Soufiane El Bakkali Dispatches Lamecha Girma To Win 2023 Steeplechase World Title

BUDAPEST, Hungary — In the end, Soufiane El Bakkali made it look like a no contest.

In the much-anticipated men’s steeplechase final here tonight at the 2023 World Athletics Championships between the Olympic and world champion El Bakkali and the world record holder Lamecha Girma of Ethiopia, El Bakkali’s kick was once again unbeatable. He blasted Girma over the final 200 to win his third straight global title in 8:03.53 to Girma’s 8:05.44. Girma has now won the silver at four straight global championships and El Bakkali now leads the head-to-head matchup in the steeple with Girma 8-1.

Kenya’s Abraham Kibiwot earned his first global medal in third in 8:11.18 despite going down after hitting the first barrier on the last lap with his trail leg as the OAC’s George Beamish of New Zealand took top non-African honors in 8:13.46 with Kenneth Rooks taking top American honors in 10th in 8:20.02.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY – AUGUST 22: Soufiane El Bakkali celebrates (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images for World Athletics)

The Race

On a warm (79 degrees) and muggy (62% humidity) night, El Bakkali’s 8:03.53 winning time was remarkable considering the opening pedestrian pace. The first kilometer was 2:50.41 — that’s over 8:30 pace. Things sped up a little bit after that as the third placer at the Kenyan Trials, Leonard Bett, injected a little pace into the race.

Coming in, many thought Girma’s best bet for gold was to push the pace hard from start to finish but he was content to run in the back half for most of the first 1k. Around 1k, he got up near the leaders but didn’t go to the lead until 2k when he began trying to grind the kick out of El Bakkali.

Almost instantly, the race was a five-person affair as Girma, El Bakkali and the three Kenyans separated themselves from the pack. After an unofficial 58.96 penultimate lap, it was a two-man affair between the world record holder and Olympic champion. Girma led by a few meters at the bell but on the backstretch El Bakkali showed he was full of life as he started to close the gap; he pulled up on Girma’s as they started the final turn. El Bakkali went to the lead just before entering the final water jump and soon it was all over. With 80 meters left, El Bakkali’s lead was big enough he might have still won even if he fell. In the end, there was no fall, only another win for El Bakkali.

El Bakkali’s final 1k was covered in a remarkable 2:28.90 in a race where almost every single lap was run faster than the previous lap.

1. Soufiane EL BAKKALI 07 JAN 1996 MAR 8:03.53
2. Lamecha GIRMA 26 NOV 2000 ETH 8:05.44
3. Abraham KIBIWOT 06 APR 1996 KEN 8:11.98
4. Leonard Kipkemoi BETT 03 NOV 2000 KEN 8:12.26
5. George BEAMISH 24 OCT 1996 NZL 8:13.46
6. Ryuji MIURA 21 FEB 2002 JPN 8:13.70
7. Simon Kiprop KOECH 10 JUN 2003 KEN 8:14.37
8. Jean-Simon DESGAGNÉS 26 JUL 1998 CAN 8:15.58
9. Daniel ARCE 22 APR 1992 ESP 8:18.31
10. Kenneth ROOKS 21 OCT 1999 USA 8:20.02
11. Getnet WALE 16 JUL 2000 ETH 8:21.03
12. Leonard CHEMUTAI 05 MAY 2003 UGA 8:21.61
13. Mohamed Amin JHINAOUI 02 APR 1997 TUN 8:23.08
14. Ryoma AOKI 16 JUN 1997 JPN 8:24.77
15. Simon SUNDSTRÖM 04 FEB 1998 SWE 8:27.68
16. Isaac UPDIKE 21 MAR 1992 USA 8:30.67

Letsrun’s unofficial splits
37.78 to the finish line

Afterwards, El Bakkali said he’s a championship runner and that he’s not really concerned about times

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images for World Athletics)

As good as he looked tonight, we think he should take a crack at the world record before the season ends as who wouldn’t also want to be the world record holder/ Regardless, with his win tonight, he became the fourth man to win three or more World/Olympic steeplechase titles. Here is the list.

Ezekiel Kemboi 6 (2004, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015)
Soufiane El Bakkali 3 (2021, 2022, 2023)
Moses Kiptanui 3 (1991, 1993, 1995)
Conseslus Kipruto 3 (2016, 2017, 2019)

When we asked Girma if he regretted not pushing the pace sooner, he said through an interpreter that it was a “tactical failure” to not do it

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Girma said his goal was obviously gold but a silver medal is still something to be proud of. He admitted he was a bit indecisive early in the race and he and Getnet Wale, who only ended up 11th, had talked about possibly pushing it hard from the start. But that’s a tall task, particularly on a warm evening.

World Athletics also typed up these quotes from him:

“That is my fourth global silver medal but I am satisfied. The weather today was bit a hot, but the final was pretty good. I still aim to win gold at the World Championships or Olympic Games. Nothing has changed in my goals. Maybe, I became even more motivated for next year. We will discuss what was wrong. I am sure I was highly prepared physically and technically as I managed to break the world record. It tells you everything about my fitness. Maybe I had a lack of focus. In any case, I continue fighting and dreaming about Worlds gold.”

It was surprising the Kenyan champ didn’t do better

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If you told us before the race there would be a Kenyan good enough to fall down on the last lap and still medal, we would have certainly said it was Simon Koech, the Kenyan trials and Diamond League winner in Monaco, but instead the 20-year-old had an off night and was the third Kenyan in the race in 7th.

Kenneth Rooks Post-Race

Rooks said he didn’t feel quite as good as in the prelim but was proud of his terrific 2023 season and is already looking forward to his fall cross country season with BYU.

Isaac Updike post-race

It was a disappointing night for Updike who has pretty much already accomplished all of his goals for the season.

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