Beatrice Chepkoech Delivers: World Holder Doesn’t Beat Herself, Wins Steeplechase World Title As Emma Coburn Gets Silver

September 30, 2019

DOHA, Qatar — World record holder Beatrice Chepkoech didn’t make any boneheaded mistakes this time. 

Two years after she forgot to go over the first water jump in London, costing herself her first world title, Chepkoech didn’t beat herself tonight and as a result she earned gold in the women’s steeplechase at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships. Chepkoech used the same game plan she’s used all year long on the Diamond League circuit: get out hard, gap the field, and hold on for victory.

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Chepkoech won in a championship record of 8:57.94 as defending champ Emma Coburn of the United States broke free of a six-woman chase pack with 600 meters left and powered home to grab the silver in a PR of 9:02.35 (previous pb of 9:02.58) to complete her medal set (in addition to her gold in 2017, Coburn won bronze at the Olympics in 2016). Germany’s Gesa-Felicitas Krause closed very well to take home the bronze, just as she did in 2015, but this time in a national record time of 9:03.30 (previous pb and NR of 9:07.51).

Coburn and Krause weren’t the only two women to PR this evening as fourth placer Winfred Yavi of Bahrain (9:05.68, previous pb of 9:07.23), 7th placer Anna Møller (9:13.46 NR, previous pb and NR of 9:18.92), 9th placer Luiza Gega of Albania (9:19.93 NR, previous pb and NR of 9:22.00), and 11th placer Mekides Abebe of Ethiopia (9:25.66, previous pb of 9:27.61) all ran PRs. In all,  six of the 15 starters set a new personal record.

The Race

Chepkoech got out to a super fast start as she had a 2.5-second lead on the main pack just a half lap into this one. When she completed her first 400 in just a shade under 64 seconds, we soon saw why as 64 flat per 400 for a steeple would be 8:00 flat.

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The only question was, ‘Had she gone out too hard?’ The answer was no. While her 1km split of 2:52.95 put her on world record pace, it was actually a second slower than what she split in winning the Diamond League title a few weeks ago. Coburn and the bulk of the chase pack were five seconds back at that point, and while Chepkoech would slow on the 2nd km (3:02:33 – 5:55.28) her lead would only grow as she led by nearly 10 seconds with 2 laps remaining. On the penultimate lap, Coburn broke free of the six-person chase pack and started to gain on Chepkoech but this one was never in doubt barring a fall. Chepkoech led by more than 7 seconds at the bell and by 4.5 at the finish. The German Krause started the last lap in 5th and moved up to 4th on the back straight before moving into 3rd on the final water jump.

2017 silver medallist Courtney Frerichs of the United States was in a hunt for medal and ahead of Krausae in the six-woman chase pack until the penultimate water jump when she fell off the pace. She finished sixth in 9:11.27.

1 Beatrice CHEPKOECH KEN 8:57.84 CR
2 Emma COBURN USA 9:02.35 PB
3 Gesa Felicitas KRAUSE GER 9:03.30 NR
4 Winfred Mutile YAVI BRN 9:05.68 PB
5 Peruth CHEMUTAI UGA 9:11.08 SB
6 Courtney FRERICHS USA 9:11.27
7 Anna Emilie MØLLER DEN 9:13.46 NR
8 Hyvin KIYENG KEN 9:13.53
9 Luiza GEGA ALB 9:19.93 NR
10 Genevieve GREGSON AUS 9:23.84 SB
11 Mekides ABEBE ETH 9:25.66 PB
12 Maruša MIŠMAŠ SLO 9:25.80
13 Karoline Bjerkeli GRØVDAL NOR 9:29.41
14 Geneviève LALONDE CAN 9:32.92
Celliphine Chepteek CHESPOL KEN DNF

Quick Take: Chepkoech gets a much-deserved world title

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Chepkoech has clearly been the best steepler on planet Earth for the last two years. With only one loss in each of the last two years in her specialty, she was expected to win and she delivered, which was made 

Quick Take: Chepkoech maintained that she is a clean athlete

Last year, Coburn expressed doubts about whether Chepkoech was clean when she lowered the world record from 8:52 to 8:44 in Monaco (the previous WR was held by Ruth Jebet, who has since been banned for doping; the next-fastest time someone other than Chepkoech or Jebet is 8:58). After another race in which Chepkoech was on another level from the rest of the field, we asked Coburn if she stood by those comments.

“I got pretty ripped apart for saying that and I’m just gonna go with the no comment,” Coburn said, smiling politely.

Later, in the press conference, we asked Chepkoech how she could assure the public she’s clean given the WR she broke was achieved by a doper.

“I don’t know anything about doping because I would never use those things,” Chepkoech said. “And I can’t say anything about it because I don’t know.”

Quick Take: Emma Coburn gets silver and her third straight PR at a major championship

Emma Coburn’s last three PR’s in the steeple have come at major championships – 2016 Rio Olympics (bronze, 9:07.63), 2017 World Champs (gold, 9:02.58), and tonight (silver, 9:02.35). It doesn’t get much better than that.

While Coburn left with a gold in Rio, she knew holding onto her world title would be a tough task since Chepkoech has a PR 18 seconds faster than Coburn. Coburn said she ran with the idea of making sure she medalled. As it turns out, that was also Coburn’s best strategy for gold, as to pull the upset she would need to run her best and have Chepkoech falter. Coburn ran her best, but Chepkoech didn’t deliver on her end of Coburn’s bargain.

Coburn was willing to start more aggressively this yaer, something she had experimented with in the Diamond League final in Zurich. She said, “The beauty of racing the Diamond League circuit is that we get to experience the tactics and I learned a lot from my Zurich race. I have my limits in my first kilometer so I really measured my effort early on so I expected her to do that. I gauged my effort again and with about 800m to go I ran hard for home as I did at the US Championships. I took big lessons from my races this year, how to put together a good race to get on the podium tonight.”

Quick Take: Courtney Frerichs with a disappointing 6th place

At the last Worlds, while Emma Coburn walked away with the gold Courtney Frerichs was the biggest surprise as she walked away with a silver. Last year, she ended the season with the American record. This year she left the biggest race of the year with a disappointing sixth place.

When asked what happened, Frerichs wasn’t exactly sure, saying she was ready. “I really was anticipating great things after the prelim. Maybe it was the fast start. I haven’t put myself in that all year.” Frerichs had not raced since the USA nationals in July and when asked if she thought she should race more she said, “Potentially or I really should have taken advantage of Pre a little more. That race was pretty much identical.” 

This was the first year Frerichs did not PR in the steeple and she said, “I made so many strides this year that unfortunately I wasn’t able to show in the steeple.”

She turns her sights to 2020 now. She was pretty bummed out in the mixed zone but asked if she could watch the women’s 800m final, which the American journalists most definitely wanted to watch. Two medals for the US lifted Frerichs’ spirits a little bit.

Check back more for a full race analysis plus post-race interviews from Doha. In the meantime, talk about the action on our fan forum/messageboard.

*MB: Beatrice Chepkoech dominates and wins much deserve gold, Coburn PRs and gets silver 

*MB: Official 2019 IAAF Worlds Day 4 Discussion Thread 

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