By Ian Chadband
BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) – Marie-Josee Ta Lou once said of her Ivory Coast compatriot Murielle Ahoure, the great trailblazer for African sprinting: “She opened the door — and I followed.”
On a glorious night for the Ivorians in Birmingham, it was again the brilliant Ahoure who led the way, only this time to slam the door on her domestic rival in a landmark one-two in the 60 meters sprint at the world indoor championships.
Not that the destination of the gold and silver seemed to matter to either of these sporting pioneers, whose fame back in the Ivory Coast has a reverential feel similar to that of the nation’s great soccer icon Didier Drogba.
All that mattered about their thrilling duel, the embracing pair felt, was that the Ivory Coast had triumphed.
“It’s huge to get gold and silver. The Ivory Coast is on top, we’re so happy and hopefully soon we’ll be able to take over the whole podium!” beamed the 30-year-old Ahoure, whose triumph in 6.97 seconds was the sixth fastest run in history.
Ta Lou, who snatched the silver from Switzerland’s Mujinga Kambundji with both being timed at 7.05, also ousted the race’s two most celebrated names, Jamaica’s double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, fourth in 7.08, and Dutch flyer Dafne Schippers, fifth in 7.10.
“Every day, I say that the Ivory Coast is good and I really believe that,” smiled Ta Lou. “I was happy to see Murielle in gold and I’m happy to see two girls representing us on the podium.”
Her delight was evidently genuine despite the fact that Ta Lou, who had won two silvers at the world championships in London last year, was supposed to be taking the mantle from Ahoure, who seemed to be fading a little in 2017.
Instead, Ahoure reckoned she had been inspired by the memory of her late father, who had died of cancer.
“This last year has been so difficult with my father. I knew he was watching from up there,” said the emotional Ahoure, thinking of the man who had played a major role in Ivorian life as a former chief of staff of their national army.
“I was talking to him before the race, saying ‘please dad, help me in the race.’ I couldn’t get a gold medal when he was alive. I have so much pent-up emotion now.”
Four times previously, indeed, Ahoure had won global silvers, so this victory will be greeted with delight back home where she once noted: “They call me the ‘female Drogba’ in terms of being a sporting star – not much pressure there then!”
Ahoure, who had previously been the first female African sprinter to win a 100 meters medal at the world athletics championships in Moscow 2013, has remained a huge supporter of Ivorian sport despite a jet-setting lifestyle which saw her schooled in both France and the United States.
Despite her own itinerant background, she has always remained faithful to her ambition of helping other African athletes stay and train in Africa.
(Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Toby Davis)