2023 Worlds WSteeple Preview: A Changing Of The Guard? Or Do Old Stalwarts Like Emma Coburn and Beatrice Chepkoech Have Something Left?

The women’s steeplechase in 2023 looks a lot different than just year ago. Last year, the women’s steeplechase had an electric final. A championship record was set along with four national records. The race came down to a final lap kick between four women for three spots on the podium.

What: Women’s 3,000mSC
When Heats: Wednesday, August 23, 1:45 p.m. ET
Final: Sunday, August 27, 3:10 p.m. ET

2022 WCH Results
1. Norah Jeruto KAZ 8:53.02 CR
2. Werhuka Getachew ETH 8:54.61 NR
3. Mekides Abebe ETH 8:56.08
4. Winfred Mutile Yavi BRN 9:01.31
5. Luiza Gega ALB 9:10.04 NR
6. Courtney Frerichs USA 9:10.59
7. Aimee Pratt GBR 9:15.64 NR
8. Emma Coburn USA 9:16.49

2023’s Fastest Performers (among women entered)
1. 8:57.35 Jackline Chepkoech KEN
2. 9:00.71 Sembo Almayew ETH
3.  9:04.34 Beatrice Chepkoech KEN
4. 9:04.38 Winfred Yavi BRN
5. 9:04.61 Zerfe Wondemagegn ETH
6. 9:06.43 Faith Cherotich KEN
7. 9:10.04 Alice Finot FRA
8. 9:10.07 Maruša Zrimšek SLO
8. 9:11.09 Mekides Abebe ETH
10. 9:11.41 Courtney Wayment USA

Yet, it’s quite possible we’ll have an entirely different three medallists in 2023 as compared to 2022. We know two of the medallists will be different as the top two women from last year’s race won’t be competing in 2023. Additionally, the third medallist is in nowhwere near the same form as she was a year ago.

Norah Jeruto, who represented Kenya until 2022 and who won gold for Kazakhstan, has been suspended for biological passport violations. Silver medallist and Ethiopian record holder in both the steeplechase and 800, Werkuha Getachew, whom we’ve long believed is XY DSD, appears to be ineligible. She hasn’t competed on the track since the new World Athletics regulations came into effect this year, which restrict XY DSD athletes from all women’s events, not just 400 through the mile, unless they lower their testosterone to below 2.5 nmol/L for a minimum of 24 months. The third and final woman under 9:00 in last year’s final,  Mekides Abebe, who ran 8:56.08, hasn’t broken 9:11 this year and ran 9:31 in her last Diamond League race.

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So who is likely to medal in 2023?

The Youngsters

The top two candidates in 2023 are very young. The world leader, Jackline Chepkoech from Kenya, is 19 years old. The second fastest woman this year, Sembo Almayew from Ethiopia, is 18 years old.

Jackline Chepkoech has all the makings of a steeple star. In 2021, she won World Juniors. In 2022, she moved up to the senior ranks and had a disappointing run in Eugene, getting eliminated in the heats after a 9:27 clocking. However, after that, she went on a tear, as she won the Commonwealth Games and Brussels DL and lowered her PB from 9:15 to 9:02 in the process.

This year, she has progressed very well throughout the season. She’s run five steeples and her placements have only gotten better as the season has gone along — 7th, 3rd, 2nd, 2nd, and 1st. The win in her last race came in a world-leading time of 8:57.35 in London. She placed second in the Florence Diamond League, too.

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Almayew, who won world junior silver last year, only raced three steeples this year but she’s been very consistent in her Diamond League appearances. She placed 2nd in Doha and Lausanne won Florence. Like Chepkoech, she also ran Worlds last year and didn’t make it out of the heats.

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Kenya’s Faith Cherotich, 19, is another teenager with a legitimate medal shot. She beat Almayew for world junior gold last year and was 3rd in Doha and the Kenyan trials (4th at World Jr XC). Ethiopia’s Zerfe Wondemagegn, 20, is no longer a teenager but the 2021 world junior silver medallist can’t be discounted either. While she did run 9:04.61 for 3rd in Florence, she hasn’t broken 9:13 in her two other steeples this year (6th Doha, 4th Lausanne).

The world record holder

Jackline Chepkoech is the fastest woman in the world this year, but she was not the winner of the Kenyan trials this year. That title went to world record holder and 2019 world champion Beatrice Chepkoech (no relation). After failing to medal in Tokyo (7th) and not even running Worlds last year, Beatrice has regained some of her old form this year. Each of her last three races have been under 9:10.

However, in the race at the London DL after the Kenyan trials, Jackline whipped Beatrice, 8:57.35 to 9:04.34.

The Americans

Unlike the men’s steeplechase, where the four fastest US men this season are not going to Budapest, the fastest three American women this year are going to Worlds. That would be Courtney Wayment (9:11.41 SB), Krissy Gear (9:12.81 SB), and Emma Coburn (9:13.60 SB).

This year has been a breakout year for Gear. In addition to winning the U.S. Championships and breaking Coburn’s streak of eight U.S. steeplechase titles in a row, she’s lowered her pb from 9:38 to 9:12. The former NCAA miler also has a big kick so if she’s close to the top 3 at the bell, watch out. That being said, she was terrible in Europe after winning USAs (4:15 1500, 9:25 steeple) before rebounding and running a 4:27 mile at the Sir Walter Miler back stateside on August 4.

For Wayment, this is her 2nd straight berth to a World Championships and she will be looking to improve upon her 12th-place finish in last year’s final. She is currently the 10th-fastest woman in the world this year, which is an improvement from last year’s 13th. If the pace is hot in the final, she could see an improvement of her 9:09.91 PB.

Coburn has not had the greatest of seasons thus far, especially for her standards. She had some barrier trouble early in the season, taking a tumble in Doha in May and then again in Florence, where she was 12th. Then she got beat at USAs. After a DQ in Tokyo and an 8th place finish in Eugene, the big question is: are her best days behind her?

Write her off at your own peril, however. She’s gotten faster every time she’s raced the steeple in 2023 — 9:28, 9:18, 9:13 — and she’s run a 4:05 1500 this year. She hasn’t raced since USAs but if she holed up and found another 5-10 seconds of improvement, she’ll be in the medal hunt most likely.

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Other notable athletes include Olympic champion Peruth Chemutai from Uganda, Winfred Yavi from Bahrain, and top returner from last year’s final Mekides Abebe from Ethiopia. The Olympic champ Chemutai, 24, has raced sparingly in 2023 and without great results, running 9:31.71 for 11th in Doha and then 9:11.91 for 3rd in Lausanne, but you can’t discount her as she won the Olympic gold in 2021 after coming into the meet with a 9:22.09 seasonal best. Yavi, who was fourth last year, certainly is a medal contender. She ran 9:04.38 to win the DL opener in Doha in early May, then disappointed with an 11th-place showing in Florence (9:18.12) in early June before rebounding to a 9:04.58 win at the Pan Arab champs in early July. As mentioned earlier, the 22-year-old Abebe hasn’t been good in her three steeple (9:18, 9:11 and 9:31) but she did run a 14:35 road 5k in March so there is no doubting her talent.

Who will win the women's steeplechase at Worlds?

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LRC Prediction: 1. J. Chepkoech 2. Almayew 3. B. Chepkoech

Almayew’s consistency on the Diamond League circuit this season makes her the favorite, and Beatrice Chepkoech’s experience running in World Championships and ability to beat Jackline in Nairobi in a championship setting gives her the slight edge for bronze.

More: Other LRC Previews: *M800m *M 1500 *MSteeple *M 10K *W 10K

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