the first time, reaching the semi-finals. In 2005 he dipped under 45 seconds twice for the first time in his career, but again couldn’t move on from the semi-finals at the World Championships in Helsinki.
This season, Kikaya finally found the consistency he’d been seeking. Skipping the indoor season, he opened outdoors with victories in four of his first five races, and after a fifth place finish at the Gaz de France meeting in Paris, followed up with a near-PB 44.66 victory in the B race at Rome’s Golden Gala, the last time he’d be relegated to a B race. After a victory in Madrid’s Super Grand Prix, he equalled his 44.53 national record in Stockholm, finishing second to World and Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner. After a brief break, he captured the African title in Mauritius.
“I went there to collect the title and win the first medal for Congo,” he said. “Apart for the war that the Congo is known for, the medal was there for people to focus on something else. So that was good. This medal put me on the map there.”
His consistency continued. Third in Zurich (44.54), he finished second to Wariner in Brussels (44.62) a week later, before finally bettering his national record, in two consecutive races: 44.46 with a victory in Rieti and again at Berlin’s ISTAF to 44.43, again finishing second to Wariner. In the German capital, he closed strongly on Wariner, showing that the Olympic champion might finally be vulnerable, something that Kikaya underscored today.
“(I’m getting) Closer and closer, every race I’m closing the gap,” Kikaya said. “It shows that nobody’s invincible. That’s the beauty of this sport.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF
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