Finally, GAA's first domestic competition of 2017 was hosted on Feb 18th, 2017. Ghana based athletes had a rollicking time in the Northern regional capital of Tamale, in a National Circuit Championship competition that produced some riveting performances that belied the fact that this was only the maiden competition of the year, and that some had travelled 12 hours or more, by road, to get to Tamale just the day before.
Notwithstanding the 38 degree temperature and the imposing harmattan (dry and dusty), the exciting performances filled spectators in the stadium and the entirety of Ghana Athletics with great anticipation for the 2017 season. Perhaps most reflective of the noise-raising events was the Women's 100m dash. After four ladies posted sub 11.90s times in their respective heats, the final did not fail to live up to expectation, producing results that simultaneously thrilled and raised hopes for a year even better than 2016. For the first time that anyone can recall, a race comprising Ghana-based athletes produced, yes, FOUR sub-11.90s sprinters, and a stunning upset to boot.
Hor Halutie, a 16-year old SS2 student from TI Amass Senior High School took control of the race very early and never looked back until she breasted the tape in a personal best time of 11.75 seconds. It took an electronic timer photo to separate the second and third places, with Rio Olympian Dorcas Gyimah coming in at 11.84s and University of Ghana's 18-year old Ida Mensah (runner-up at last month's Mini-GUSA Games, and one of the three sprinters camped by Rex Brobbey's Ghana's Fastest Human project) a hundredth of a second behind in 11.85s. Happy Abruyah rounded out the top quartet, coming home in 11.89s. Halutie's time qualifies her for the World Youth Championship to be held later this year in Nairobi, Kenya. More excitingly for GAA, it justifies the decision taken four years ago to disburse athletics events around the entire country; Halutie, from Wa in the Upper West Region, was a JHS student there when the first-ever National Circuit competition was held in that city in 2014.
Other events that impressed included the Women's 1500 meters, where Ghana's emerging strengths in the middle distances were reconfirmed with impressive showings by Sakat Lariba, winning in 4.32.24 and 16-year old youth athlete, Hawa Kombat, coming in second at 4.39.07; Kombat's time was just six seconds of the qualifying mark for the World Youth Championship. In the 10,000 meter event, Elizabeth Azuure ran to victory in 35 minutes, 42.76 seconds, with an impressive 4th place showing by 12-year old, crowd favorite Ramata Abdulai. Heptathlon Queen, Margaret Simpson, started her second season on the National Circuit with an impressive triad of victories, winning the shot putt, 100m hurdles, and long jump over her much younger competition.
The men were not to be left out of the domestic inaugural, posting some very decent marks on the day. Four hours after running the heats of the 800 meters, Samuel Yaro came back with a decisive victory in the final in a useful time of 1.51.73. The men's 5000m race was a torrid affair, and it took all 12.5 laps to sort out the top-four runners of the last few years; at the end, 2016 10,000 meter champion Malik Yakubu separated himself from emerging youngster Matthew Nantiere, 2016 1500m champion Prosper Goku, and evergreen Godwin Adukpo in the closely contested, battle royale race.
The men's 200m sprint produced a very decent time of 21.24s from Sarfo Ansah, with Emmanuel Oduro Mensah close behind in 21.37s. An exciting competition in the men's High Jump saw three athletes (Obed Ennin, Ezekiel Quarshie, and Robert Kotei) share the honors by cresting 2.00 meters in the scorching heat. In the men's Javelin, Benjamin Numo (63.83m) and Emmanuel Gyefa (61.81m) thrilled the crowd by consistently hurling the implement beyond the 60-meter mark.
Meanwhile in Europe, Rio Olympian Sean Safo-Antwi gave Ghana a second bite of the cherry, following up Flings Owusu-Agyapong's European Circuit win of the previous week, with a victory of his own in Athlone, Ireland on Feb 15th. Safo-Antwi's time of 6.56s was the second fastest of his career in the 60 meter event. In the same competition, Rio Olympian Flings Owusu-Agyapong ran a seasonal best 7.26s to come in second place in the women's sprint.
In far away, USA, middle distance runners continued to titillate Ghanaian athletics. On Friday afternoon, Martha Bissah shaved off almost seven seconds from Agnes Abu's national mile record by running 4.53.58 to win the MEAC Championships. Less than 24 hours later, Agnes Abu returned the favor by knocking off an additional 10 seconds to reclaim the record in a time of 4.43.61m at the Conference USA Championship. Other spectacular performances came in Conference USA Championship victories by Rio Olympian Emmanuel Dasor in the 400m (46.54s) and Solomon Afful who recorded an indoor personal best in the 200m (21.00s).
The women's sprint juggle in the USA continued, with Janet Amponsah moving up the 60m ranking with a time of 7.43s; she came back to lower her 200m time to 23.56s, while Safia Bright clocked a personal best 24.08s to tie for second in the Ghanaian ranking for that event. In the long sprints, Shawkia Iddrisu lowered her indoor personal best to 54.82s, while Agnes Abrocquah clocked 1.34.38m in the 600m event.
High jumper, Abigail Kwarteng, upped her performance to 1.76m while the third national record of the week was recorded by Atsu Nyamadi in the 7-event indoor Heptathlon, where Nyamadi posted 5505 points. Most notable was his huge improvement in the Pole Vault event, where he recorded a personal best of 4.29m (in addition to a personal best of 14.46m in the shot putt) to stand him in good stead of finally breaking the 8000m outdoors.
Continue to follow Ghana Athletics via our Facebook page, where you can also watch videos of some of the athletes' outstanding performances, and send them missives of encouragement.