Beatrice Chepkoech DESTROYS the steeplechase world record, Courtney Frerichs sets American record in Monaco women’s steeplechase

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by Robert Johnson
July 20, 2018

Last year, Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech was the best steeplechaser in the world but a missed water jump at Worlds prevented her from winning the world title. This evening in Monaco, Chepkoech showed she is best steeplechaser in history by smashing the world record of 8:52.78, clocking 8:44.32 in one of the greatest displays in the history of women’s distance running.

Considering the world record before tonight belonged to Ruth Jebet, who will be banned for doping in the coming months (the Athletics Integrity Unit officially announced today that she is facing a suspension for EPO), many consider the clean world record to be the 8:58.78 that Celliphine Chespol ran last year at the Pre Classic. Chepkoech beat that time by 14.46 seconds.

Finishing second behind Chepkoech was world championships silver medallist Courtney Frerichs of the US. Frerichs broke Emma Coburn’s 9:02.58 American record (and her own 9:03.77 personal best) with a 9:00.85 clocking, which makes Frerichs the 6th fastest woman in history, yet she lost by 16.53 seconds (Coburn was 4th in 9:05.06).

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That’s how good Chepkoech was. And yet Chepkoech said after the race that she thinks she can go faster.

“I wanted to break the world record, that was the plan from beginning of the season. And I was aware the biggest chance will be in Monaco due to weather, crowds and the whole environment. And this plan worked well. I knew I’m running fast splits, but I was not worried, I felt strong during the race. I was thinking maybe I can break 8:50 but not at all was I dreaming about 8.44. And this time still could be improved I’m sure,” said Chepkoech. “Maybe my next target could be to run under 8:40. It is great feeling I brought back to Kenya the steeple women record, I’m very proud of it. And that after six years of running and three years with steeple.”

The race itself was historic as seven women broke 9:10 — the previous record was just four. One of those women was Uganda’s Peruth Chemutai, the 19-year old lowered her pb from 9:16.89 to 9:07.94 to finish sixth. In the process, she broke 2005 world champion Dorcus Inzikuru’s national record of 9:15.04 which had stood since June 14, 2005.

The race

Chepkoech showed her intent to run fast from the gun. When she and pacemaker Caroline Tuigong, the 2006 world junior champ, hit the finish line for the first time just over 200 meters into the race, they had already gapped the field by more than a meter. Tuigong would barely make it 1k (2:55.23) and then it was all up to Chepkoech. Often in the steeple the second kilometer is the one where you see a world record attempt go awry, but here just the opposite occurred. WIth Tuigong off the track, Chepkoech accelerated. With Tuigong’s help, Chepkoech had run a 71.4 400 from 600 to 1k, but on her own she proceeded to picked it up, running her next two 400s in 68.6 and 70.5.

When Chepkoech hit 2000 in 5:49.81 looking full of run, it was clear that, barring a fall, the world record was going to be obliterated. Chepkoech slowed a bit on the penultimate lap (she ran a 71.4 from 2200 to 2600) but with history awaiting, she looked fantastic over her final 400, which she covered in 66.8 according to race organizers (Note: The race organizers estimated every 200 split; remember, because of the inside water jump, each lap is a little less than a full 400. We timed her last full lap to be 66.4).

Behind Chepkoech, Uganda’s Peruth Chemutai, the teeanger who was 7th in her Diamond League debut in Shanghai in May, was the only one who dared to try to run close to Chepkoech. At 1k, Chemutai, who snagged the silver behind Celliphine Chespol a week ago at World Juniors, was within a second of Chepkoech (2:56.0 vs 2:55.4), but once Chepkoech accelerated on the fifth-to-last lap, her lead instantly got huge as a lap later she led by 3 full seconds.

The two Americans in the field realized the pace was super hot early and ran smartly. The world champion Coburn was the 5th racer at 1k in 2:57.3 with Frerichs just behind her in 7th in 2:57.8. Frerichs passed Coburn between 1600 and 1800 and hit 2k in 6:00.5 before coming up just short of becoming the 5th woman under 9:00.

Results

    1 Chepkoech , Beatrice             KEN    8:44.32          8
    2 Frerichs , Courtney              USA    9:00.85          7
    3 Kiyeng , Hyvin                   KEN    9:04.41          6
    4 Coburn , Emma                    USA    9:05.06          5
    5 Jeruto , Norah                   KEN    9:07.20          4
    6 Chemutai , Peruth                UGA    9:07.94          3
    7 Chepngetich , Roseline           KEN    9:08.23          2
    8 Jepkemei , Daisy                 KEN    9:10.71          1
    9 Yavi , Winfred Mutile            BRN    9:10.74           
   10 Chespol , Celliphine Chepteek    KEN    9:12.05           
   11 Grøvdal , Karoline Bjerkeli      NOR    9:18.36           
   12 Quigley , Colleen                USA    9:20.99           
   13 Praught , Aisha                  JAM    9:25.48           
   14 Clarke , Rosie                   GBR    9:38.71           
   15 Claude-Boxberger , Ophélie       FRA    9:52.59           
      Tuigong , Caroline               KEN        DNF

Quick Take: What an unreal run for Chepkoech

What a performance. If you told us before the race that Chepkoech was going to break the WR, we wouldn’t have been shocked as after all she is a 14:39 5000 runner and we imagine a 14:39 5000 runner can beat Emma Coburn, who has a 9:02 pb, by more than 10 seconds in a 3000-meter long race. 

But 8:44 and a 15-second PB while looking good virtually the entire way with only a slight stutter on a single barrier on the last lap? That’s truly phenomenal.

Chepkoech was simply magnificent. And she looked so, so good doing it. At 2k, her face was so calm it looked like she was in the midst of a tempo run.

Quick Take: Frerichs classily pays tribute to Coburn after getting the American record

Courtney Frerichs after breaking American record

Courtney Frerichs after breaking American record

Coming into the race, we’re sure world champ Emma Coburn was focused on one thing: breaking 9:00. Now after the race, she doesn’t hold the American record anymore as she lost for the first time to Courtney Frerichs. That has to sting a little, but Frerichs paid tribute to Coburn after the race.

“I’m so proud of this American record and what will keep us going is the 9 minutes line and that’s what I’ll be aiming for. It feels amazing to be an American amongst all the Kenyans and I have to give so much credit to Emma for making this event what it is now in America. Who knows what’s coming next?” said Frerichs, who also was amazed by Chepkoech’s run saying, “That race was incredible! 8 seconds under the WR, it’s such a huge step for the event, to make its promotion!”

Quick Take: Comparing the men’s and women’s steeplechase world records

Given the number of Kenyan doping busts in recent years, we understand why some of you might be skeptical of Chepkoech’s heroic time tonight. But one messageboard poster had a nice post where they use some facts to get you to believe that the time isn’t so mind-boggling that it has to be dirty. As we pointed out in our pre-race article, the women’s steeplechase is still a newish event (it was first held at the Olympics in 2008) and thus the WR could have been a bit soft before tonight. Here is what poster “jklj” wrote,

It’s not a farce. The WR is soft.

They need to raise the barrier heights.

Remember, flat 3000m for Men WR is 7:20, record is 7:53

Women‘s flat 3000m is 8:06, record is 8:44

You tell me which is soft.

In our pre-race article, we wrote that we viewed the 9:00 barrier for women as being slightly easier to achieve than 8:00 for men. But 8:44 is way out there.

We think the best way to compare the two records is to compare them to the 20th-fastest flat 3000 performer in history.

The men’s steeplechase record of 7:53.63 is 5.56% slower than the time put up by the 20th-fastest outdoor 3000 man ever (7:28.70).

For the women, before tonight, the steeplechase world record of 8:52.78 was 5.37% slower than 20th flat 3000 performer in outdoor history (8:25.62). Now it is 3.70% slower. But remember, the women’s steeple height of 30 inches is relatively much lower than the 36 inch men’s height so the women’s WR should be a lower percentage of the flat 3000 mark. After the WR was set, we called up LetsRun.com stat guru John Kellogg – who didn’t watch the meet and had no idea what had happened what he thought the women’s steeplechase WR should be. Based on flat 3000 times, he said he thought it should be between 8:42 and 8:45. So there you have it. 

MB: John Kellogg is proven to be a genius yet again – He predicted the possibility of the 8:44 steeple WR (after the fact but..)

Post race interview with Chepkoeck

Post race interview with Frerichs:

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