Can Ezekiel Kemboi Take Global Title Number Five Before Conseslus Kipruto Takes Over? Can Evan Jager Medal?

August 5, 2013

Previewing the action for the 2013 IAAF World Outdoor Track and Field Championships isn’t easy for us at Even when we limit ourselves to just the mid-d and distance events, there are 12 events with a lot of athletes. Researching them takes a ton of time and leaves us no time to waste the day surfing the Internet entertain ourselves by reading the message board.

Thank goodness for the men’s steeple. Just look at the entrants born in Kenya, see if anyone else has a shot and you are done, right?

That’s certainly been the case since 1991 and is true once again this year. Starting in 1991, a Kenyan-born man has won all 11 World Titles and a Kenyan-born man has also won 10 of 11 silver medals as well (we say Kenyan-born as Kenyan born Saif Saaeed Shaheen won two golds for Qatar).

There are only six guys that you need to pay attention to in the men’s steeple and four of them are from Kenya (Kenya gets four entries as Ezekiel Kemboi is the defending champion). In terms of the gold medal, we think there are only three men who have shot – two guys whom everyone thinks are going to battle it out for gold and a third person with an outside shot.

The Two Gold Medal Favorites

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Ezekiel Kemboi is the man to beat.

The heavyweight matchup everyone is anticipating is a battle between that past and future of the event – Ezekiel Kemboi versus Conseslus Kipruto.

The 31-year-old Kemboi is an all-time great. He is two-time defending champion at Worlds (2009 and 2011, a 3-time silver medallist at Worlds as well). He also is a two-time Olympic champion (2004 and 2012). He also is the 2013 world leader and the only man on the year to have broken 8:00.

With all of his past accomplishments and given his top time from 2013, what is their possibly not to like about him?

Nothing really. Just sometimes in sports, greatness is matched by equal greatness. Roger Federer seemed unbeatable in tennis, and then suddenly there was Rafael Nadal – an equal rival, maybe even better rival. And now there is Novak Djokovic. If you watch any of them on their own, it seems as if it’s impossible for them to lose, but when greatness meets greatness in any sport, the cruel reality is there can only be one winner.

18-year-old Conseslus Kipruto very much looks like he’s going to be the next great Kenyan steepler. It’s very possible that in seven years when 2020 comes to a close, we’ll be talking about the great Conseslus Kipruto. By then, he very well could have two Olympic and two world titles like Kemboi does today.

Kipruto, like Kemboi, has a great track record as he was the 2011 World Youth and 2012 World Junior champion. What about this year? Well, take a look at his 2013 races and one thing should jump out at you:

Conseslus Kipruto In 2013
1. May 18 – 1st in Shanghai (8:01.16)
2. June 1st – 1st in Eugene (8:03.59)
3. June 13th – 1st in Oslo (8:04.48)
4. June 27th – 1st in Ostrava (8:11.27)
5. July 13th – 1st in Nairobi (8:13.5hA)

What do you notice? He hasn’t lost all year. Included in those victories were wins over Kemboi in Eugene and Nairobi.

But did you notice something else?

We did and it makes us a little bit nervous. Kipruto has run slower in each and every race he’s run this year. Yes, he won the Kenyan Trials in his last race over Kemboi, who was just sixth, and yes, it was at altitude, but as the defending champion Kemboi didn’t need to run hard to make the team and we have no proof that Kemboi did run hard as after the race he was doing his celebratory post-race dance.

Even if Kipruto’s times weren’t getting slower in each race, we’d still say Kemboi is a slight favorite over Kipruto. In our minds, Kemboi is the reigning champ, he’s got the fastest time on the year and he deserves to be considered the man to beat until he’s actually beaten for a World title.

Regardless, we expect it to be great theatre. 3-time World Champion and the first sub-8:00 steepler in history, Moses Kiptanui, told FeverPitch that either man could win, “If the race is slow and tactical, Kemboi will definitely win. He is a very cunning runner. But if the race is fast, this young man (Kipruto) will win. He is stronger.”

Don’t Forget Two-Time Olympic Silver Medallist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad

At the last two Olympics, there has been one man who didn’t get the memo that only Kenyan-born men are allowed to finish in the top two in the men’s steeple at global championships. France’s Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad grabbed silver in both 2008 and 2012.

This year, he’s in great form, as he broke the European record by running 8:00.09 in Paris, finishing second to Kemboi’s world-leading 7:59.03. He’s also lowered his 1,500 PR from 3:33.86 to 3:33.12. At age 28, if he’s ever going to make the move from silver to gold, this is seemingly the year for Mekhissi-Benabbad.

Who Else Can Medal?

Only those three men have a shot at gold in our opinion and as good as they all are, it’s going to be very hard for anyone else to medal. However, there are three other men at Worlds who have run under 8:10 this year and who have to be considered serious medal contenders – Kenyans Paul Kipsiele Koech and Abel Mutai and American Evan Jager.

Jager leaping into the record books in Monaco last year.

The Fastest Men In 2013 At Worlds
1 Ezekiel Kemboi KEN – 7:59.03 – Paris – 6-Jul
2 Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad FRA – 8:00.09 – Paris – 6-Jul
3 Conseslus Kipruto KEN – 8:01.16 – Shanghai – 18-May
4 Paul Kipsiele Koech KEN – 8:02.63 – Shanghai – 18-May
5 Evan Jager USA – 8:08.60 – Eugene – OR 1-Jun
6 Abel Mutai KEN – 8:08.83 – – Shanghai – 18-May

Kenya’s Abel Mutai won the bronze last year in the Olympics at age 23. This year, his results have been far from earth-shattering as he was fourth in Shanghai, sixth in Eugene and sixth in Oslo. But he got second at the Kenyan Trials, so he’s definitely a medal threat.

We have a lot less faith in the fourth Kenyan in the field, Paul Kipsiele Koech. Kipsiele Koech historically runs awfully at altitude, and this year, he was last at the Kenyan Trials but the Kenyans still named him to the team as he was the Diamond League champ last year.

We have zero idea why they were in such a hurry to name Kipsiele Koech to the team. Kipsiele Koech in many ways is the Steve Holman of the steeplechase in Kenya. He’s great at running super-fast in Europe but comes up short in championship races. The guy, who is #2 all-time in the steeple in terms of sub-8 clockings with nine, has run Worlds twice before and the Olympics once and has one bronze medal to show for it. You’d certainly expect more than that from a 7:54 performer. And this year, Kipsiele Koech hasn’t run super-fast in Europe as his seasonal best is “only” 8:02.63. If we were the Kenyans, at a minimum, we would have made him race the third and fourth placers from the Kenyan Trials (who were left off the team, including 2008 Olympic champ Brimin Kipruto) in London for the final spot to Worlds.

Kipsiele Koech’s addition to the team might make things a little bit easier for American record holder Evan Jager. Jager is a natural at the steeple. He set the 8:06.81 American record in his fifth steeple ever last year. The start of Worlds will be just his 11th steeple ever. He ran a stellar 8:08.60 in his opener in Eugene on June 1st. How have things gone since then?

We don’t really know as Jager rarely races.

After winning USAs, he only has one race to his name. A second-place finish in Lucerne in a 3,000 in on July in 7:43.36. What did that tell us? Not a whole lot.

Given the competition he’s facing in the big three and with there being four Kenyans allowed at Worlds, we already didn’t think a medal was in the cards for Jager this year. His convincing loss by.85 seconds to the 19-year-old Kenyan Cornelius Kangogo with modest PRs of 3:35/13:15 certainly didn’t make us change that belief.

Quick Take (QT) #1: In running 8:08 in Eugene, Evan Jager closed in 63 for his last lap. We told that to Jager and he said he and Coach Jerry Schumacher knew to have a shot to medal he needs to be able to close in at least 57 and they’re “going to have to figure out how to do that.” That seems about right, as it took a 57.7 last year to get bronze in the Olympics.

So start your stopwatch when Jager hits the bell. We don’t think a 57 is in the cards but a sub-60 would be a big step in the right direction as we estimate that last year he closed in 61 at the Olympics.

QT #2: We’re not saying it’s impossible that Jager medals. How could it happen?

He likely needs three of the four man Kenyan team to have a bad day and that’s not inconceivable. Here’s how it could happen:

Kipruto has been getting slower each race, so US fans can hope he’s burned out (but we doubt it, as he won the Kenyan Trials and the guys he beat went out and ran 8:06 with a 58 last lap).

Ezekiel Kemboi was only sixth at the Kenyan Trials. Maybe he really was trying and just not on his game (but how do you explain that he’s broken 8:00 for just the third time ever?).

Paul Kipsiele Koech has been less than impressive this year in Europe and championship races aren’t exactly where he’s traditionally excelled.

QT #3: There are two other Americans in the race. De’Sean Turner and Dan Huling. This is Turner’s first trip to Worlds and his running an 8:25.56 PR to qualify was a great accomplishment, but if you are a Turner fan, we suggest you get up early to watch the heats as we’d be very surprised if he made the final. This is Huling’s third trip, and given his 8:13.29 PR, he’ll certainly be hoping to make the final for the first time.

QT #4: A win here and Kemboi goes a long way in establishing himself as GOAT. If he wins, he should consider quickly moving up the marathon to get the heck out of the way of the Kipruto train that will be pulling into the station very soon.

More from the LRC Vault:
*2013 USAs: Men’s Steeplechase: Evan Jager Gets It Done As Dan Huling And De’Sean Turner Make The Team For Moscow *2013 Prefontaine Classic Men’s Steeplechase: Conseslus Kipruto Survives Ezekiel Kemboi’s Shove; Evan Jager 8:08
2012 Men’s Olympic Steeplechase: Ezekiel Kemboi Wins Second Olympic Steeplechase Title – Is He The Greatest Steeplechaser In History?
*2012: Evan Jager Breaks The American Steeplechase Record
*2011: Ezekiel Kemboi Wins His Third Global Title – Is He The Greatest Championships Steepler Ever?

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