Kenya’s Hyvin Kiyeng Wins Wild Steeple Final as Emma Coburn Settles for Fifth

Coburn: “I’m bummed….. I thought I could medal. I was confident that I could…..I just got to keep at it and come away with some hardware in Rio.”

August 26, 2015

BEIJING — With 100 meters to go in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2015 IAAF World Championships at the Bird’s Nest tonight, anything was on the table. Five women remained in contention. Tunisia’s Habiba Ghribi and Ethiopia’s Sofia Assefa both owned Olympic and World Championship medals but neither had ever crossed the line first in a global championship final (Ghribi’s situation is complicated; she was 2nd to doper Yuliya Zaripova in 2011 and 2012 but has not been upgraded to gold). The United States’ Emma Coburn and Germany’s Gesa Krause were aiming to make history — no athlete from their nations had ever medalled at Worlds or the Olympics.

Finally, there was Kenya’s Hyvin Kiyeng. Kiyeng didn’t have a medal, and she wasn’t battling history. But she had one thing no one else had on this night: the best kick in the field. She, Krause and Ghribi came off the final barrier neck-and-neck-and-neck, with Krause with a tiny lead. Krause had the best hurdle of the three but Kiyeng’s burst over the final 50 meters allowed her to claim her first world title in a tactical 9:19.11. Ghribi, desperately leaning forward in the final meters, crossed the line second once again in 9:19.24 as Krause PR’d and surprisingly earned bronze in 9:19.25.

Assefa wound up fourth in 9:20.01 while Coburn settled for fifth in 9:21.78, tying the best finish ever by an American woman in the event (her training partner Jenny Simpson was fifth in 2009).

Like almost every steeple on the circuit this year, this one went out incredibly slowly as 11 women were still in contention with two laps to go. That set up a wild finish- the final k was a speed 2:56 and last lap was 66 high – which we recap in more detail below, followed by results and quick takes.

Final Straight Women's Steeple Final Final Straight Women’s Steeple Final

The Race

This one began very slowly and nothing of import happened until India’s Lalita Babar took the lead just before the 1k mark (3:09.96). With a 9:27 PR (set in the prelims two days earlier), no one else viewed Babar as a threat and the field was content to let her run about 10 meters in front for the next kilometer. Given her modest PB, Babar said afterwards she was focused solelyon trying to run another PR as a medal was out of the question, so the tactical hesitancy of the rest of the field didn’t concern her.

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The pace actually went slower for the next k and after a 3:12.31 second kilometer, Babar hit 2k in 6:22.27 (9:33 pace) as the field began to narrow the gap on her. All the major players were still in contention, though the U.S.’s Colleen Quigley had begun to fade, dropping off the back of the pack.

As the field approached the water jump for the third-to-last time, Coburn moved to the front but 11 of the 15 women in the field were still in contention with two laps to go as the fourth to last lap was an unofficial 75.6 and third to last lap 76.9.  Coburn and the field upped the pace significantly on the next to last lap (70.7) but there still were seven in contention when Ghribi passed Coburn at the bell — Ghribi, Coburn, Kiyeng, Krause, Assefa, Nyambura and Ayalew. Ayalew, the #1 ranked steepler in the world last year,  was struggling to hold on to the back of the pack, however, as a poor water jump on lap four saw her come to almost a complete stop, forcing her to run hard to catch up to the rest of the field. Stephanie Garcia, the other American in the lead pack, had fallen out of contention on the penultimate lap following Coburn’s move.

Ghribi led the field through the first turn on the last lap with Coburn in second. On the backstretch, Kiyeng tried to go around Coburn into second but Coburn held her off. The Kenyan finally grabbed second just ahead of Coburn as they headed into the water jump as Nyambura and Ayalew had fallen off. Heading into the final water jumpe, it was still a 5 person race.

Heading into water jump, Coburnw as in third and normally the water jump is a strength for her, but not this time, as she hesitated a little in traffic and came out of in fourth. The only person who really benefitted from the water jump was the German Krause who went from being in fifth just steps before the water to second coming out of it as she aggressively moved forward, squeezing first between Coburn, Krause and and then Ghiribi and Kiyeng. Regardless, all five lurked as medal threats as they came off the turn for home as shown by the screen shots below that show the final turn (click for large image).

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As they came off the final turn, Krause, who had aggressively squeezed between a ton of traffic on the water jump, made another aggressive move, this time darting to the inside as she was fearful she was about to be squeazed by Ghiribi and Kiyeng. An epic three-way battle for gold was now set up as the leading trio were almost side by side. Coburn and Assefa were behind the leading trio and still in the hunt for medals but gold seemed unlikely as they were blocked by three women in front.

Heading into the final barrier, Ghiribi, who was running in the outside of lane one flanked by Krause on the inside and Hiyeng on tht outside, held a slight lead, but she chopped her steps before the final barrier, causing the three women to hurdle it almost instantaneously. Krause wants again had by far the best jump and hit the ground in the lead. Wow, was the German who only held a 9:20.15 pb (6th best in the field) about to pull an absolute STUNNER?

No. Even though Krause had the best jump, she didn’t have the most speed on the way home. After the barrier, Kiyeng powered into top gear and gained a tiny bit of separation, enough to win gold. Ghribi strained toward the line, as if leaning forward could counteract the superior foot speed of Kiyeng, but it was to no avail. She was lucky to hold off Krause — who never broke form — by .01 for silver.

Results, race highlights and analysis appear below. Results courtesy of

Pl. Athlete / Team Cnt. Birth Result Score
1. Hyvin KIYENG KEN 92 9:19.11 1196
2. Habiba GHRIBI TUN 84 9:19.24 1195
3. Gesa Felicitas KRAUSE GER 92 9:19.25 1195 PB
4. Sofia ASSEFA ETH 87 9:20.01 1193 SB
5. Emma COBURN USA 90 9:21.78 1189
6. Hiwot AYALEW ETH 90 9:24.27 1183
7. Virginia NYAMBURA KEN 93 9:26.21 1178
8. Lalita BABAR IND 89 9:29.64 1169
9. Stephanie GARCIA USA 88 9:31.06 1166
10. Salima EL OUALI ALAMI MAR 83 9:32.15 1163
11. Ruth JEBET BRN 96 9:33.41 1160
12. Colleen QUIGLEY USA 92 9:34.29 1158
13. Özlem KAYA TUR 90 9:34.66 1157
14. Fadwa SIDI MADANE MAR 94 9:41.45 1140
15. Roseline CHEPNGETICH KEN 97 9:46.08 1129

Race Highlights (US Only)

Quick Take #1: What a terrific race

Though the time was far from special (9:19.11 is the slowest winning time in the history of the championships), the tactical nature of the race made for a thrilling final lap. Five women had a chance to win it entering the home stretch; three women still had a shot at gold off the final barrier. Racing doesn’t get much better than that.

Quick Take #2: Hyvin Kiyeng capped off a breakthrough year with a World Championship

Entering 2015, Kiyeng might have been on a few people’s medal lists, but few would have pegged her as the eventual world champion. Her 9:22.58 was only the ninth-fastest time in the world in 2014, and she finished 11th, 5th and 6th in her three Diamond League appearances. At the 2013 Worlds, she’d only been sixth.

The 23-year-old made a big jump this year, narrowly missing her PR in the DL opener in Doha on May 15 (9:22.11) and then knocking seven seconds off to win her first DL event three weeks later in Rome (9:15.08).

She wouldn’t finish lower than second the rest of the year, as she was second in Birmingham, won the Kenyan Championships and Kenyan Trials (separate meets) and was second to Ghribi in Monaco in another PR (9:12.51).

The victory by Kiyeng may have surprised some but not Kiyeng. She said she wasn’t surprised as her preparation had been great.

The question now is, can she keep it going?

Winning a global crown in the steeple has been something of a curse. Check out the recent global champions:

2013: Milcah Chemos
Struggled big-time in 2014, injured and has not raced in 2015

2012: Yuliya Zaripova
Busted for doping and stripped of her gold medal. Hasn’t raced since July 2013. Currently serving doping ban.

2011: Yuliya Zaripova
Her results are conveniently annulled from June 20, 2011 to August 20, 2011 and July 3, 2012 to September 3, 2012, which means that as of now, she gets to keep this gold medal. Hopefully that changes soon.

2009: Marta Dominguez
Has twice been linked to doping, most recently in 2013, when it was revealed she had anomalies in her biological passport. Now 39, she has not competed since 2012.

Let’s hope that Kiyeng stays healthy (and unconnected to drugs) heading into Rio next year.

Quick Take #3: What a huge performance from Germany’s Gesa Krause – Her dream became reality tonight

In 2011, at age 19, Krause was 7th at Worlds and a big prospect in the distance. In 2012, just days after turning 20, Krause ran 9:23.52 to place 8th at the 2012 Olympics. 2013 and 2014 were a struggle, however. As of just over a month ago, she hadn’t come within 11 seconds of that time since.

Like Kiyeng, she picked the perfect time to peak, PR’ing with a 9:20.15 in Monaco on July 17 and then running 9:24.92 in her prelim on Monday. Entering the final, Krause said her goal was to PR and break 9:20 and possibly break Antje Moldner-Schmidt’s German record of 9:18.54. Well she did PR (9:19.25) and while she couldn’t quite manage the German record, she left with an even better reward: a bronze medal.

“Winning a medal is everything I’ve ever dreamed about so I’m really happy that I got this medal today. During the race, I realized this could be possible,” said Krause. “When we passed the 2nd k in a time of 6:22, I really knew it was all about the last k and really all about the last lap so I took my chance and I’m really happy I got the bronze here.”

While the bronze was a surprise, a journalist wondered if Krause upset that she was so close to the gold? After all, she had the lead coming off the final barrier.

“When I crossed the last barrier, it was really close and I came in front and I thought (for) a moment about, ‘Ok everything is possible right now.’ But I had a really good last hurdle and both of the girls were just faster over the last 40 meters. I’m happy with the bronze. There was nothing more I could do (during) the last 40 meters and the race is(n’t) over (until) you cross the finish line,” said Krause at the post-race press conference. “I mean it was close but it’s always (close) – we are at the World Championships and it’s at a really high level and I had really great competitors. So yeah, I’m happy I came away with the bronze so I don’t want to think about the silver or gold right now. It was a good award for me – coming here as a no-name. I think nobody really expected me to win a medal right here. I dreamed about it, but I didn’t focus on a medal. I wanted to run a PR and I came away with a PR too so I’m happy I could make it all on point.”

*Krause video interview with fter semi *Krause interview with after Pre 2014

Quick Take #4: Habiba Ghribi initially seemed very upset to have to settle for silver for a third time but was more upbeat by the time the press conference rolled around

As Ghiribi came stepped off the track and walked through the mixed zone, she had a frown on her face and wouldn’t talk to the press, not even the couple of journalists from Tunisia. However, an hour later, when the press conference was held, she was smiling.

“Sure sure, I’m happy,” said Ghiribi when asked if she was happy with silver before admitting she wanted more. “I came here to win the gold medal. I did my best. The last 1000 was very, very fast – 2:56 – I think I finished in. It was very fast. So congratulations to (the gold and bronze medallists). For me, it’s a good job. I did my best. I’m so happy for this silver medal.”

Quick Take #5: Stephanie Garcia was hoping for a little more

The American was pumped to be in her first world final but had hoped to be top 8 (she was 9th) as the IAAF ranks the countries based on people placing in the top 8 and 8th scores a point.

Quick Take #6: A well-prepared Emma Coburn accomplished her bare minimum goal of top 5 but wanted more – “I thought I could medal. I was confident that I could.”

All year long, Coburn said she wanted to be at least top 5 as she was thought there were 4-5 women who were of roughly equal ability. Coburn’s prediction was right on the money as indeed there were five people battling for gold over the final 200. However, after everything was over, Coburn admitted she wanted more.

“I’m bummed. All year, I’ve been saying top five was a reasonable goal so I met (that) but it’s not a huge – huge feeder to my ego or psyche to get fifth as I thought I could medal. I was confident that I could. I knew there were five or six of that were really even and to be fair, I didn’t consider Gesa Krause to be part of that conversation so she really impressed me today. So fifth is a little bit of a disappointment today. I wanted to get better and think I can do better. I just got to keep at it and come away with some hardware in Rio and make all of this hard work leading up to it worth it,” said Coburn.

It’s interesting to note that when asked by another journalist if she thought she had the race in the bag as she had the lead with 400 left, Coburn revealed that she’d done “a lot of analysis” of her opponents and knew that Ghiribi always closes her races in 66 so she knew she’d need to close fast to win. Coburn’s research was right on the money as Ghiribi did indeed close in 66 but Coburn was basically 2 seconds slower over the final 200.

Much more from Coburn, including her thoughts as to whether Jenny Simpson might return to the steeple in 2016, below:

Quick Take #6: Colleen Quigley exceeded her minimum goal — “don’t be DFL”

Quigley said her plan was to follow teammate Dan Huling’s strategy from two nights ago (when he was fifth) and linger in the back before picking off people toward the end of the race

“When it came time with two laps to go, it just wasn’t there,” Quigley said. “I gave it my all but the kick wasn’t what I was hoping it to be. [I’m] not Dan Huling.”

Kudos to India’s Lalita Shivaji Babar for not being intimidated by the occasion and taking the lead as she went for a second straight pb.

Discuss this race on our world famous messageboard: Official Wed Day 5 Lilve Discussion Thread: Women’s Steeple, Men’s 400, Women’s 400h Finals

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