Winfred Yavi Blasts 8:54 to Win Worlds Steeplechase for Bahrain

In the last individual event on the track at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Winfred Yavi of Bahrain took home the title in the women’s steeplechase in 8:54.29, as she became the 4th fastest all-time in the event. Yavi made history for Bahrain, being the first woman ever from Bahrain to win a steeplechase medal at the World Championships. Yavi had been knocking on the door of a medal in the steeplechase for years now, as she was fourth at the 2022 and 2019 world championships.

World record holder, Beatrice Chepkoech of Kenya, earned the silver in 8:58.98 while 19-year-old teenage phenom from Kenya, Faith Cherotich, earned the bronze in 9:00.69. These two women restored Kenya’s dominance in the steeplechase, as last year’s edition of the world championships was the first time in history that a Kenyan woman was not on the podium for the women’s steeplechase. 

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This year’s edition of the women’s steeplechase looked very different from last year in many ways. Firstly, only two out of the top eight women from last year’s final were in this year’s race. Yavi was the top returner from last year as the gold and silver medalists from Eugene were not competing in this year’s competition. Norah Jeruto, who represented Kenya until 2022 and who won gold for Kazakhstan last year, has been suspended for biological passport violations. Silver medalist from 2022 and Ethiopian record holder in both the steeplechase and 800, Werkuha Getachew, appears to be ineligible due to XY DSD regulations.

Coming in, Yavi was only the fourth fastest entrant coming into the race, behind young Kenyan Jackline Chepkoech, Sembo Almayew of Ethiopia, and now silver medalist Beatrice Chepkoech. Jackline had put together a solid season thus far, running five steeplechase races this season and finishing 7th, 3rd, 2nd, 2nd, and 1st. The win in her last race came in a world-leading time of 8:57.35 in London where she convincingly beat Beatrice Chepkoech by almost 7 seconds. She placed second in the Florence Diamond League, too. Almayew of Ethiopia also ran well leading into the world championships, finishing second in two Diamond Leagues and winning the Florence Diamond League. The two youngsters, whose ages combine to less than 39-years-old, looked great coming into the championships, but could not get it done, finishing 9th in 9:14.72 (J. Chepkoech) and 13th in 9:18.25 (Almayew). 

The Race

The race was quick from the gun. B. Chepkoech took the lead from the beginning of the race and set a fast tempo for all the other runners to match. As the world record holder and fastest runner in history by 8 seconds, Chepkoech was almost asking the other ladies in the race to follow her at their own peril. The women that did follow were Yavi, Cherotich, Almayew, and another Ethiopian youngster Zerfe Wondemagegn. Olympic champion, Peruth Chemutai of Uganda held on for a little, but was never in the discussion for a medal. 

Chepkoech was not shy to do the work throughout the race, stringing out the race and leaving it up to herself and Yavi to fight for the gold with two laps remaining. Once the two leaders hit the bell, Yavi immediately took the lead and never looked back. As the two got closer to the finish line, Yavi’s lead only grew more and more. With 300 meters to go, Chepkoech was 0.74 seconds behind, with 100 meters she was 2.38 and finished more than 4.5 seconds behind. Yavi’s brilliant close made the difference, as she finished in 68.64 seconds. 

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The bronze medalist, Cherotich, was the junior gold medalist last year in Cali and ran the race of her life tonight in Budapest. Her previous PB was 9:06.14, and smashed that tonight as she ran 9:00.69, almost sneaking underneath the elite 9 minute barrier. Further back in the field, Alice Finot of France (9:06.15) and Maruša Zrimšek of Slovenia (9:06.37) both set national records, placing fifth and sixth respectively. Parul Chaudhary of India set a national record as well, running 9:15.31 to place 11th in what was a successful night for Indian athletics as Neeraj Chopra was on Javelin Throw to become the first Indian man to win a gold medal at the world championships and the men’s 4x400m relay team placed 5th overall. 

The United States only had one woman in the final, Courtney Wayment, and she had a rough day. Wayment was at the end of the lead pack in the beginning of the race, but slowly filtered her way to the back as she finished last in 9:25.90. 

2023 Women’s Steeplechase Results

1 BRN Winfred Mutile YAVI 8:54.29 WL
2 KEN Beatrice CHEPKOECH 8:58.98 SB
3 KEN Faith CHEROTICH 9:00.69 PB
4 ETH Zerfe WONDEMAGEGN 9:05.51
5 FRA Alice FINOT 9:06.15 NR
6 SLO Maruša MIŠMAŠ ZRIMŠEK 9:06.37 NR
7 UGA Peruth CHEMUTAI 9:10.26 SB
8 ALB Luiza GEGA 9:10.27 SB
9 KEN Jackline CHEPKOECH 9:14.72
10 TUN Marwa BOUZAYANI 9:15.07
11 IND Parul CHAUDHARY 9:15.31 NR
12 ETH Lomi MULETA 9:15.36
13 ETH Sembo ALMAYEW 9:18.25
14 GER Olivia GÜRTH 9:20.08 PB
15 USA Courtney WAYMENT 9:25.90

Quick Take: Yavi has been fantastic head-to-head recently versus the world’s best in recent years 

Yavi first competed against Beatrice Chepkoech at the world championships in 2017, and from 2017 until the 2021 Olympic Games she went 0-16 versus the world record holder. However, since September 2022, Yavi has stepped up against the Kenyan, beating her in 4 out of their last 5 meetings, with 3 of those beating 1st place finishes. 

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Against the world leader up until this race, Jackline Chepkoech, Yavi is 4-2. Against the only other woman who ran faster than her this year, Sembo Almayew, she is 6-1, with her only loss being the Florence Diamond League this season where she ran poorly. 

Quick Take: It wasn’t Courtney Wayment’s day

Wayment acknowledged the fact that she may have gone out a little too ambitiously in the first 1k of the race. She wanted to be the woman moving up throughout the race, rather than the one being picked off. 

Despite the rough day, the BYU alum was very optimistic. She said that “one day it will pan out, I believe that wholeheartedly. I believe wholeheartedly I came here to do something special, and I’m going to keep believing that because that’s going to happen one day for me.”

After a 1-2 finish at worlds in 2017, and a silver in 2019 for the U.S. women, the last two podiums have been empty of  U.S. women in the steeplechase. 

Catch Wayment on the track this Thursday at the Zurich Diamond League, and then in the Diamond League Final in Eugene on September 16-17.

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