Men’s Steeple Prelims: Evan Jager and Hillary Bor Win Their Heats As All Three Americans Advance to the Olympic Final for the First Time Since 1936

August 15, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO — The men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase prelims were held this morning at the Olympic Stadium, and for the first time since 1936, there will be three American men in the final, which will be held on Wednesday morning at 10:50 a.m. ET. All three Americans — Hillary BorEvan Jager and Donn Cabral — qualified automatically, with Bor (8:25.01 in heat 1) and Jager (8:25.86 in heat 2) both winning their heats.

Conseslus Kipruto of Kenya, who has the five fastest times this year among men entered, led all qualifiers by winning heat 3 in 8:21.40.

Here’s a look at the top 10 seeds and how they fared today:

2016’s Fastest Steeple Performers (among men entered):
1 8:00.12 Conseslus Kipruto KEN — Won heat #3
2 8:09.13 John Koech BRN — 6th in heat #2 in 8:28.81, did not advance to the final
3 8:14.19 Ezekiel Kemboi KEN — cruised through automatically, finished third in heat #1
4 8:14.41 Soufiane El Bakkali MAR — 2nd in heat #1, advanced automatically
5 8:15.26 Evan Jager USA — looked great in winning heat #2
6 8:17.75 Tafese Seboka ETH — DQ’d (stepped inside the track) in heat #3 and did not advance
7 8:17.83 Yoann Kowal FRA — 5th in heat #3, made final on time
8 8:17.84 Chala Beyo ETH — 7th in heat #2, did not advance
9 8:19.31 Hamid Ezzine MAR — 5th in heat #2, barely made final as last time qualifier
10 8:19.33 Brimin Kipruto KEN — looked good in qualifying automatically in second behind Jager in heat #2

We see five, perhaps six medal contenders in the final. All three Kenyans certainly have a shot (they went 1-2-3 last year), as does Jager. Mekhissi-Benabbad hasn’t broken 8:20 this year, but he’s the European champ, undefeated in 2016 and has taken silver at the last two Olympics. He has to be taken seriously. Based on today, you could argue that Bor or El Bakkali could medal if one of the favorites falter, but they are longer shots.

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Recaps and quick takes below.

Heat #1: Hillary Bor Shadows Kemboi

Belgium’s Jeroen D’Hoedt had 5 meters on the pack at 1k (2:48.22) as Hillary Bor was in 5th. Just before 2k, Uganda’s Benjamin Kiplagat injected some pace (5:42.82) with Bor in third but the pace was still very slow. The last 1k was bound to be the fastest.

At the start of the last lap, the top 4 started to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. There were only three auto spots available, however, and in the end those went to Bor, Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco and double Olympic champ Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya. Canadian national record holder Matt Hughes wound up making it in on time in fourth.

Kemboi did his normal move of drifting to the outside lanes before crossing the line. He finished in lane six and walked over the line even though his last lap was 59.9 (Bor was 59.4).

1 3052 Hillary BOR USAUSA 8:25.01 Q
2 2740 Soufiane ELBAKKALI MARMAR 8:25.17 Q
3 2678 Ezekiel KEMBOI KENKEN 8:25.51 Q
4 2200 Matthew HUGHES CANCAN 8:26.27 q
5 2364 Sebastián MARTOS ESPESP 8:28.44
6 3016 Benjamin KIPLAGAT UGAUGA 8:30.76
7 2995 Halil AKKAS TURTUR 8:33.12 SB
8 2389 Hailemariyam AMARE ETHETH 8:35.01
9 2167 Nelson Kipkosgei CHERUTICH BRNBRN 8:35.87
10 2599 Yuri FLORIANI ITAITA 8:40.80
11 2658 Kazuya SHIOJIRI JPNJPN 8:40.98
12 2467 Rob MULLETT GBRGBR 8:48.19
13 2092 Jeroen D’HOEDT BELBEL 8:48.29
14 2183 Mitko TSENOV BULBUL 8:54.79

Quick Take #1: Kemboi is once again the favorite in the final

No one changes gears in the steeple like Kemboi, and he offered a glimpse of that on the backstretch of today’s prelim before shutting it down late. Someone (Conseslus Kipruto?) is going to have to drive the kick out of him in the final or else Kemboi should cruise to a third Olympic title.

Ezekiel said of the final, “Everybody is strong, we’re going to fight for our positions” and noted the American runners were “strong guys.”  When asked how he always raises his game at global championships he said, “I always want to be a World Champion, an Olympic champion.” Sounds easy enough.

QT #2: Hillary Bor Looked Great and Is Shooting for a Medal

Hillary Bor was a big surprise in making  the US Olympic team, but he looked great today battling with Olympic champion Ezekiel Kemboi down the stretch and both easily able to let up before the line and make the final.

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Bor was born in running hot bed Eldoret, Kenya and did not come to the US until he went to college (he graduated from Iowa State and has a masters’s in business from New Mexico State). His confidence and kick today looked very Kenyan.

He said, “I felt good the whole way. It’s just [about] enjoying the moment.”

We asked him about the Kenyan dominance in the steeplechase and if their past success helped him and he said of the Kenyan success, “I think it’s the mentality. Once you train, you’ve got to believe. It’s the mentality.”

Bor had that Kenyan mentality when he was asked whether he thought he could medal, “Anything can happen in the final. Anyone can win. I’ve been training really well and if I go out there and  do my best I think I have a chance.”

Bor is now part of the Army World Class Athlete Program. Before making the US Olympic team, he was just a normal Sergeant in the army with a focus on financial management. In addition to his army duties, he was training twice a day under the tutelage of coach Scott Simmons. He happened to be stationed at Fort Carson near Colorado Springs where the WCAP program is based. He initially wasn’t sure he wanted to join the program as he likes his job in the army, but realized it would free up more time to train.

Bor looked very calm and composed on the track, but said he was actually super nervous. “I’ve never been nervous like today. I didn’t sleep last night thinking about the race.”

Now it’s onto the final. It’s crazy to think Bor, initially had given up running when he first joined the Army. The Des Moines Register has a nice pre-Olympic profile on him here.

Heat #2

Like the first heat, the second heat was slow for the first 2k (2:50.29 and 5:42.20). This was going to come down the last lap. American Evan Jager had the lead at the bell and was followed closely by two-time Olympic silver medallist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad. As they ran down the backstretch, they were joined by 2008 Olympic champ Brimin Kipruto and those three would cruise over the final 200 and easily secure the three auto qualifying spots, squashing any fears that one of them would miss out on the final given the fact that the Bahrain’s John Koech was also in this heat and had the best seasonal best of anyone in the heat at 8:09.62. Koech was just sixth and wound up missing out on the final entirely. Jager’s last lap was 61.2.

1 3076 Evan JAGER USAUSA 8:25.86 Q
2 2683 Brimin Kiprop KIPRUTO KENKEN 8:26.25 Q
3 2430 Mahiedine MEKHISSI FRAFRA 8:26.32 Q
4 2340 Yemane HAILESELASSIE ERIERI 8:26.72 q
5 2743 Hamid EZZINE MARMAR 8:27.69 q
6 2172 John Kibet KOECH BRNBRN 8:28.81
7 2391 Chala BEYO ETHETH 8:32.06
8 3005 Aras KAYA TURTUR 8:32.35
9 3120 José PEÑA VENVEN 8:32.38
10 2211 Chris WINTER CANCAN 8:33.95
11 2013 Bilal TABTI ALGALG 8:38.87
12 2594 Abdoullah BAMOUSSA ITAITA 8:42.81
13 2379 Kaur KIVISTIK ESTEST 8:44.25
14 2946 Abdalla TARGAN SUDSUD 8:52.20
15 2366 Abdelaziz MERZOUGUI ESPESP 9:03.40

QT #1 We’re have a separate article on the new relaxed Evan Jager here

Heat #3

Kenya’s Conseslus Kipruto got heat #3 started faster than the first two with a 2:47.40 first km. Uganda’s Jacob Araptany kept it going at 2k (5:28.12) as six time qualifiers were available. With two laps to go, Amercian Donn Cabral was in seventh. A lap later, the top six had separated themselves from the rest of the back as Cabral was in 5th. Plenty of time qualifiers were available but Cabral took no chances and he moved into third with 200 to go and stayed there until the finish. We had Cabral in an unofficial 61.93 on the final lap.

In the end, the top six in this heat all would advance to the final including sixth place finisher Altobelli da Silva of Brazil, who was cheered wildly by the home crowd. Da Silva ran a PR (8:26.59 – previous pb of 8:28.56) and got the fifth of six time qualifiers.

1 2684 Conseslus KIPRUTO KENKEN 8:21.40 Q
2 3014 Jacob ARAPTANY UGAUGA 8:21.53 Q SB
3 3055 Donald CABRAL USAUSA 8:21.96 Q
4 2990 Amor BEN YAHIA TUNTUN 8:23.12 q
5 2425 Yoann KOWAL FRAFRA 8:23.49 q
6 2130 Altobeli DA SILVA BRABRA 8:26.59 q PB
7 2748 Hicham SIGUENI MARMAR 8:27.82
8 2003 Hicham BOUCHICHA ALGALG 8:33.61
9 2205 Taylor MILNE CANCAN 8:34.38
10 2859 Krystian ZALEWSKI POLPOL 8:34.52
11 2312 Ole HESSELBJERG DENDEN 8:40.08
12 2315 Mohamed ISMAIL IBRAHIM DJIDJI 8:53.10
13 2350 Fernando CARRO ESPESP 8:53.17
2399 Tafese SEBOKA ETHETH DQ R 163.3b
2994 Tarik Langat AKDAG TURTUR DNF

QT #1 Donn Cabral Makes it Three Auto Qualifiers for the US 

Donn Cabral was very pleased with this race. “I was happy to get out in the back and practice hurdling behind people. I felt really comfortable  moving up as the race went [on]. I din’t have to [get] into race mode at the end. [It] felt like gliding through, very good,” he said.

Cabral told USATF that “The explorer who discovered Brazil, his last name is Cabral, so being an explorer is in my blood. I wanted to come here and go to the opening ceremonies and go to the Nike house, but I have a little more business that needs to be done, but then I hopefully get to do a lot more exploring.”

For those of you surprised all three Americans made the final, Cabral said think again, “It doesn’t feel that new, because we had three [steeplechase runners] in the final last year, so I think it’s kind of expected from us now.”

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