October 4th, 2019
An anticipated highlight on Day Eight of these 2019 World Athletics Championships was the final of the men’s 3000 meter steeplechase. The complexion of this event was markedly different than in recent years of global contests due to the absence of American record holder Evan Jager who has been sidelined this entire year due to a nagging foot injury. Although Jager, a steeplechase medalist in both the ’16 Olympic Games [silver] and the ’17 world championships [bronze], was out of the picture, the superior quality of the field was beyond question as every single steeplechaser listed in the 2019 top ten world leader list was present for this global gathering and had made the final.
For many, the final was shaping up to be a showdown between two co-favorites. 23-year-old Soufiane El Bakkali, the ‘17 world championship silver medalist, came to Qatar with the world-leading mark of 8.04.82 and three 2019 Diamond League steeplechase wins to his credit, including one here in Doha in the Khalifa International Stadium. The other co-favorite, 19-year-old Ethiopian Getnet Wale, who upset Bakkali in the Brussels DL final, arrived with the #3 clocking [8:05.51] on the world leader list.
But another steeplechaser, not in this year’s top ten world leader list, nonetheless deserved some consideration. Although an aggravated foot injury kept Conseslus Kipruto out of competition until late in this extended season, the 24-year old Kenyan nonetheless came to Doha with glittering credentials: reigning Olympic and world championship steeplechase gold medalist; 16 Diamond League victories and 3 DL steeplechase championship wins, and a personal best of 8:00.12. But having competed in only 3 races this year, including a lackluster 7th place finish in the Brussels DL steeple final, Kipruto remained a mystery. Would he be a factor in this world championship final?
Shortly after the start of the steeplechase – a grueling 7½ lap event featuring 28 barriers and 7 water jumps – two Ethiopians, ’19 DL champion Getnet Wale and his young countryman Lamecha Girma, stormed to the front to lead the field through the first kilometer in 2:39.55 – sub 8:00 pace. The pace eased slightly as Girma hit 2 kilos in 5:22.95. Although the tempo – still on world leader pace – had worked to thin the field, a tight pack of Girma, Bakkali, and now Kipruto were still well positioned for the battle for the medals as the bell lap began. On the backstretch, 18-year-old Girma went first, uncorking a powerful sprint, his bid for the gold. Even Girma’s aggressive final water jump, clearing the water completely, was insufficient to shake Bakkali or the surprising Kipruto. The trio tore around the final curve for the drive down the homestretch. While Bakkali began to sag, a perfect final barrier clearance appeared to give Girma the slight edge he needed to capture the gold. But a relentless closing sprint by the crafty Kipruto positioned him for the all-important final drive to the line. A perfectly-timed lean at the finish was just enough to give Kipruto [world leading 8:01.35] the victory over Girma [8:01.36, an Ethiopian national record] by the slimmest of margins. Bakkali posted a season’s best 8:03.76] to capture the bronze. DL champ Wale [a personal best 8:05.21] was 4th while France’s Djilali Bedrani [a personal best 8:05.23] crossed next to round out the top 5.
Three Americans made the steeplechase final. Knowing that medals were unlikely, each hoped to run a competitive race that evidenced progression. 29-year-old Hillary Bor finished 8th in 8:09.33, just missing his PR clocking of 8:08.41 set at Doha’s Diamond League meet earlier this year. Stanley Kebeni finished 10th in 8:11.15, his best clocking this season. And former Indiana University athlete Andrew Bayer finished 12th in a personal best of 8:12.47. Standing with his steeplechase teammates in the mixed zone after the race, Bayer served as the spokesman. “Honestly my goal was to come in and finish in the top half of the field and break 8:10 in the final,” revealed the former NCAA 1500 meter champion. “I can look at places where I can still improve a lot. So I am excited to take a little break here and get ready for next year. This has been a really good learning experience. I’m frustrated that I was 12th, but it kind of lights the fire to be better next year. The goal here is to be vying for medals and we have a big jump to go there. But we start by seeing if we can get into that top 5. It’s great to be here with these guys [Bor and Kebeni]. It’s been a good time.”
Dave Hunter is an award-winning journalist who is a U.S. Correspondent for Track & Field News. He also writes a weekly column and serves as Senior Writer for www.RunBlogRun.com, and covers championship track & field competition domestically and in such global capitals as Moscow, Birmingham, Zurich, Brussels, Beijing, Rio de Janeiro, Zagreb, and Ostrava. Hunter frequently serves as the arena or stadium announcer for championship track & field gatherings, including the Ivy League, the Big East, the Mid-American Conference, the NAIA, the Big Ten, and the Millrose Games. Hunter has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments.. He ran his marathon P.R. of 2:31:40 on the Boston Marathon course back in the Paleozoic Era. To find out more about Dave, visit his website: www.trackandfieldhunter.com He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org