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LetsRun.com Berlin 2009: Men's Steeplechase A Scintillating Competition
The 2009 World Championships men's steeplechase will certainly be remembered as one of the most intriguing steeple finals in a long while. Kenya's Ezekiel Kemboi (right) won the gold while teammate Richard Mateelong took the silver and Frenchman Bouabdellah Tahri struck bronze to disrupt the coveted Kenyan sweep. Paul Kipsiele Koech tried desperately to hold off Tahri but fell short by 0.08 seconds, while Olympic champion Brimin Kipruto could not conted up front and finished seventh. It was the tenth consecutive WC steeplechase win for the Kenyan men.
Kemboi won in a fantastic championship record 8:00.43 seconds, while fourth place was 8:01.26 for Koech. That's correct, 8:01.26 earned Koech only fourth place in this amazing final.
While most people will only treat the Kenyans as a pack, we want to explain why the end results were actually very interesting if you look at the Kenyans as individuals.
Before we go any farther, just take a look at the splits below for the kilometers and the final five laps.
The pace, the athleticism, the finishing speed ... all were absolutely phenomenal, especially for the top 4. In fact, fifth-placer Yacob Jarso (ETH) wasn't even close, a full ten seconds behind.
Basically the phenomenal pace was set by Paul Kipsiele Koech for most of the race, though South African Ruben Ramolefi deserves credit for the early laps before he crashed back to second-to-last at the finishing line (8:32). Koech stuck his neck out there, hoping to burn off the competition so he and his countrymen could sprint away for a 1-4 finish. But it was not to be.
Brimin Kipruto Was The Favorite
Koech Narrowly Misses Medal Despite Unreal Effort
His performance in Berlin in 2009 should be described as nothing short of heroic as he ran a seasonal best 8:01.26 while leading a majority of the race. Normally, 8:00 is a phenomenal time in a rabbited race. To run it while out front is amazing. Only 0.08 separated Koech from Tahri for the bronze and coveted Kenyan sweep, but Koech's performance proved that he can really perform on the big day.
Remarkably, this year at the Kenyan Trials, Koech was again disappointed, finishing only 6th in the Trials in 8:36 (the race was won in 8:20). He only was allowed on the team thanks to a wild card entry (the Kenyans had four spots to use).
The Two Kenyan Medalists Hardly A Surprise
The fastest-ever Worlds or Olympic Games final (at least considering the top-four finishers) was won, however, by Ezekiel Kemboi. Kemboi, who was very entertaining in the post-race press appearance (watch to the right), has been a major force at these global championships for a long time. As he says, "In 2003 in Paris I was number two, silver. In 2005 in Helsinki I was again silver. In 2007 in Osaka I was again silver. So this year I say along with my coach Moses Kiptanui that I'm tired of silver."
Despite all this, his win was a bit of a surprise.
Kemboi hadn't been running very well recently. He was dropped by Kipruto and Mateelong at the Kenyan Trials by a full four seconds. In addition to getting drubbed at the Kenyan Trials, he also was beaten by two seconds by Olympic silver medallist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad in the Paris Golden league meet (who was plagued by injury in the 1st round in Berlin and didn't advance). Kemboi had run his seasonal best in Doha way back on May 8 and it looked like he was heading in the wrong direction, but he stepped it up big time. To be in such form to run 8:00.43 three-and-a-half months after running 7:58 is remarkable. His kick off of such a fast pace was phenomenal.
It was good to see Kemboi get his first World Championships gold and to see him come through this year on his guarantee for gold. Last year, Kemboi was the guy who famously said prior to not medalling at the Olympics the following: "I'm going to Beijing to defend my gold. If I don't win gold, I will never return to Kenya."
Thankfully for the Kenyans' sake, Kemboi did return to Kenya, as in 2009, he came through on his pre-race talk as last week he had said, "I'm tired of silver, silver, silver at World Championships! It is the only gold I do not have in my house."
The press conference with Kemboi was pretty entertaining so you might want to watch the clips above and below. In the longer clip above Kemboi talks about countries being good at certain events, "Steeplechase has been a Kenyan event but now it's worldwide ... But what I can say is this: You can go to the 200m and 400m and you get the Jamaicans and the Americans. But you cannot get an American in steeplechase ... In Kenya you cannot jump the long jump. And in Kenya you cannot run the 200 meters or 100 meters like Usain Bolt. Because if a Kenyan were to run maybe 12 seconds in the 100 meters, he would maybe be number 1,000. But when a Jamaican comes to the steeplechase he'd be like number 1,000. So you stay with your best, others stay with their best." Kemboi in the clip below talks about why he took off his shirt at the finish. This guy even got his haicut in a Nike swoosh and explains why here.
Tahri's Medal Not A Huge Surprise
Tahri joined Mateelong in setting personal bests in the race. Tahri's best is also a French national record.
Rare Kenyan Celebration
2009 Berlin World Championships Men's Steeplechase Final Results