Joseph Fahnbulleh says he has vast room for improvement after finishing fourth in the 200m final on his World Athletics Championships debut in Oregon.
“I did not perform to my highest level. I give it a B minus at best,” he told BBC Sport Africa.
“I need to do better on executing and that comes with maturing and growth. Getting fourth in a field where it was like no other – this year especially – I need to take some merit. But the merit is only 1%.”
Fahnbulleh became a young African athlete to watch out for with his performances at the Tokyo Olympics, setting a new Liberian national record of 19.98s in the final.
He arrived at the World Championships as the fifth-fastest sprinter this year after a blistering season that saw him become America’s National Collegiate Athletic Association 100m and 200m champion, lowering his personal best time in the latter event to 19.83s.
He admitted to battling race anxiety after his semi-final on day five, and he remained extremely critical of his race execution in a final where his training partner Erriyon Knighton won the bronze medal in an all-American podium.
His time of 19.84 is the second-fastest of his career, but he refuses to look at his performance as progress.
“I ran faster three weeks ago. It was like I was running stale. It wasn’t because of my training or my coach, it was because of me,” admitted Fahnbulleh.
“The last 10 to like 15 metres, I was just trying so hard. The form was gone and there was no technique. I was just trying to make it.
“I am capable of running 19.5. I am humbled. That just means that I need to work harder. Every day going forward, I will put every foot on the ground with conviction and with passion.”
South Africa’s Luxolo Adams, the continent’s other representative in the men’s 200m final, had the fastest reaction time on the track but quickly faded and finished eighth in a time of 20.47.
“I think I really need to work on my mental toughness,I feel like that’s mostly where my competitors are doing quite well,” said Adams.
“I just need to work on that and anything is possible. It’s not like I’m far away. I just need to work on small things and I’ll get to the top.”
Cheptegei still in hunt for double
Oscar Chelimo, Joshua Cheptegei and Selemon Barega came through a fiercely-contested 5,000m heat
The only African finalist in the women’s 200m final, Aminatou Seyni, also finished fourth, but she will head back to Niger proud of her showing at her first World Championships.
The African champion broke the national record when she won her heat with a time of 21.98secs on day five in Eugene.
In other races of the day, Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei kept his hopes of a long distance double alive after coming fourth in his 5,000m semi-final.
That heat was somewhat a preview of what to expect in the final, with the field sticking together for the better part of the race before needing to engage a killer sprint finish to be assured of an automatic final slot.
“It was important to be in the top five to make the final and that’s exactly what I wanted,” Cheptegei, who retained his 10,000m world title in Eugene, told BBC Sport Africa.
“The race was like a final but it’s a World Championship, the field is deep.”
The heat, which saw the top seven men separated by just 0.53 seconds, was won by Uganda’s Oscar Chelimo with 2019 World Championship silver medallist Selemon Barega in third.
“I had already used up a lot of energy in the 10,000m final,” Barega said. “This race was very fast – like a 1500m race. I am happy I have qualified.”
Progress for Nakaayi and Zango but Yego exits javelin
Elsewhere, defending women’s 800m world champion Halimah Nakaayi of Uganda qualified for the semi-finals, finishing second in a heat won by reigning Olympic champion Athing Mu.
“Being the defending champion is enough to motivate me to push myself, but I have to get to the final first,” Nakaayi said.
“I have to believe in myself. I have to believe it’s possible and that it can happen again.”
Ethiopia’s Freweyni Hailu and Habitam Alemu, Kenya’s Mary Moraa and South Africa’s Prudence Sekgodiso are the other Africans who qualified for the semi-finals (Saturday, 01:35 GMT).
Off the track, African Championships javelin silver medallist Ihab Abdelrahman was the only African who qualified for the finals with a throw of 83.41 metres.
Reigning African champion Julius Yego made a first-round exit after only managing to throw 79.60m.
In the other field event of the day, world and Olympic triple jump bronze medallist Hugues Fabrice Zango registered the second-longest jump (15.15m) in the qualifiers to storm into the final.