Conseslus Kipruto Preserves Kenyan Steeplechase Streak by the Tiniest Margin Possible at 2019 World Championships

October 4, 2019

DOHA, Qatar —  The streak lives on.


Starting in 1988, a Kenyan-born man had won every single global championship in the men’s steeplechase. That streak of 22 in a row became 23 tonight, but only by the tiniest of margins as Conseslus Kipruto of Kenya came from behind to win his third successive global title, edging Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma at the line, 8:01.35 to 8:01.36, in one of the greatest steeplechase races in history. Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali got the bronze in 8:03.76 in the race in which eight men broken 8:10 and all-time marks for place were set for 5th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th.

The Race

Too close to call for Kipruto in Doha (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images for IAAF)

The race started super fast as the first 400 was run in just under 60 seconds thanks to Ethiopia’s Chala Beyo who took things out super quick. The pace stayed quick as all three of the Ethiopians in the final, all of whom had run under 8:08 on the year, took a turn at the lead as 1k was hit in 2:39.55. The pace slowed only a little during the second kilometer as the Ethiopians kept alternating the lead. Their plan was clearly to try to wear out Kipruto. When 2k was hit 5:22.95, it was clear that the race was historically fast and that the fans were in for a real treat as the lead pack still consisted of nine competitors (Beyo would soon drop out as it looked like he sacrificed himself for his teammates).

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Keny’s star, Kipruto, who came into Worlds having dropped out of as many steeples as he’d finished in 2019 (two), but looked great in the prelims, was full of run, running up near the very front of the lead pack from the very first step. At the start of the penultimate lap, he briefly took the lead hoping to slow down the pace, but Ethiopian record holder Getnet Wale once again went to the front. The penultimate lap was run in 64.7 and at the bell the lead pack of Wale, Kipruto, El Bakkali and Girma had a small gap on the next five men, led by American Hillary Bor, who were all running single-file, trying to stay relevant.

The photo

Midway around the turn, it was clear that this was going to be a four-person battle for the three medals as El Bakkali, the 2017 silver medallist, took the lead. However, on the backstretch as they approached the final turn, Girma moved up from fourth to right next to El Bakkali. As they approached the final water jump, Wale started to fade and now it was just a question of what color medals the top three would get.

As they came off the final turn, El Bakkali fell behind and it was now a two-person race. Girma led Kipruto by a couple meters that grew just a tiny bit bigger as Kipruto stuttered on his steps about 10 meters before the final barrier. Coming off the final barrier, Kipruto had 2-3 meters to make up but soon he started to gain on Girma.

Girma desperately tried to hold Kipruto off and leaned a tiny bit early. Kipruto timed his lean just right but it was still too close to call.

Who had won?

Thirty-six seconds passed — which probably felt like an eternity to Girma and Kipruto — before the official timers sorted it out. Then the verdict was put up on the scoreboard. Kipruto 1, Girma 2.

Analyis below results and video

Watch the end of the race for yourself.

Longer highlights for US visitors:

1 Conseslus KIPRUTO KEN 8:01.35 WL
2 Lamecha GIRMA ETH 8:01.36 NR
3 Soufiane EL BAKKALI MAR 8:03.76 SB
4 Getnet WALE ETH 8:05.21 PB
5 Djilali BEDRANI FRA 8:05.23 PB
6 Benjamin KIGEN KEN 8:06.95
7 Abraham KIBIWOT KEN 8:08.52
8 Hillary BOR USA 8:09.33
9 Leonard Kipkemoi BETT KEN 8:10.64
10 Stanley Kipkoech KEBENEI USA 8:11.15 SB
11 Fernando CARRO ESP 8:12.31
12 Andrew BAYER USA 8:12.47 PB
13 Avinash SABLE IND 8:21.37 NR
14 Matthew HUGHES CAN 8:24.78
15 Zak SEDDON GBR 8:40.23

Quick Take: Conseslus Kipruto, the Cardiac Kid

Ezekiel Kemboi, Kipruto’s predecessor as king of the steeple, was known for his ridiculous final 200 meters. Kemboi was so good that he would usually be able to drift out to the outer lanes by the end of the race, such was the distance he would put on the field.

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images for IAAF)

Like Kemboi, Kipruto has an impressive kick and been known to showboat as well — he did it in the last World Championship final coming off the final barrier. But Kipruto is becoming better-known for his ridiculous finishes. Every time it looks like he can’t make it any more exciting, Kipruto finds a way to top himself.

In the 2017 Diamond League final, Kipruto trailed Soufiane El Bakkali by three meters over the final barrier but reeled him in to win by .10. In last year’s DL final, a one-shoed Kipruto again trailed El Bakkali off the final barrier and again he ran him down to win by .04.

It seemed impossible to top that, but somehow, Kipruto did. With a world title on the line, Kipruto made the latest pass possible to edge out Girma by .01 in an absolutely epic close.

Kemboi remains the steeple GOAT, but Kipruto is starting to climb the ladder. Kipruto now has won three straight global titles (and had two straight silvers before that), while Kemboi has six golds and three silvers. Kipruto is still only 24 years old, however. If he wins every global title before his 30th birthday, he’d have seven golds and a legitimate case as the GOAT. That’s still a long way off, but it’s within the realm of possibility.

Quick Take: Kipruto wanted this one for himself and for Kenya

Until tonight, 2019 had not been a good year for Kenyans in the men’s steeplechase. After dominating the event for years, they didn’t win a single Diamond League.

But a Kenyan-born man has won every global steeple title since 1988. Kipruto knew that his country’s hopes rested on his shoulders — Kenyan journalist Celestine Karoney told us in the mixed zone that Kenya, as a nation, was holding its collective breath in the final moments of the race — and he produced a close for the ages to ensure the world title remained in Kenyan hands.

After the race, Kipruto took a seat on the first barrier and put a finger to his lips before making a circle with his left forefinger and thumb, placing it around his eye, and pointing to the stadium with his right hand.

“I was telling people, you have seen I am still there after my injuries,” Kipruto said. “I was there to save the event [for Kenya].”

Kipruto had a talus bone stress fracture that sidelined him for two and a half months this year. Kipruto did nothing the first month and then realized he needed to cross-train. Since he lives in Kenya and doesn’t have access to the most modern facilities, he decided to build a small pool to cross train in. This pool was the key to him staying fit:

Discussion: For those of you who say you can’t cross train, here’s a pic of the pool Conseslus Kipruto trained in this year 

Quick Tae: Kipruto was focused on El Bakkali the final lap

Conseslus said he was keying on El Bakkali the final lap, but then Girma came flying by him and Conseslus was worried heading into the final 100m.

“I’ve won a lot of gold medals, but this one was really something special for me. That last 100m was amazing. [At first] I didn’t think I could win,” he said.

Quick Take: The Ethiopians got the tactics right, but Kipruto is a legend

Because of his injury Kipruto didn’t race on the track until August 24; had this been a normal World Champs year, he may not have raced at all. But with the Worlds in October for the first time ever, Kipruto had time to get (relatively healthy), and though he dropped out of two of his four races pre-Worlds, he looked great in the prelims in Doha and was right with the leaders throughout in tonight’s final.

The Ethiopians did exactly what they should have done and pushed the pace from the gun, hoping that after missing so much time Kipruto wouldn’t have anything left to kick with. And it almost worked. But Kipruto, despite his injury, managed to run within two seconds of his 8:00.12 pb and still summon a kick over the final barrier. A truly heroic performance from one of the sport’s great champions.

Kipruto acknowledged his plan was to slow down the race, but the Ethiopians did not cooperate. “Those guys, Girma and Wale, when I was trying to apply my tactics, they were simply destroying my tactics. Because when I was in front, I tried to slow the pace so that I could wait for the kick. But they were going in front of me and really pushed,” he said.

Kipruto thought if it was an 8:08-8:10 race, he would win, but if it was 8:05 he would lose. But then he changed his thinking, “No, I’m the defending champ. I still want to take the victory, [no matter the pace].”

Quick Take: Ethiopia is a steeple power now

Though Kenya kept the biggest title, Ethiopia made serious progress in the men’s steeple this year. At the start of the season, Ethiopia had just one medal in this event (Eshetu Tura’s bronze at the 1980 Olympics which much of the world including Kenya boycotted). There had only been one race with an Ethiopian under 8:07 — Roba Gari’s 8:06.16 Ethiopian record from 2012.

An Ethiopian broke 8:07 seven different times this year (Wale 5 times, Beyo once and Girma once) including twice tonight when Ethiopia earned its first World Championship medal and finished one place out of a second. The Ethiopian record also fell for the third time this year; after Getnet Wale broke it in Rabat and Monaco, both Lamecha Girma (8:01.36) and Wale (8:05.21) broke it tonight.

And it looks like Ethiopia will be good for quite some time as Beyo is officially just 23, Wale 19, and Girma 18.

At the start of the year, Girma was a complete unknown with an 8:46 hand-timed PB run at altitude. That changed when he ran and won the first European steeple of his life in Hengelo in 8:08.18 on July 17. He followed that up with a third-place showing in the Paris Diamond League and then the Diamond League final in Brussels, also in a sub-8:10 clocking. Then tonight he lowered his pb from 8:07.66 to 8:01.36 and nearly won gold. That’s quite a year. Four sub-8:10s and a global silver.

For comparison’s sake, American Evan Jager, who sat out the 2019 campaign due to injury, has only broken 8:10 11 times in his entire career.

Quick Take: The Americans ran well — this race was just fast as hell

While the Americans finished 8th (Hillary Bor, 8:09.33), 10th (Stanley Kebenei, 8:11.15), and 12th (Andy Bayer, 8:12.47), it’s hard to call any of their performances disappointing. Kebenei ran his best race of the season, Bayer ran a four-second personal best (he moved from 14th to 7th on the US all-time list), and Bor ran within a second of his personal best.

The truth is, they all ran well, but this was one of the deepest steeples in history, which meant it was going to take something truly fast to make the podium. You had to break 8:04 tonight to get a medal, and only one American (Evan Jager) has ever done that.

All-time marks for place were set for 5th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th.

5. 8:05.23 Djilali Bedrani FRA
8. 8:09.33 Hillary Bor USA
9. 8:10.64 Leonard Bett KEN
10. 8:11.15 Stanley Kebenei USA
11. 8:12.31 Fernando Carro ESP
12. 8:12.47 Andy Bayer USA

Quick Take: What could Evan Jager have done in this race?

Jager is at his best when the pace is fast, and the Ethiopians made sure that was the case tonight. Would he have been able to outkick Kipruto and Girma tonight? It’s unfortunate that we’ll never know. For the record, Jager has run faster than tonight’s winning time (8:01.35) three times in his career — though he won just one of those races.

Kipruto’s last lap of 58.7 is pretty impressive.

We timed Kipruto’s last lap in 58.7 tonight. That’s pretty impressive. When Jager won Monaco in 2017 in 8:01.29, his last lap was 60.4 (although he did win by a large margin).


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