Men’s Steeple Prelims: Evan Jager Advances With Ease But So Do Three Kenyans As Well

Canada Places One – Maybe Two – In The Final

August 12, 2013

Moscow, Russia – Evan Jager’s medal hopes live on. The men’s steeplechase prelims were run this morning at the 14th IAAF World Championships at Luzhniki Stadium and all six of our pre-race medal contenders including the two-time US champion Jager moved on to the final. Our six pre-race medal contenders were the six men who have run under 8:10 this year.

That doesn’t mean that the steeple prelims weren’t without some surprises and intrigue. Not making the final was the #7 seed based on 2013 seasonal best times in Ethiopia’s Roba Gari, who was fourth at last year’s Olympics. That development was definitely a surprise but the 31-year old Gari hadn’t been running particularly well this summer. He ran 8:24 in both Oslo and Ostrava before improving to 8:12 in his last outing in Paris.

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

The 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Abel Mutai did advance as an auto-qualifier out of heat one but didn’t look good in doing so.

Also not making the final was Jager’s training partner Dan Huling. Huling, who has run 8:13 in the past, and felt confident he was at a new level of fitness this year now that he’s training with the American record holder, was a total non-factor in the first heat where he finished last in 8:37.80. The third US team member DeSean Turner also didn’t advance out of heat three. Turner did put up a very competitive performance as he was fifth in his heat in 8:28.44, despite having his shoe come untied.

In terms of positive surprises, two of the three Canadians in the field were outstanding. Former two-time NCAA champ Matt Hughes of Louisville finished second in heat two in a new personal best of 8:16.93 (previous pb 8:21.34). Canadian Trials third-placer Alexandre Genest also ran well to initially advance as one of six time qualifiers out of heat two before being one of five people initially disqualified for running on the line for the outside water jump. A TOTALLY ABSURD decision (that may be reversed). If five pros are running on the line, then the setup is not how it should be. Don’t DQ them for a technical violation. Go out and buy a rail so it doesn’t happen.

Heat by heat breakdown below.

Heat 1: Mutai Doesn’t Look Good and Huling Bombs Out

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1    465    Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad    FRA    8:15.43 Q
2    254    Matthew Hughes    CAN    8:16.93 Q    PB
3    720    Abel Kiprop Mutai    KEN    8:19.15 Q
4    392    Ángel Mullera    ESP    8:19.26 q    SB
5    784    Ion Luchianov    MDA    8:19.64 q    SB
6    1077    Benjamin Kiplagat    UGA    8:21.14 q
7    108    Abdelmadjed Touil    ALG    08:25.9
8    964    Ilgizar Safiullin    RUS    08:28.7    PB
9    1100    Vadym Slobodenyuk    UKR    08:33.6
10    230    Tareq Mubarak Taher    BRN    08:34.3    SB
11    857    Mateusz Demczyszak    POL    08:34.6
12    771    Jaouad Chemlal    MAR    08:36.3
13    1133    Daniel Huling    USA    08:37.8
611    Yuri Floriani    ITA    DQ
Split times
1000m 2:44.64 Benjamin Kiplagat UGANDA UGA
2000m 5:30.86 Benjamin KiplagatUGANDA UGA

Heat one was the fastest of the day thanks to Uganda’s Benjamin Kiplagat (8:13.07 this year – #9 in the field) who did the pace setting for the first 2k. While he faded at the end, he was rewarded with one of the six time qualifiers to Thursday’s 15-person final thanks to his 8:21.14 clocking in sixth.

Matt Hughes looking over his shoulder to confirm he's actually leading with just over 200 left Matt Hughes Looked Great

The big positive surprise in this heat was how good former Louisville star Matt Hughes looked. He pushed with a lap and a quarter left and led for most of the last lap before ceding the heat win to Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of France, the two-time Olympic silver medallist.

Finishing third behind them was last year’s bronze medallist Abel Kiprop Mutai of Kenya. While he qualified automatically as the third and final time qualifier, the Kenyan didn’t look good in doing so. He was well up on fourth coming over the last barrier but started to slow down and was nearly nipped at the line for the final auto qualifying spot. It wouldn’t have mattered in the end but this certainly didn’t look like a case of a guy simply shutting it down early. Yes, he let up but he also just looked pretty awful.

The biggest negative surprise from a US perspective was how bad Dan Huling looked. He was just completely off his game in this one.

Quik Take #1: Mutai’s struggles are good news for American fans as Jager looks like the #5 man heading into the final. It’s going to be hard for Jager to medal though as the Kenyans have four entries here.

QT #2: We caught up with Huling after the race and he didn’t make any excuses and was very hard on himself.

Before taping the interview, he asked us to turn off the recorder. We did so and then he slammed his performance with some expletives.

“I just sucked really, really bad,” said Huling, who has now been to Worlds three times and never made the final, to start his formal interview. “The whole race felt hard and I don’t know why as I’ve been running every workout with Evan and he’s in 8:00 flat shape.”

Coming in, Huling said he was the “most confident” and “most prepared” he’s ever been and was almost at a loss to explain what happened. “Maybe I”m a choker, shoot I don’t know. I don’t think of myself as a choker.”

As for the future, Huling was hoping to break 8:10 here and then get into Zurich where he is on the wait-list but now it’s going to be hard to get into that race.

Huling added that his training had been going really well and coach Jerry Schumacher had told him he was performing similar to how Evan Jager did last year in practice.

“It’s probably the best training I’ve ever had by far. And I’ve felt really good for the last week or so – I mean really good, just ready to go. It’s just frustrating.”

Want to listen to the whole formal part of the interview? You can download the audio by clicking here.

QT #3: Our interview with Hughes is on the right. He said he was expecting a big race today and didn’t rule out a medal in the final. He knows it’s a big dream as he said he’s not going to be disappointed if he doesn’t medal. A nice consolation prize might be Graeme Fell‘s Canadian record of 8:12.58 which dates to 1985.

Heat 2: Evan Jager and Ezekiel Kemboi Look Great

1    1136    Evan Jager    USA    8:23.76 Q
2    702    Ezekiel Kemboi    KEN    8:23.84 Q
3    471    Noureddine Smaïl    FRA    8:24.05 Q
4    1075    Jacob Araptany    UGA    8:24.53 q
5    1192    José Peña    VEN    8:24.88 q
6    548    Steffen Uliczka    GER    08:28.3
7    372    Roberto Alaiz    ESP    08:33.3
8    505    James Wilkinson    GBR    08:35.1
9    420    Roba Gari    ETH    08:45.1
605    Jamel Chatbi    ITA    DQ
251    Alex Genest    CAN    DQ
110    Abdelhamid Zerrifi    ALG    DQ
769    Mohammed Boulama    MAR    DNF

Split times
1000m    02:52.7    Jacob Araptany    UGA
2000m    05:44.3    Jacob Araptany    UGA

Evan Jager and three others approaching the final water jump Evan Jager and Kemboi on the Final Water Jump

Heading into the bell lap (7:18.92) of heat two, five men were clear of the rest of the field with three auto-qualifying spots left. Heading into the last water jump, there were still four men together but by the finish there were two men clearly better than everyone else – Evan Jager and Ezekiel Kemboi, the 2004 and 2012 Olympic champ.

Kemboi moved out into lane three or four and relaxed at the finish and Jager got the heat win but both looked great coming home.

Canada’s Alex Genest initially was very pumped to have qualified on time at 8:24.56. Then he was disqualified. We were told by an IAAF spokesman that Genest and two others in this heat were DQd for stepping on the line coming into the first outside water jump.

If you look at the results above, he’s still listed as a DQ on the results and the race has been over for some four hours, but the Terra Chile is reporting in Spanish that Genest is back in the final even if the results haven’t been updated. The Terra Chile article above says the Canadian’s initial appeal was rejected but a jury of appeals re-instated Genest and bumped out Venezuela’s José Gregorio Peña.

(The IAAF official results page is here. Check that to see if they update the results.)

QT #1: Kemboi and Jager ran well as expected. We caught up with Jager after the race. You can download the whole audio here but he said he felt “pretty comfortable” for most of the race until the last lap which he described as being “kind of a grind.” He said he was glad he was in a slow heat as he was hoping for a “somewhat easy race” so he could “save it for the final.” We asked him if he saw his teammate struggling in heat one and if that gave him any doubts. He said he did see Huling struggling and briefly did let a question as to what that meant for him creep into his head, but then quickly blocked that negative thought of his mind and focused on the task at hand.

QT #2: We also caught up with Kemboi briefly after the race. Our video interview is embedded on the right. Being such a showman, we expected Kemboi to talk a huge game but he didn’t do anything like that. He was very modest, “It’s good to the make the finals. I’m happy to have made the final,” said Kemboi.

When asked if he was confident, Kemboi said, “I’m not so but I’ll do my best to win the final.”

We’re not reading much into this at all. Kemboi is definitely at a minimum the co-favorite with young upstart Conseslus Kipruto. Actually, despite Kipruto’s three victories over Kemboi this year (Eugene, Oslo and Kenyan Trials), Kemboi is our favorite He’s won a slew of golds before and has the fastest time in the world this year.

Kemboi also did confirm that he wasn’t racing hard at the Kenyan Trials where he was sixth as he knew he was already on the team as the defending champion.

QT#3: Noureddine Smaïl of France who finished third is coached by Scott Simmons in the US in Colorado Springs. Simmons athletes continue to run well. Smail actually stumbled off the final barrier but recovered to still get the last automatic qualifying spot.

Heat 3: Kenyans Kipruto and Koech Look Great

1    712    Conseslus Kipruto    KEN    8:22.31 Q
2    717    Paul Kipsiele Koech    KEN    8:22.88 Q
3    458    Yoann Kowal    FRA    8:23.74 Q
4    774    Hamid Ezzine    MAR    8:24.35 q
5    1176    De’Sean Turner    USA    08:28.4
6    104    Hicham Bouchicha    ALG    08:28.6
7    419    Habtamu Fayisa    ETH    08:29.1
8    262    Chris Winter    CAN    08:29.4
9    236    Mitko Tsenov    BUL    08:32.5
10    390    Sebastián Martos    ESP    08:32.6
11    1069    Tarik Langat Akdag    TUR    08:35.0
12    628    Patrick Nasti    ITA    08:36.4
884    Krystian Zalewski    POL    DQ
1084    Timothy Toroitich    UGA    DNS
Split times
1000m    02:48.2    Conseslus Kipruto
2000m    05:40.0    Conseslus Kipruto

Kenyans Conseslus Kipruto and Paul Kipsiele Koech looked good in going 1-2 in heat three. American DeSean Turner didn’t advance but he competed well moving up from eighth or ninth at the bell.

Look Closely And You Can See Turner Shoe Untied at the Finish (Click for a larger image and a photo gallery)

Afterwards Turner said he’s been feeling a little flat coming into this race. The big surprise was his shoe came untied during the latter stages of the race. You can see that in the photo on the right.

QT #1: 18-year old Conseslus Kipruto was the World Youth champion in 2011, world junior champion in 2012 and he very well may be the World champion in 2013.

QT #2: While Kipsiele Koech made the final here, making the final isn’t going to justify the Kenyans somewhat controversially putting him on the team this year. If he doesn’t medal, then 2008 Olympic Brimin Kipruto is going to have a strong case that he should have been on the team over Koech.

We asked Koech after the race why he hadn’t run a super fast time early in this year like in year’s past and he said he was behind in his training but trying to catch up. You can download that audio interview here.

QT #3: Kids, high schoolers, pros: tie your shoes, tight. Turner said the shoe coming untied didn’t affect him, but it had to. He mentioned it in post-race interviews and had to waste energy thinking about it. Kudos for him for not getting too worked up about it after the race because the past is the past.

More: LRC Steeple Round 1 Photos
MB: WC Men’s Steeple thread

A video interview with Turner appears below:

Jager and Kemboi Stare at One Another Before the Finish (Click for photo gallery)
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