Soufiane El Bakkali Adds 2022 World Title to 2020 Olympic Steeplechase Crown

Recap by David Monti, Race Results Weekly
Quick takes by Jonathan Gault

EUGENE, Ore. (18-Jul) — The men’s steeplechase final [at the 2022 World Athletics Championships] was anything but fast. In windy conditions, nobody in the field had an interest in pushing the pace, and the first kilometer went out in only 2:57.4.

“I’ve never been in that kind of steeple,” said reigning USA champion Hillary Bor who finished eighth. He added: “Nobody expected this. It was a real surprise.”

In the very first lap, the 15 starters had to avoid a wayward television camera operator who had been shooting the women’s triple jump and wandered into the track. Thankfully, nobody ran into him, ut the pace was just deathly slow.

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Evan Jager, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist, didn’t like how the race was playing out.

“I probably would have fared better in a faster race, which I thought it could have been, but the wind was just crazy today,” Jager told reporters. “The race was even slower than I thought it would be which doesn’t really play to my strengths.”

Photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly

Spain’s Sebastian Martos led the first two laps before Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma took over. With four laps to go, Girma had Bor, Kenya’s Conseslus Kipruto, France’s Mehdi Belhadj, Jager, and Ethiopia’s Getnet Wale close behind him. Reigning Olympic champion Soufiane El Bakkali was farther back.

There was a lot of bumping and pushing because of the continued slow pace, just 5:52.5 through 2000m, and that set up a frantic last lap which played perfectly into El Bakkali’s hands. The tall Moroccan was running third into the final water jump, but he shot out of the water pit to pass both Wale and Kipruto (the 2016 Olympic champion) and run away with the win in 8:25.13, the slowest winning time in championships history and the first gold medal for Morocco at a World Athletics Championships since Jaouad Gharib won the marathon in 2005.

Girma got second in 8:26.01 and Kipruto got third in 8:27.92. The 27-year-old Kenyan was excited to meet El Bakkali again at the next World Athletics Championships in Budapest in 2023.

“I think, and I am very sure, next year I will be back I will fight with him and bring that gold home,” he said.

Jager, who spent the last four years overcoming injuries, finished sixth in 8:29.08. The 33-year-old appreciated the significance of his comeback, but had wanted more tonight. He said he had been training very well the last six weeks and could have run very well in a fast race.

“It’s been a long journey though,” he said. “After I have a few hours to kind of let the emotions wear off I’ll be very proud of myself, but I’m pretty disappointed now.”



Quick Take: This race played out the opposite of how everyone expected but the top three was still pretty predictable

Even if you ignore the wild cameraman on the track — “I was pretty disappointed with that, because that’s a little JV,” Jager said — this was not the way this final was expected to go. Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma has built a reputation for running hard from the front, running sub-8:00 three times in 10 days earlier this season, but he showed no interest in leading early and did not push the pace when he found himself in front in the second kilometer.

As a result, the winning time of 8:25.13 was super slow — 10 seconds slower than the previous slowest in a Worlds final and the slowest in a global final since the 1968 Olympics, which were held at an elevation of 7,300 feet in Mexico City. Despite that, the El Bakkali and Girma repeated their 1-2 finish from a year ago at the Olympics with Kipruto medalling for the fifth straight Worlds in 3rd and Getnet Wale 4th. Girma and Wale have finished 2nd and 4th, in that order, in each of the last three global champs.

One would expect the chaos of the final lap — 11 men all trying to outsprint each other while navigating barriers — would have led to some surprising results, but the order was in fact quite predictable and there was actually a fair amount of separation between the medalists at the finish. El Bakkali was .88 clear of Girma, who in turn was 1.91 clear of Kipruto, who was .76 clear of Wale in 4th.

Turns out Girma isn’t just good in fast races; he’s a good kicker too, just not as good as the 3:31 1500 man El Bakkali, who is developing a reputation as quite the speed merchant.

Quick Take: Conseslus Kipruto is back

Kipruto was building a legacy as one of the steeple’s all-time greats, winning the Olympic title in 2016 and world titles in 2017 and 2019 after claiming world silver in 2013 and 2015. But he didn’t finish any of his races in 2020 and 2021 and was facing charges of defilement (statutory rape) in Kenya back in 2020, a situation that appears to remain unresolved (at least publicly). He returned to the event in 2022 slowly, running 8:32 in his first two races, but he gradually improved throughout the year and is now a Worlds medalist once again. The question now is whether Kipruto can keep things going, regain his fierce kick, and challenge El Bakkali for the gold next year. Kipruto won 10 of their first 13 matchups but is 1-6 against El Bakkali since the start of 2019.

Quick Take: Evan Jager didn’t produce something special like he was hoping for, but finishing 6th is a big accomplishment given his last few years

When he opened his 2022 season in 8:34 in April, it wasn’t clear that Jager would be fit enough to even make Team USA this year (or ever again), so for him to finish 6th in the Worlds final (the same spot as in 2015 when he ran his pb of 8:00) is pretty incredible. Jager was injured and missed all of 2019 and most of 2021 but once again finished 2022 as the top American steepler at Worlds.

That said, Jager didn’t view it as a great result for himself. Finishing 6th in 2015 was a disappointment, and Jager said tonight’s 6th-place finish felt “just as bad as it did before, honestly.”

Jager’s workouts had been trending upwards and he saw the success the rest of Team USA had been having at Worlds so far and thought he could be a part of it.

“I think I had been building so much momentum that I started letting myself believe that something cool could happen,” Jager said.

It didn’t help that this turned into a kicker’s race — never Jager’s strength, even in his prime — but considering where Jager started the year, this season has to be viewed as a success. If Jager can string together another year of healthy training — a big if, considering his age (33) and injury history — he could realistically dream of a medal next year in Budapest.

Quick Take: Jager believes Jerry Schumacher taking the Oregon job is a great thing for the future of the Bowerman Track Club

The decision of Jager’s coach Jerry Schumacher to take the job as head coach at the University of Oregon has put the current members of the Bowerman Track Club in a bit of a scramble. Jager learned the news last Wednesday, five days before the rest of the world, and he said he put everything related to that change on hold so he could focus 100% on Worlds. Jager will be sticking with Schumacher and BTC, but his wife Sofia has a job in Portland as a marketing manager and is also expecting the couple’s first child this fall, so his family has some things to figure out.

But Jager believes in Schumacher absolutely and believes Schumacher returning to the college game will be a great thing for the future of BTC. In 2008, Jager turned pro with Schumacher as a 19-year-old after one year at the University of Wisconsin. Within a year, he had made a Worlds team in the 5,000 and went on to become the greatest steeplechaser in American history.

Obviously it’s unrealistic to expect every new recruit at Oregon to turn into the next Jager, but Jager believes that giving Schumacher the chance to start working with athletes earlier in their career will set them up for success their professional careers — which, for the best of them, would likely come with BTC.

“Thinking that he has the opportunity to do that for 20 college kids a year or whatever it may be, I think it’s great for the pro team moving forward,” Jager said.

Quick Take: Hillary Bor was a “little bit disappointed” with his 8th-place finish

Bor felt he did a good job positioning himself throughout the race and was 3rd with 500 meters to go, but he said he went lactic with 300 to go when the real kicking began and couldn’t hang onto the leaders.

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