World Champs Men’s Steeple — Write Off Kipruto At Your Own Peril

A thrilling homestretch battle found Conseslus Kipruto prevailing by the tightest margin in WC steeplechasing history, 0.01. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

EVEN THE best-laid plans can’t stop Conseslus Kipruto. The colorful, often enigmatic Kenyan had won gold in ’17, a year after his Rio Olympic victory. He had captured silver in ’13 and ’15, so he has plenty of familiarity with the path to the podium. Yet Kipruto—still only listed as 24—had had the spottiest of seasons. No wins—in fact, in his 4 races he finished 5th and 7th and dropped out of the other 2. Yet, Kipruto is Kipruto. Always dangerous, always confident. Even after an injury-marred campaign in which he claimed that for a couple of months this summer he could only train in the pool, he said, “I know many fans look up to me and I want to assure them that the Conseslus they know will be back soon.”

Getnet Wale, 19, won the first heat in a zippy 8:12.96, then his Ethiopian teammate Lamecha Girma—just 18—took the second in 8:16.64. By taking the third in a modest 8:19.20, Kipruto did nothing to tip his hand, although he was animated with some arm signals in the closing stages.

The Ethiopians, always focused on their rivalry with their fellow East Africans, had a plan for the final. After 12 WC victories and 29 medals for the Kenyans (0 & 0 for Ethiopia), the coaches decided to burn off the Kenyans. Surely Kipruto, no matter how good his kick, couldn’t handle a fast pace. Not this year. And in Wale, with 4 sub-8:07s, and 2 Diamond League wins, they had a capable prospect. Girma, with 3 sub-8:09s in only his second year of steepling, would be there too, not to mention the old man of the squad at 23, 8:06.48 performer Chala Beyo. So they took it out, burning a sub-8:00 pace through the kilo in 2:39.55, trading the lead amongst themselves.

Yet by 2K (5:22.95, a 2:43.40 kilo), the pack hadn’t thinned much at all, though Beyo was a victim of his own pacesetting. Nine remained, including all 4 Kenyans, Morocco’s favored Soufiane El Bakkali and American Hillary Bor. With 2 to go Wale took over. Kipruto zipped right past him, only to be passed back immediately by Wale. A half-lap later there were 7 left in contention. At the bell (7:02.86), only 4: Wale, El Bakkali, Kipruto and Girma.

With 300 left, the tall El Bakkali, winner of 3 DL meets this year, sprinted to the fore but failed to break away. Then Girma struck for the front. His long stride off the water barrier took him completely over the water and his momentum looked unbeatable. He led by a stride over Kipruto at the last hurdle and sprinted. The defending champion made a mad dash as well, and the two hit the line virtually even. The camera told the story: Kipruto 8:01.35, Girma 8:01.36. For Kipruto, it was win No. 2, medal No. 5. For Girma, a national record and first-ever medal for Ethiopia.

El Bakkali finished 3rd in 8:03.76 ahead of Wale’s 8:05.21 PR. In 5th, France’s Djilali Bedrani also PRed at 8:05.23. The top 8 all broke 8:10, a record for the championships; the previous deepest races had 5 that did so, in ’93 and ’13. Top American Hillary Bor faded badly on the last lap to finish 8th in 8:09.33; Stanley Kebenei was 10th in 8:11.15, and Andy Bayer ran a PR 8:12.47 in 12th, moving to No. 7 on the all-time U.S. list.

Said the winner, “I didn’t want to risk losing. It is a Kenyan event, so it was up to me to keep it. But it was tight and when I crossed the line I thought, ‘Please let the first man be Conseslus.’ I waited and prayed and then I looked at the screen. I saw it was my name and I was very happy.”


WC MEN’S STEEPLE RESULTS

FINAL

(October 04) (temperature 79F/26C; humidity 61%)

1. Conseslus Kipruto (Ken) 8:01.35 (WL);

2. Lemecha Girma (Eth) 8:01.36 NR (WJL) (3, 3 WJ) (5:22.95);

3. Soufiane El Bakkali (Mor) 8:03.76;

4. Getnet Wale (Eth) 8:05.21 PR (5, 9 WJ) (2:39.55);

5. Djilali Bedrani (Fra) 8:05.23 PR;

6. Benjamin Kigen (Ken) 8:06.95;

7. Abraham Kibiwot (Ken) 8:08.52;

8. Hillary Bor (US) 8:09.33;

9. Leonard Bett (Ken) 8:10.64;

10. Stanley Kebenei (US) 8:11.15;

11. Fernando Carro (Spa) 8:12.31;

12. Andy Bayer (US) 8:12.47 PR (7, x A);

13. Avinash Sable (Ind) 8:21.37 NR;

14. Matt Hughes (Can) 8:24.78;

15. Zak Seddon (GB) 8:40.23;

… dnf—Chala Beyo (Eth).

(best-ever mark-for-place: 5, 8–12)

HEATS

(October 01)

I–1. Wale 8:12.96; 2. Bedrani 8:13.02; 3. Bett 8:13.07; 4. Hughes 8:13.12; 5. Carro 8:13.56; 6. Kebenei 8:19.02; 7. Seddon 8:22.51;

8. Yohanes Chiappinelli (Ita) 8:24.73; 9. Amor Benyahia (Tun) 8:26.12; 10. Martin Grau (Ger) 8:26.79; 11. Tom Erling Kårbø (Nor) 8:27.01 PR; 12. Boniface Abel Sikowo (Uga) 8:27.96; 13. Abdelkarim Ben Zahra (Mor) 8:36.67; 14. Kaur Kivistik (Est) 8:39.26;… dnf—Fouad Idbafdil (Mor).

II–1. Girma 8:16.64; 2. El Bakkali 8:17.96; 3. Kibiwot 8:18.46; 4. Bayer 8:18.66;

5. Albert Chemutai (Uga) 8:23.08; 6. Altobelli da Silva (Bra) 8:25.34; 7. Yemane Hailesilassie (Eri) 8:26.58; 8. Osama Zoghlami (Ita) 8:28.57; 9. Daniel Arce (Spa) 8:31.69; 10. Karl Bebendorf (Ger) 8:32.58; 11. John Gay (Can) 8:33.74; 12. Bilal Tabti (Alg) 8:35.15; 13. Rantso Mokopane (SA) 8:42.22; 14. Ben Buckingham (Aus) 8:42.86; 15. Krystian Zalewski (Pol) 8:51.79.

III–1. Kipruto 8:19.20; 2. Kigen 8:19.44; 3. Bor 8:20.67; 4. Beyo 8:21.09; 5. Ibrahim Ezzaydouny (Spa) 8:23.99; 6. Benjamin Kiplagat (Uga) 8:24.44; 7. Sable 8:25.23 NR;

8. Topi Raitanen (Fin) 8:32.44; 9. Ryan Smeeton (Can) 8:32.53; 10. Carlos Andrés San Martín (Col) 8:35.10; 11. Salim Mohammed Salim (Egy) 8:35.18; 12. Yoann Kowal (Fra) 8:37.90; 13. Takele Nigate (Eth) 8:38.34; 14. Yaser Salem Bagharab (Qat) 8:39.65; 15. Otmane Nait-Hammou (Mor) 9:30.17;… dnf—Mohammed Tindoufti (Mor).

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