By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
July 26, 2014
EUGENE, OREGON — Ruth Jebet made history here on day five of the IAAF World Junior Championships, becoming the first woman from Bahrain ever to medal in the meet’s fifteen editions. With just over three laps remaining in the women’s 3000m steeplechase, the Kenyan-born Jebet injected a dramatic surge that no one in the leading pack –including defending champion Daisy Jepkemei of Kenya– could respond to. By winning in 9:36.74, Jebet became the first athlete not carrying an Kenyan passport to ever win gold in the discipline.
“[I’m] so happy because my country is happy, happy to get it,” said Jebet, the 2003 Asian champion, a flag draped around her shoulders.
Just as she had in the preliminary rounds, Peru’s Zulema Arenas ran out front for a majority of the opening kilometer, quickly establishing a nine-woman lead pack. While Arenas led, Jebet, Jepkemei, and fellow Kenyan Rosefline Chepngetich sat content as they passed one kilometer in 3:12.16.
The race would dawdle in the middle laps, no one daring to test the waters by breaking clear. That would change with little more than three circuits of historic Hayward Field remaining, as Jebet changed gears into what appeared to be an all out sprint.
In a matter of seconds Jebet had 20 meters on the field, not looking back once.
“I had a particular time in mind. The pace felt really comfortable, and with three laps to go I looked at the clock, and the time was poor, so I decided to go faster,” Jebet told IAAF interviewers.
Realizing that a race-altering move had been made, Chepngetich did her best to respond, but could not chip away at the gap, which grew to roughly 30 meters at the bell. Jepkemei, another ten meters behind Chepngetich, was then out of contention.
At the bell, Jebet seemed to be slowing slightly, her form deteriorating a bit. However, the world junior leader in the discipline was able to maintain her comfortable cushion over the final three barriers and water jump, crossing the line in 9:36.74.
“I was really prepared for the race,” said Jebet. “I traveled all the way from Bahrain to here because I was really prepared for the race.”
By winning, Jebet earns Bahrain’s first gold medal of the meet, and increases their total haul between men and women to three. Interestingly, no woman from Bahrain had ever finished higher than fourth in any discipline at the previous fourteen IAAF World Junior Championships.
Chepngetich claimed silver in 9:40.28, a personal best, with Jepkemei holding on to bronze in 9:47.65. Frustrated and distraught, neither Kenyan would speak to the media or IAAF interviewers post race. The pair simply waved ‘no’ to the media, declining everyone including award-winning Kenyan athletics journalist Elias Makori. Jepkemei could be seen wiping tears from her eyes.
Rounding out the top five was a pair of Ethiopians, Buzuayehu Mohamed (9:48.66) and Weynshet Ansa (9:59.31).
Taking ninth in 10:21.59 was University of New Hampshire student-athlete Elinor Purrier, the only American in the final.
“It’s definitely mentally challenging knowing I gave all I had two days before,” she said, referring to the 10:08.33 personal best she set in the preliminary round. “I’m still happy with how I ran and I’m really excited [to be here].”
AMERICAN KINNAIRD LEADS 800m QUALIFIERS
Perhaps the biggest surprise of day five came in the men’s 800m semi-finals, where American Tre’tez Kinnaird was the fastest of all qualifiers. Leading heat three from start to finish, Kinnaird claimed victory in 1:48.04.
“It felt amazing. We didn’t go out that hard so I knew, since I’ve been running from the front all year, I knew that I could manage the pace that was comfortable for me. It was like I could play it in my hands,” said Kinnaird, who attends Indiana University.
Splitting 400 meters in 53.86, Kinnaird expected to be challenged down the stretch.
“I was waiting for those guys to come up and I was like, ‘Uh oh, I’m going to have to save up for this kick’ because they will be kicking like crazy,” said the 19-year-old. “But I held my own and I’m very satisfied with it and I’m really looking forward towards the final.”
By advancing, Kinnaird keeps America’s hopes for a medal in the discipline alive. At the 2010 IAAF World Junior Championships, the USA claimed silver (Robby Andrews) and bronze (Casimir Loxsom).
Kenyans Alfred Kipketer and Joshua Tiampati Masikonde won the first and second heats in 1:48.67 and 1:48.09, respectively. Executing similar strategies, both went right to the lead and never relinquished it.
After battling with Ethiopian Jena Umar for most of the final lap, Kipketer flailed his arms wildly coming down the homestretch. While Kipketer went on to win, Umar faded ever so slightly just as Great Britain’s Kyle Langford was charging hard. A lean gave Langford second in 1:48.7, with Umar third in 1:48.81.
“I am improving my time day and day, and today I think it was tough, not perfect, a little tired,” Kipketer told Race Results Weekly. “But I am ready for a tough final race. It will be a challenge.”
Shortly after the finish, Langford could be seen grabbing his hamstring, visibly in pain. It was confirmed to Race Results Weekly that Langford suffered what was described as a slight niggle, though should be good to go for tomorrow’s final.
Running well within himself in heat two was Masikonde, leading through 400 meters in 53.94. Not until 100 meters remained did Masikonde open his stride, his lanky arms and legs pumping fast and furious.
Across the line in 1:48.09, Masikonde finished ahead of Sweden’s Andreas Almgren (1:48.87).
Tomorrow, in the final day of these championships, finals in the men’s 800m and 3000m steeplechase, as well as the women’s 1500m, will be contested.
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