NO, YOU’RE NOT having déjà vu – it really did happen all over again.
Just as in last year’s Olympic final, Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali surged past Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma at the final waterjump to win, with a Kenyan coming in 3rd. The only variations were a different time and different Kenyan.
El Bakkali crossed the line with the slowest winning time in meet history, 8:25.13 (his Olympic run was 16.23 faster). Girma followed in his wake at 8:26.01, followed by 2-time defending champion Conseslus Kipruto in 8:27.92.
One might think that Girma and the rest of the field would have chosen a faster pace to neutralize the favored El Bakkali’s powerful kick. Instead, Girma led the field through a shockingly pedestrian first kilometer of 2:58.01.
He then surrendered the lead, but no one else really wanted it. Kipruto crawled through 2K at 5:52.44. At this point, first and last in the field of 15 were separated by only 1.33.
Girma’s teammate Getnet Wale took a turn 200m later, and then Eritrea’s Yemane Hailesilassie made a bid with half a K left. At the bell, Hailesilassie narrowly led Wale, Kipruto, Ethiopian Hailemariyam Amare, El Bakkali, American champion Hillary Bor and Girma.
The Ethiopian trio and Kipruto and El Bakkali swept past Hailesilassie on the backstretch, but then Amare tripped on the barrier. Wale had a stumble of his own as he exited the waterjump, leaving the other three to claim their medals.
El Bakkali’s closing splits were 57.35, 28.02 and 13.68, compared to Girma’s 58.09, 28.79 and 14.05.
El Bakkali now has a complete set of WC medals, adding to his London silver and Doha bronze.
Of the Americans, national recordholder Evan Jager capped off a 4-year comeback from injury by bolting into 6th (8:29.08) while Bor faded down the stretch to 8th (8:29.77).
Said the 26-year-old El Bakkali, “I am very happy to win my first World title after the Olympic gold. The race was very difficult; very tactical, slow. We had very good runners like defending champion Kipruto, the American Jager. I positioned well in the last lap. I am very strong in the 400m and it worked out for me.”
Girma rued his improper strategy, saying, “I am happy but not satisfied with the silver. The pace was very slow today, my tactic did not work and that cost me the gold. I was trying to change tactics but the pace limited me very much. I will go for gold next year and my training is starting now. I am going to make my training special and then I will try for gold at the next championships.”
“It was super messy,” said Jager, who was only 10th with a half-lap to go and 9th with the straightaway left. “It was really windy. That’s probably one of the slowest races I’ve been in. I thought the race would be fast, that Girma wanted a fast pace to try to shake Bakkali. We assumed it was going to get super-fast.
“The goal was to be as efficient as possible and that got in my head a little bit too much so I didn’t run my style of race. I wish I could have positioned differently going with a lap to go, but everyone had so much energy left that it was hard to make those moves to get into those places and fight people off at the same time. I was able to pass a few people at the end, but I was already [too] far out of contention to do it.”
The race’s first lap featured an additional obstacle: an oblivious cameraman standing on the track with the field forced to run around him.
MEN’S STEEPLE RESULTS
FINAL (July 18; interior waterjump)
(temperature 79F/26C; humidity 43%)
1. Soufiane El Bakkali (Mor) 8:25.13
(13.68, 28.02, 57.35);
2. Lamecha Girma (Eth) 8:26.01 (2:58.01)
(14.05, 28.79, 58.09);
3. Conseslus Kipruto (Ken) 8:27.92 (5:52.44)
4. Getnet Wale (Eth) 8:28.68
5. Abraham Kibiwot (Ken) 8:28.95
6. Evan Jager (US) 8:29.08
7. Yemane Hailesilassie (Eri) 8:29.40;
8. Hillary Bor (US) 8:29.77;
9. Daniel Arce (Spa) 8:30.05;
10. Hailemariyam Amare (Eth) 8:31.54;
11. Avinash Sable (Ind) 8:31.75;
12. Ahmed Abdelwahed (Ita) 8:33.43;
13. Mehdi Belhadj (Fra) 8:34.49;
14. Sebastián Martos (Spa) 8:36.66;
15. Leonard Bett (Ken) 8:36.74.
HEATS (July 16)
I–1. El Bakkali 8:16.65; 2. Bett 8:16.94; 3. Kibiwot 8:17.04; 4. Wale 8:17.49; 5. Martos 8:18.94; 6. Abdelwahed 8:21.04; 7. Benard Keter (US) 8:21.94; 8. John Gay (Can) 8:27.02; 9. Ben Buckingham (Aus) 8:29.15; 10. Kosei Yamaguchi (Jpn) 8:30.92; 11. Bilal Tabti (Alg) 8:38.45; 12. Frederik Ruppert (Ger) 8:45.55; 13. Tim Van De Velde (Bel) 9:03.11.
II–1. Girma 8:19.64; 2. Kipruto 8:20.12; 3. Bor 8:20.18; 4. Belhadj 8:20.47; 5. Ryuji Miura (Jpn) 8:21.80; 6. Edward Trippas (Aus) 8:23.83; 7. Mohamed Ismail Ibrahim (Dji) 8:25.85; 8. Tom Erling Kårbø (Nor) 8:26.12 PR; 9. Hichem Bouchicha (Alg) 8:27.39; 10. Ahmed Jaziri (Tun) 8:28.28; 11. Víctor Ruiz (Spa) 8:33.42; 12. Ryan Smeeton (Can) 8:33.51; 13. Salaheddine Ben Yazide (Mor) 8:38.46; 14. Carlos Andrés San Martín (Col) 8:48.66.
III–1. Amare 8:18.34; 2. Jager 8:18.44; 3. Sable 8:18.75; 4. Hailesilassie 8:18.75; 5. Arce 8:21.06; 6. Mohamed Amine Jihnaoui (Tun) 8:22.00; 7. Benjamin Kigen (Ken) 8:22.52; 8. Karl Bebendorf (Ger) 8:25.73; 9. Jacob Boutera (Nor) 8:31.47; 10. Vidar Johansson (Swe) 8:33.51; 11. Ryuma Aoki (Jpn) 8:33.89; 12. Jean-Simon Desgagnés (Can) 8:40.90; 13. Topi Raitanen (Fin) 8:43.01;… dnf—Mohammed Tindoufti (Mor).