By Jonathan Gault
August 6, 2017
LONDON — The men’s steeplechase final at the 2017 World Championships is set and while the gold-medal contenders advanced safely, a few notable athletes will be watching from the stands. Both Hillary Bor of the US (7th at 2016 Olympics) and Kenya’s Brimin Kipruto (2015 World Champs bronze medalist, 2008 Olympic champ) failed to advance out of heat 3 as they finished 5th and 7th, respectively (there were only three auto spots in each heat). Bor missed making the final by 1.67 seconds after running 8:27.53.
The three fastest men on the world in 2017 all moved on with ease, each winning one of the three heats. Third seed Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco won heat #1 in 8:22.60 while American Evan Jager, the 2017 world leader, looked terrific in winning heat 2, advancing as the fastest qualifier in 8:20.36, while Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto won his first race since the Kenyan Trials in June, taking heat 3 in 8:23.80 ahead of the U.S. runner-up Stanley Kebenei (8:24.19). Kipruto revealed after the race that he’s only done one track workout since the Kenyan Trials.
In his first race since June and just second race of the year, six-time global champion Ezekiel Kemboi also moved on from heat #2 today but he had to do so as a time qualifier. Kemboi put a scare into the Kenyan fans early as after three laps he was in dead last with a gap threatening to form between himself and the rest of the pack. But he worked his way up the field and by the bell was in the top three with Jager leading. Jager began opening up on the final lap and cruised to the heat victory (though he had to pick it up slightly just before the line). Kemboi had to work for it and wound up losing a three-way kick for third but advanced easily as one of six time qualifiers.
Another notable advancer was France’s Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad (3rd in Rio) who made it through comfortably as the 2nd placer in heat #1. Jairus Birech, the world’s fourth-fastest man this year, did not have it as easy in this heat as he could only manage fifth place and had to rely on a time qualifier.
Both Kebenei and Canada’s Matt Hughes looked great in the final heat, but the win went to Kipruto, who kicked hard over the final meters. Kipruto, who hadn’t finished a race in six weeks due to an ankle injury, didn’t look totally at ease but he did what he had to do and will be in Tuesday night’s final.
Results, analysis and interviews below.
|1||1174||Soufiane EL BAKKALI||MAR||8:22.60 Q|
|2||938||Mahiedine MEKHISSI||FRA||8:22.83 Q|
|3||906||Getnet WALE||ETH||8:23.00 Q|
|4||607||Bilal TABTI||ALG||8:23.28 q|
|5||1127||Jairus Kipchoge BIRECH||KEN||8:23.84 q|
|6||1354||Jacob ARAPTANY||UGA||8:25.86 q|
|7||1069||Ala ZOGHLAMI||ITA||8:26.18 PB|
|8||838||Ole HESSELBJERG||DEN||8:27.86 PB|
|11||1051||Hossein KEYHANI||IRI||8:33.76 NR|
|14||1338||Tarik Langat AKDAG||TUR||8:53.42|
|1||1408||Evan JAGER||USA||8:20.36 Q|
|2||902||Tafese SEBOKA||ETH||8:20.48 Q|
|3||932||Yoann KOWAL||FRA||8:20.60 Q|
|4||1131||Ezekiel KEMBOI||KEN||8:20.61 q SB|
|5||1355||Albert CHEMUTAI||UGA||8:23.18 q PB|
|7||840||Mohamed ISMAIL IBRAHIM||DJI||8:33.77|
|1||1136||Conseslus KIPRUTO||KEN||8:23.80 Q|
|2||1411||Stanley Kipkoech KEBENEI||USA||8:24.19 Q|
|3||757||Matthew HUGHES||CAN||8:24.79 Q SB|
|4||904||Tesfaye DERIBA||ETH||8:25.33 q|
|6||716||Altobeli DA SILVA||BRA||8:31.82|
|7||1135||Brimin Kiprop KIPRUTO||KEN||8:33.33|
Quick Take: Conseslus Kipruto said he has only run one track session since the Kenyan Trials
One of the biggest storylines in the men’s steeple this year has been Kipruto’s health. The reigning Olympic champion picked up an ankle injury at the Kenyan Trials and either scratched or dropped out of every race before Worlds.
Kipruto said that he felt some pain in his ankle today, particularly on the first water jump, but that it felt better as the race went along.
“When I’m starting, it is difficult, but in the last laps, it’s okay,” Kipruto said.
However, the Kipruto that toes the line in Tuesday’s final may not be the same one who ran 8:04 in Rome back in June. He said that, because of his ankle, he’s only run one track session since the Trials on June 24, and that came about 10 days ago in Nairobi. Kipruto actually tried another session two days ago in London but had to call it quits after 10 minutes. Other than that, he said he’s mostly been jogging and has stayed away from the track.
Kipruto, who ran 8:03 at age 17, is one of the great natural talents in the sport, so we’re certainly not counting him out for gold. But with Jager in great form, it will be a mighty challenge.
Quick Take: Evan Jager looked great and is ready to go for a historic gold medal on Tuesday
Jager said that his heat went a little faster than expected but he was committed to doing whatever it was necessary to qualify and made it look easy. Now it’s onto the final, where he’ll have a chance to become the first ever American-born man to win a distance gold at Worlds. Two years ago in Beijing, Jager was in a similar spot (though his chances are definitely better this year given the struggles of the Kenyans) and did not respond well, finishing as the second American and sixth overall. This time around, Jager is more prepared.
“I’ve put pressure on myself to be in contention for medals since 2012 so it’s nothing new for me personally,” Jager said. “I actually feel less pressure this year since I’ve already achieved winning a medal. I don’t feel like that means that I have to medal every single year from here on out but obviously that’s the goal.”
Close observers may have also noted that Jager was sporting a goatee during today’s race. Jager prefers to race clean-shaven and said that he wasn’t trying to make any sort of style statement. Fifteen minutes before he had to leave, he looked in the mirror and realized he hadn’t shaved. So he performed a quick hatchet job on his face, and the goatee look was the result.
“I’m not trying to do anything, I don’t think it looks good,” Jager said with a smile. “So thank you for pointing that out.”
Quick Take: Running 8:08 in Monaco changed Stanley Kebenei’s expectations
Kebenei, like many of his training partners in coach Scott Simmons’ group, is not shy about sharing big goals and before Monaco, he told Simmons he was going to run under 8:05 — despite the fact that his PR was only 8:18 at the time.
Kebenei didn’t quite manage that, but he still clocked 8:08 to become the second-fastest American ever. And even though he thought of himself as an 8:05 guy going into the race, he said it’s different now that he actually has a fast time to back that claim up.
“After running 8:08, that’s when you know that you are with these guys, the top guys,” Kebenei said. “When I had an 8:18, it’s hard to approach a race when you have an 8:18 and everyone else has 8:10, sub-8:10. But this one I’m approaching it knowing that for sure I’m among the best.”
Kebenei hopes to medal in the final. Another bold goal for sure, but one that is certainly achievable, particularly given how the Kenyans looked today. Brimin Kipruto is out and Birech and Kemboi only made the finals on time.
Quick Take: Hillary Bor: “I think I’m better than that”
While Jager and Kebenei both looked like medal contenders today, the third American, Hillary Bor, was not as fortunate as he could not close fast enough in heat three, missing out on the final time qualifier by less than two seconds. We broke the news to Bor on-camera, and he responded by running his hand over his face and shaking his head.
“Disappointed,” Bor said.
Bor said that he felt good coming into the race but didn’t race the way he wanted today.”I think I’m better than that”
“I think I’m better than that,” Bor said.
After Rio last year, Bor believed he had a lot of room for improvement, and he made progress this year, going from 8:13 to 8:11. But in an event with only three auto qualifers per heat, you have to run fast to be assured of a spot in the final. Bor couldn’t manage that today and as a result, he’ll be watching the final from the stands.